Archive | September 2018

all registered up

A few days ago I was alerted by a bank teller that lo and behold my driver’s license was about to expire. I was so grateful that someone had noticed before I was caught by surprise. I looked into our home file of paper work and I found that not only was my driver’s license about to expire but so was my passport. I am starting to plan a sabbatical for next summer and might have a chance to use that passport, so now I had two things to update. And then, whoops! Time to get my old car inspected. Three in one. Off I went to spend a half a day standing in lines to deal with self and car inspection and identification.

standing in a line

The morning went remarkably smooth. I had the stack of paperwork that I need to prove that I am who I say that I am and I live where I say that I live. My car was not in quite as bad shape as I thought it was. The lines were pretty short. The people in all the offices were helpful and not too officious. About three hours after I started I was all clear to travel in and out of the country. I breathed a sign of relief.

All morning as I was shuffled from one office to another I thought about how privileged I am to have made it through this day without being turned away or worse. I have a place to live and a car to drive. I have papers to prove that I have an acceptable identity and I have enough money to pay all the fees. I have time to stand in line and I speak the language that the folks on the other side of the desk speak. I have a W2 form that says that I am a pastor in a local church and and sometimes that title opens doors. If my car failed inspection (which it might next time) I have resources to deal with it.

This coming Sunday our text for the day includes a Gospel story where Jesus is warning his disciples about what happens when we put blocks in front of people who are trying to make their way through what can be a very hostile world. He says “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

When Jesus talks about “the little ones” he is talking about people who do not have the advantages that I just described. Money. Age. Race. Class. Ability. Legal status. You name it. He is talking about people living on the margins and who are suspect and who cannot easily gather up a bunch of information and paperwork and money and transportation to prove who they are and be welcomed as they are. He calls on his disciples to beware when we place, or ignore, or jump over, stumbling blocks for other people.

My paperwork is put away until the next time that I am called on to get in line to prove my identity. Jesus’ words about stumbling blocks are glaring at me even as I am sighing relief after my day at the offices. I know that I had a very easy jump over a few hoops. I did not stumble. The path was cleared for me. I am thinking about the people I know who live in tents or worn out cars. People who do not have an address and those who struggle in one way or another with making it through the day never mind the registry of motor vehicles. My eyes and mind and heart are aching – they are so wide open.

Now I know why Jesus tells his disciples to think hard before choosing to follow him on his Way. I understand why he forbids us from talking too soon about who we say we are and who we say we are following. It is much easier (even with that millstone looming) to go about our own business, than seeing who is pushed to the back of the line or who never even gets past the officer at the door and who stumbles over what we so easily skip by. When I am asked the next time, just who do I think that I am, what should I say?




home coming

Yesterday I took a quick run up to the state forest. The air was cool and the sky gray on gray.  No one but me was swimming but I was accompanied by a pileated woodpecker, some kayaks, and the forest worker who took the opportunity of an empty beach after a rainy day to rake the sand back in shape.


I dove in and soon my companions were a memory and it was just me and the water, the sky, and God who is ever present, even when I am not.

I swam the Serenity Prayer, the Al-anon version, which includes those great verses like “grant me the patience for the changes that take time” and “tolerance for those with different struggles” and “appreciation for all that I have.” Oh, I could swim the length and the breath of that lake many times over and still have gratitudes to add.

This state forest with it’s two adjacent lakes have been my home away from home since my late 20’s. When I come here, memory lingers; deep and wide, good and bad, hopeful and sad. I can smell it everywhere. And even more than memory, a strong sense of  coming home. Home to the peace and quiet. Home to the stroke stroke stroke. Home to the prayer that is lodged in my heart. Home to the swimmer in me.

The swimming season is coming to a close. If I am lucky I will be stroking through mid October. Then the leaves will change color and fall in the water and I will start hiking along the shore and through the woods. But as for now I am glad to be one of a few who come here – searching for and finding home away from home.

not entirely back

more poetry

Summer was a good time for me to get away from my daily routines in my church and home town and to immerse myself at the little cabin on the island in Maine and down the road in the lake at our local state park. And yet.. every summer I come home from vacations, stay-cations, and even a little afternoon get-away and I feel the weight of the buildings crushing in on me. Even my beautiful church and the parsonage are building heavy after days of sitting in silence or messing around in boats with grandchildren.


This summer my study reading was poetry. My theological reflection was relationship. My plan of the day was how to be, in company and in silence, with very little stimulation and an abundance of beauty. I took Jesus at his word when he said “Come away for a while” and I did not shy away from his embrace or the embrace of my family.


Called to pay attention to who and what was in front of me, I responded on most days with a grateful yes. And then, like every other time away, it was time to come home. Home to more family and more friends and more church energy and fall plans. And home, thank goodness, to the advice of a colleague who encouraged me not to return entirely. Not to hold back exactly, but to hold on to all the gifts; of the sea and the woods and the fresh water ponds and the timeless nature of living out-of-doors.

Pastor Steve Garness- Holmes, in a reflection in his blog, Unfolding Light, talked about his time canoeing on the Boundary Waters with his son. This is what I heard Steve say, as though he was talking directly to me, someone who had also spent time on the boundary of water and sun and land and endless light. There is more to the reflection but this is my “take away” about not returning entirely.

As always when returning from a time away
my counsel is: don’t return entirely.
Don’t jump back into the panic and swirl.
Others may rush like they’re in a football play,
but you can amble through the chaos.
When you go to a peaceful place,
at least stay long enough and deep enough
to take it into yourself,
swallow its essence, breathe its spirit.
When you return from the ocean
keep its rhythms still in your ears,
its vastness still filling your eyes.

water swirl

I have not come back entirely because the peace and the depth and the sweetness that I experienced is clinging to me and holding me back from giving it all away – to frittering and worrying, to habit and resentment, to the next thing on the to do list.  The vastness has filled me to the brim and I am spilling over. Only to fill again. Because who am I fooling? My world, there and here, is endless in its beauty and in its suffering.  Steve was really reminding me that it is not only unwise, but impossible, to entirely return.