Running down the path
snow swirls and twirls in the wind.
As we laugh and smile
broken pieces shift in me:
heart beats in time with my feet
Some friends recently blessed me with a rock tumbler. Although it seems strange, it was quite thoughtful. I wander around in the wilderness often these days. You do not need a full wallet to enjoy the forest. You do not need a credit card to walk on stone covered beaches. Living in a space with gorges and wilderness means there are plenty of places to search for rocks.
Today the first stage of tumbling came to an end: rocks gathered on New Year’s have spent a week tumbling together through the new possibilities. I have checked on them as they tumbled through the days: rotating over and over, first visible but then swallowed in the slurry of grit and water. In time, even bits of themselves joined in the chaotic tumbling. Washed, dried, and looked over, each rock is the same yet different. With reluctance, they are tumbling again with finer grit. There is a lot of tumbling in their future.
I sympathize with a rock for the first time in my life. I journey in shoes that have walked down long roads. My feet have grown calloused only through painful blisters and my legs have known spasming muscles waking me from the deepest slumber. My heart and soul have wounds to match as the days have not been nearly as beautiful as I once imagined. There are pieces of me that I will never have back and there are edges rounded off of my heart through night after night of tumbling through life’s grit-filled wasteland. Aye, there is beauty, but that beauty has come at a great cost.
Tumbled and jostled
through the dark days and cold nights
as life grinds it all
Spring’s heart glows above
as a wintry heart withdraws
as cold bones draw strength:
glacial wings swaddle shoulders
lifting burdens birthed in ice
“The Wild Woods”
As January dawns, the year behind has finally ended. There were bleak nights, broken dreams, and tears aplenty. While there was beauty, there was often grief and loss. It hurt to think of all that had been and all that would never come again.
In the woods by an isolated lake, scant days before continuing the uphill climb through my forties, an elderly dog and I meandered through the branches. January snow was unseasonably absent and there were shocks of green moss and patches of red berries everywhere. A fallen trunk shattered open to reveal the mystery born forth into the world from a single seed left behind by oblivious critters in the woods. The space is sacred and thin as I walk in lands where the natural transcends mere words.
For a while, the woods were all there was in this world. Thoughts of loss waited in the car, but in the woods there was beauty to be found, wonder to behold, and even the simple challenge of not letting the canine drag us into another bog while seeking an errant smell. For a brief hour or two, the world shrank down to a world where the brown trunks swayed only gently as the wind found only bare branches to tickle. In the wild woods, a broken heart could be whole for the eternal but brief moment where two souls simply wandered together.
The wild woods reach out: I almost look for "fair folk" as my heart finds peace.
My first entry in a long time with the D’verse Poets Pub. The challenge of the week is a haibun about the changing of years or what you are doing during this early part of January.
Remembering a rough year
What is freedom when life begins again?
How does one measure the ways one lives life
after all you have loved is burned in strife?
Where are the sprouted seeds in the ashes?
Is life renewed when one walks down the path
through sleet, snow, rain, thunder, and burning sun?
Is it renewed when you start to have fun?
If so, perhaps the pain was a herald.
Does the heart revive as one strikes the bag
as thuds echo and skin begins to break
while blood, sweat, and tears fall as shoulders quake?
Was it life throbbing beneath the blisters?
Is it in awe from looking at one's work
and seeing hundreds of moments you cared
writing letters from the good heart you've bared
even as it mended from shattering?
Does life grow as the shutter shares moments
where eyes opened to see good in the world?
Even as the bad news whooshed, howled, and swirled
visions of goodness just kept giving life.
Is it in sermons, poems, or rambles?
Is life found in meetings, coffee, or work?
Is it where I laughed and shared a small smirk?
Is life found in all of these good places?
Okay, it was a hard year, but not bad.
I bent and swayed: my good soul did not break
through all of the storms I stretched out to take
a bit of my soul back from the abyss.
Now a new year is about to break forth
over a good land where I will survive
and at times even slowly start to thrive
as this phoenix rises on hopeful wings
Treading over these icy paths
I feel these steps are familiar
and none strike me as peculiar
as I balance my weight.
Life itself requires close watching
as one connects as through the ice
to ground oneself in world less nice
requires careful balance.
Still, the path waits for bold and brave:
Neither under the summer sun
nor after Jack Frost's cruel fun
are things ever perfect.
One foot, one step, one day, move on.
Keep moving through the winter's cold
and face the heat with a heart bold
as you keep your balance
Dedicated to the two people riding bikes past me. Now that’s dedication and bravery. Also, one of them apparently thought it was just as ludicrous as I did by the panic and joy in her eyes.
These haiku/tanka-formatted poems have come out of long meetings with difficult conversations around the church community. I write poetry to express feelings and thoughts that might disrupt or aggravate during meetings. I share them later, without context, for they continue to inspire me to consider what words I use, what notions I carry, and that I, too, might have blind spots.
dividing with our notions
and cutting our ties
"We" "Ours" "I" "My" "Mine"
There is a space between us
that is shown in words
The apple and tree: growing in their own spaces but sharing some roots. Hubris, pride, self-righteousness: can't you see the path ahead?
I have an old pair of boots that need to be resoled or replaced. Any minute now I’ll lace them up and walk the half an hour to church. Any minute now I’ll shake off these dismal thoughts about how Thanksgiving ruined my weight loss streak and finally convince myself that I don’t need to starve myself with a fast to hurry things along. Any minute now I’ll remember that I walked over nine miles yesterday and that my body needs time to process nutrients and expel waste before that shows. Any minute now sane thoughts will lace these boots. Any minute now…
Lace up your old boots:
draw tight both your loops and will.
Trudge that you might walk
down the road in warmer times
when all is finally well
Under the Weather
I received my booster shot yesterday. I’m trying my best to take it easy after feeling unwell while walking my dog last night. Today my arm aches and I feel more tired than usual.
When I was married I saw our vows as promising that I would care for her when she was unwell and she would care for me when I was unwell. I was naïve to think that we both understood that commitment to each other when we were twenty five.
Today I’m alone. My attorney called to give me an update about working towards finalizing my divorce yesterday. I’m grieving that loss today while remembering how it felt to believe I could rely on someone.
Nobody is here to help me feel better today, but nobody is here tearing me down either.
If I were to give someone advice in similar circumstances i would relay to them the truth that there are lonely days when seeking peace and safety. It is possible to get through them and even to thrive because of them. I would tell them to have patience with the process.
October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
What do we do with nightmares?
I woke up yesterday morning with an aching knee. The few days before Sunday were full of Annual Conference business. Annual Conference is both the name of the regional body of churches that I serve within as a United Methodist and an exact description of how often the whole of that body meets to do business. Normally Annual Conference for us in the Upper New York Annual Conference is in the late spring just before summer, but this year our session was held virtually in the fall due to COVID concerns.
My knee ached because I have been walking all over the place during the past few days. As I write this entry on Sunday night, my knee will probably hurt once again tonight as I walked into town to reach the church, stood through church,, walked across town for lunch after church, participated in the CROP Walk after lunch, and then walked back home from town. My knee will probably ache tonight, but it likely will be a far more peaceful night than last night.
Why? I am not certain if it was the change in diet, lengthy Conference activity, or stress levels over the past few days, but I honestly had a terrible nightmare coming into Sunday morning. I dreamed a horrible dream that woke me up in panic and covered with sweat.
What was the dream about last night? To be blunt for the sake of this post, the dream was a dream where everything terrible I heard over the years came true. In the dream I was called and acted pathetic, was broke and unable to care for what needed to be cared for, and was run out of my job for not being good enough for my role as a minister. Everyone I met in the dream was angry with me, frustrated with me, or full of scorn for me. It was frankly terrifying to wake up feeling awful about myself.
So, what did I do after waking up with a hurting knee and a tortured spirit? I got up, took a shower, strapped on my boots, and went back to work. I walked to work, which I was able to do quite nicely despite my knee’s complaints the night before. I led Sunday School where we had a great conversation and then led worship which led to people coming up to me that were engaged in the message connecting scripture, theology, and the problem of domestic violence.. After a nice salad from the nearby deli, I then walked around town with church members raising money for world hunger and having some great conversations. When that was done I walked home, had a quick dinner, and then went out to grab a cup of coffee and milk to make my yogurt for the week ahead.
In other words, all those terrible things I heard in the dream didn’t stop me from doing what I had to do today. I stood up, laced my boots, and faced my fears, which turned out to be nothing important at all. I am thoroughly proud with myself for moving past my fears and nightmares into a healthier place tonight.
As the day draws to a close, I don’t know what’s ahead of me tonight, but I know one thing to be true: all the terrible things that I once heard from my abuser do not define who I am today. I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am as a person. I don’t need to seek the approval and love of a person who tore my spirit and soul down violently. I can choose to face today no matter what my abuser believes. I will live and I will do so in a way that makes me proud to be me.
October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
A Reflection before the Annual Conference’s Memorial Service
I was walking as the sun set watching the leaves fall. Each has a season like us. Some fall quickly and some fall later, but each has a time to fall and gather with the others in the drifting ruach of the breeze.
Oakdale Mall Poem
I had an eye appointment in Johnson City and went to a store where I used to take my children to look for Christmas presents and winter coats. I wanted a coat as I have been losing weight. It is closing and so many places where I took my children for six years stand empty, closed, or closing. I wrote this poem
Some days I wander,
walking past empty storefronts
Where family walked
looking for nice and warm clothes
to bundle up family
Now its always cold
and the memories burn low
Time changes faces
as old sweaters keep fraying
and worn sneakers still trudge on
Ramen noodles soak Mushrooms and veggies draw in more than flavored broth: they draw in hope for today and give strength for tomorrow.
This morning started off well: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a tall glass of water before biking down to the church. The wonderful thing about biking to work is that you get to save gas money and help to care for the planet. Hours later, the crew leaves the church from the spring cleanup day. I head into my office and begin to work on cards thanking people for their service to the church today and for their service in helping to cleanup at Casowasco last Saturday.
After everyone has come and gone, the time for lunch draws near. I put a package of ramen, four dehydrated mushrooms, and a quarter cup of dehydrated veggies underneath the coffee maker’s spout. Twenty minutes later, I have Keurig Ramen, a common meal these days.
It isn’t the church’s fault that I’m not eating steak today. While I’d love to blame my former partner, it is not completely her fault either. It certainly is not the fault of the three blessings that I love with all of my heart and soul. We live in a broken world and after I am done voluntarily supporting my children who live across the state against my desires, I honestly have less in my bank account than I had when I served a church in seminary. I definitely did not see this place on my journey coming: I would have spent more time learning to cook better foods for fewer people for less.
For lunch today, my ramen looks back at me. I wrote a tanka about the ramen as I contemplated my lunch. I still wonder, what does the ramen see?
I hope it sees someone who is grateful for a good meal. I hope it sees someone who is grateful for what he has been given instead of someone who spends all of his time lamenting what is not right here. Actually, let me reword that: “I hope it sees someone who is working to be more grateful for what he has been given and to be less focused on what is lacking.” The intention is important, for I know I have a role in choosing how I react to these moments.
We don’t always get to choose what comes our way in this life. When we slow down and listen to the Spirit, we can be given a choice about how we react. I choose to react to these moments with hope.
“Here” and Life
The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day Prompt for today is “here.”
This has been a really rough week for me. I have had more than one wise individual in my life point out that it was likely always going to end this way. One friend with a long history in the legal profession said “If you were the mother, things would probably be very different. Nobody wants to be the judge who gets a reputation for separating kids from their mothers.”
So, I have fewer rights and will see my kids less. The system is broken and there’s nothing I can do about it but pray. What’s my consolation today?
I weep, Jesus weeps, but we’ll laugh.
I feel impoverished, Jesus is sacrificing, but we’ll be rich.
I am empty, Jesus is emptying himself, and we’ll be full again.
I had to choose my religious profession or more visitation, Jesus faced persecution, but there’ll be blessing.
Also, those who laugh will mourn.
Those who feel rich will be impoverished.
Those who are full will be emptied.
Those who have everyone speak well of them will go the same way as the false prophets.
In the end, it is going to be okay. Justice is in the hands of a just God who sees what has happened. My attorney tried to lighten the mood by asking if lightning bolts or karma would strike first, but that’s far above my paygrade. Another friend later chimed in that karma may make me spend the rest of my days wondering if God answers prayers, but it isn’t really about that kind of thinking for me either.
Maybe they’ll repent someday? Maybe they’ll seek forgiveness and make amends for their sins? I have no idea, but their sins are in the hands of God, not mine. I don’t need to be vengeful as God is still God. I don’t need to threaten anyone with wrath, because the wrath of the New Testament falls on people who choose to bring it into their lives. What comes out of the lips comes from the heart, regardless of whether those are words of blessings or empty accusations. In the meantime, I’ve texted my kids that I love them and now am choosing a picture.
When everything was in the hole Tuesday after a sleepless Monday night, I knew where I could go to find solace, peace, and safety. I went to church. Sometimes I go and meet with my lawyer on Grand Island, and I pull into my home church’s parking lot to just be near the place where so many holy things took place over the years. On Tuesday, I went to the church to work. As I worked, I was drawn into a world bigger than myself. By the time we had Council, we were having discussions about how the church was a blessing to us and how we can share that blessing with others. Being at the church transformed my day, my attitude, and my hope. The church truly is a a place where we can just be “here.”
Flowers on lunch
There are still flowers
even when my heart is gray
The sun still shines on
“With,” tears, and a thirsty dog.
The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is the word “with.” As it is Monday, our devotional has us reading the Beatitudes from Luke again. This week we ask what it means to shift our understanding of tears and laughter.
My picture for today is of my dog on a hike last summer. Lily and I were in the middle of the nearby Finger Lakes National Forest when Lily decided to get a drink in the creek we were fording together.
At first, I was aghast. The water was unclean! It had not been boiled, had not been purified, and could make the dog really sick. On the other hand, have you ever tried to stop a dog from drinking? By the time I would have reached the dog, the damage was already done.Also, this is a dog we’re talking about. While she drinks plenty of clean water at home, let’s not pretend she understands the five second rule.
We often look at things in the world with one set of eyes. We see tears and they are rarely tears of joy. Often, the tears we see are tears of sadness, grief, and loss. How can such a thing be a blessing?
Have you ever tried to hold back tears? How well did that work out for you? We assume that all (non-joyous) tears are bad, but Jesus seems to invite us to consider that everything is not as it seems. As is always the case during this season, I invite you to be surprised by the journey this week.
“Living” and Hunger
The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Living.” Throughout this week we have been looking at hunger and fullness in our devotional, but I wanted to take a moment to note that there is more than one type of hunger.
Last fall I spent a lot of time walking and praying. One place I went for an extended walk was in Chenango Valley State Park. If you spend enough time in Chenango Valley State Park, you will realize that there are definitely places where a lot of people travel and places where few people travel.
During my first few visits to the park, I spent a lot of time walking around the large loop which surrounds one of the lakes and crosses over what could be called the isthmus between the two lakes. As I continued to visit over the years, I found various walking paths down near the edges of the lakes, but there was one path that always tempted me. It just sort of went off into nowhere from behind a picnic shelter.
I wondered what might be back behind that picnic shelter visit after visit until I was so hungry to know what was back there that my dog and I went out exploring. We hiked, hiked, and hiked some more. Eventually we came out of one section of the path and found ourselves at the top of a hill looking over Chenango Valley. The view was breathtaking and there was this cute bench setup for people to rest and look down upon the valley.
This photo has little to nothing to do with actual hunger, but it does have a lot to say about how hunger for knowledge, love, or even food can affect the way we think. When we find ourselves hungry, our priorities can change, our limits can be stretched, and occasionally we realize that God is out there beyond the realm of where we are full and “happy” with the things around us.
I invite you to ask yourself if there is a place in your life where you are hungry. Is the hunger meant to teach you something or stretch you beyond the places where you are safe and comfortable?
“Awake” and seeing around us
On a spring day of last year, I was out and about with my camera when I noticed something in the nearby woods. It was May and the weather was beginning to warm up. Life was blossoming everywhere and it seemed like everyone (including the animals) had places to go and things to do.
Cars drove by, birds flew overhead, and this deer ran down the side of the road. As I contemplate the #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt of the word “Awake,” I wonder if this is the only image of this deer in existence. Does anyone think of this particular deer today? If I hadn’t opened my eyes to see the world around me, would there even be a trace of this one deer in the world?
If still wandering the roads, I hope this deer is doing well. If not, then I pray what was good and holy in this deer is kept safe and well in the hands of the One who brought it into being. As I cannot know, I am simply grateful that I was awake enough to see when this momentary blessing came to pass when our two paths through this world crossed.
In our devotional today, while reading Luke 21:1-4, we see that Jesus was also a fan of being awake enough to notice the world around. As Jesus sat in the temple, a widow with two small coins gave all of the coins that she had to live on to the temple treasury. She had only two coins to live upon and she had the audacity to give both of them for God’s work.
Jesus noticed this moment when a woman with very little put everything into the offering plate. When we read this story in church, I often think about those words from the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, for they will have the kingdom of heaven. I pray that those words are true because of faithful people like this widow that offer everything to God out of a place of poverty.
As a clergy person, I have to say that it humbles me to think that some people give their last coins to God and I live off of a salary drawn from those offerings. It is humbling and challenging to think that I have food because of someone’s offering. Such offerings made to God certainly cause me to think twice about how I spend my paycheck. If Christ was awake enough to notice the two coins offered by this widow, I cannot imagine ever being comfortable abusing or misusing my paycheck.
I think clergy, especially clergy with any amount of affluence, should see such stories and understand the phrase “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Protect” and the Withered Hand
The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Protect.” The scripture reading in our devotional today is a story (found in Luke 6:6-11) of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. The individual had a hand that is described in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as being “withered.”
While the daily prompts have generally fit nicely with our devotional, today’s prompt is a bit challenging. I do not always do yoga, but I have been known to stretch ideas when necessary. Hopefully I will not stretch the idea of protecting too far.
What an interesting thing it is to see Jesus love someone and have compassion despite the fact that other people did not see his actions as being holy or righteous. The healing Christ performed on the Sabbath may have been fine on another day, but to violate the Sabbath commandments to avoid work seemingly struck them as a violation of the law.
At one level, I have to admit that I find the reaction of the religious leaders to be an understandable reaction. Their reaction might even be seen as admirable if you consider the extent of their commitment to their faith. While their heart was clearly in a different place than Jesus’ heart, it is understandable that there might be a push towards a very strict faith. The people in our story were living in a world that seemingly had turned against the people of God through the powerful forces of foreign empires and armies. They believed fiercely in their faith because they were likely concerned about losing their way if they loosened their grasp.
Still, as admirable as their tenacity was in such circumstances, they still missed the point. Jesus saw an individual who was hurt and who needed compassion. The people were so focused on the rules that they lost their perspective. I wish I could say that this was a problem that has disappeared over the centuries, but the modern church has often struggled with compassion and love when confronted with hurt people who are easily labeled as “sinners.”
In choosing a photo to portray this point, I went through my old photos and found a picture of my dog Lily standing underneath the trees in one of our favorite spots on the Interloken trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest. Lily looked so noble while looking around to make certain that everything was safe and that we were alone in the fields.
I still do not know how to tell a dog that we are sitting in the middle of a pasture that is fenced in on every side. There are no predators in the field. On that particular day, there weren’t even any cattle in sight. We were in an empty field and there was no reason to be anxious.
I have noticed over the years that we often get our hackles up and prepare to defend ourselves and our faith from threats that really aren’t threats. At the best of those times, we look like Lily being overprotective in an empty field. At the worst of times, we end up causing or threatening real harm to people who have done nothing more than have a withered hand on the Sabbath.
Personally, I plan to spend some time today thinking about the fact that there may be places in my life where I am dead set on protecting something and possibly missing the forest for the trees. I know that my dog isn’t the only silly creature in my home.
“Alone” and Compassion
The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “alone.” What a word for contemplation, especially for a father in the midst of working his way through a separation! “Alone” is a word that I have pondered many times over the past few months.
A phrase stands out in our devotional reading for today: “Even when put in a challenging place, Jesus responds to challenge with compassion.” If we are called to become more like Jesus during this journey towards the cross, then what does it look like when we seek to respond to our challenges with compassion?
When writing this section of the devotional, my life was in a far more different place. As I work through this devotional alongside the members of my church, it is with a sense of wonder. Who was the person who wrote these words? I remember the hours working on this devotional, but now see the passages with different eyes and definitely answer the questions differently than I would have when I wrote this devotional.
In selecting a photo for today, I wanted to think about what it means to truly be alone. At the beginning of this oddly horrifying and challenging set of circumstances, I found myself filled with grief over the quiet house, the silent bedrooms, and the challenges of cooking for fewer people. Now, I find myself often coming across beautiful and wonderful things that are bitterly sweet.
I took this photo on a cold winter’s day while walking with my dog down a nearby trail. The path was empty of anyone, although there was clearly evidence that I was not the first person to enter the woods. For the entirety of the journey, I was alone with my dog. The wind blew through the branches, the dog snuffled through snow drifts and marked the snow, but it was otherwise silent.
It was beautifully still and silent. A world of icy stillness and solitude for just my dog and me. The sunlight shone through the branches and the snow sparkled underneath golden beams. It was truly amazing that I was able to see such beauty and it felt like that moment was for me and me alone. In the beauty and quiet, I felt as if God was walking right there with me.
It was sweet to know that I still matter enough that God draws near to me in such still spaces. It was sweet to know that God loves me deeply and truly despite the challenges of the past few months. It was also bitter to realize that I might have shared such a moment with my children a year ago.
How do I respond to these challenging moments with compassion? How do I love the people who have broken my heart through either their choices or simply doing their work? These are thoughts for my journal and not my blog, but I can state that this is where the journey for me begins today.
Fourteen Years of Chinese
After a week of indecision, I have decided to have Chinese today. Fourteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, I burst into a liquor store with what felt like the stupidest question on my lips. “It is Valentine’s Day, my wife just gave birth two days ago, and we are having Chinese. What wine goes with Chinese food?” The clerk did not know what to do, what to say, and quickly suggested sake before we both remembered that was Japanese.
Fourteen years later and the marriage is over. There is nobody to share Chinese with tonight, but I still remember bringing home Chinese while exhausted. I remember both of us passing out from exhaustion on our couch as our baby slept while swaddled nearby. I don’t even think either of us even bothered drinking a glass of the wine. I remember all of these things and walking exhaustedly to try and help my wife have a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day with food we both loved.
She isn’t here. Those moments are gone, but I still remember pushing my legs to go out to the car and get dinner. I remember the adrenaline crash after getting everyone home safely after the first car ride with a used car seat and then heading out to find my wife the closest thing I could find to a romantic dinner. I do not want to lose the memory, do not want to lose the feeling of “bringing home the bacon” to a family for the first time, and I remember being proud of myself for something that was so simple. I do not want to forget how my child changed my life on that Valentine’s Day or how I found something far more wonderful than diamonds to give to my wife. I’ll have Chinese anyway and I will remember the most beautiful Valentine’s Day I ever experienced, even if I remember through tears.
"What goes with egg rolls?" The stunned clerk was quite flummoxed but did a good job At least, I think that she did I do not remember now
“More than a Building”
If you stop to look more than a mere glance It is more than a building. It hides itself well with the bricks so fine but this is not just a church. Real lives change here when people listen and find a kind place with hope. We may not fix things when the world breaks stuff but we listen with our hearts. We share words of home We offer safe space for people who are adrift Not just a building we are a free pier for all who sail on life's waves. Building, dock, or church This sanctuary is offered freely to all I am so grateful and laugh here with joy for this is not just a church In this place we feed those with a hunger both in body and/or soul It is a garden for all of the "bees" who need some nectar or rest It is a warm inn on a wintry road when people need safe shelter It is a rare place where death comes quite near but nobody runs in fear. It is where goodbye is shared with a hope that goodbye is "just for now." It is where we wash the soul with water and ask the Spirit to come. Full of miracles stories with wonder defy explanation here It is made of brick but is more solid than just a sacred building It is a place to find grace It is a place to belong It is more than a building
The Calling and a Personal Journey
There’s a long gap in my blog between the events of the past and the events of the present. A lot happened between those last poems from a while back and the poems of today. I have been on a journey of discovery as my wife separated from me as I came to grips with the fact that my marriage was at an end.
There were a lot of missing poems that were shared between shed tears. Like sand mandalas, those poems were here for a moment and then gone. In many ways those poems blurred the lines between prayer and poetry even more than usual. There were moments of grief, anxiety, and loss.
Over those months of quiet self-reflection and work I came to a point where I finally publicly admitted that I am in recovery from alcoholism which did not begin in the last year or during that silence. I have been open about my family’s history with alcoholism, but had never shared the stories with anyone of how I used alcohol to supplement pain medication during a lengthy period of severe pain and physical therapy where I could barely walk or even sit still from the pain. I didn’t have the life wisdom to realize that I should have gone to a doctor instead of self-medicate on top of prescription medication. That decision was dangerous and doubly-dangerous as my family has a history of addiction. It was foolish.
I have had to come to grips with what part of my life had been shredded by alcoholism, realized that there were problems that had had nothing to do with alcoholism in my relationship, and I have realized that I kept medicating pain of a different kind even after my back healed. I have come to understand that this is a season where I need to be faithful to my identity as a single man who still wants to be a good father, wants a respectful relationship with his former partner, and who wants to find a way forward while choosing both life and the high road through some very dark passes in spite of the choices of others.
One of the most difficult conversations I had during that dark period was a long conversation with my District Superintendent where I shared openly and honestly about the journey I have been on. I shared that I still felt called to the ministry, still felt the Holy Spirit at work, and shared about the journey of recovery which has included working with professionals and a particular anonymous organization to connect all the aspects of my journey into one way forward. I have put in a lot of work medically, psychologically, and spiritually over a period of years to come to this place where I am beginning to see the light of freedom in recovery. I have put in hundreds if not thousands of hours into seeking freedom from the consequences of my biology, choices, and a disease that is not infectious certainly seems communicable.
I share this now as I was just blown away by a passage I read while preparing for my sermon this Sunday. I was working through the commentary of Ronald Clements in the Jeremiah entry to the “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching” Series published by John Knox Press. On page 16, Clements writes of Jeremiah:
“The sense of call, with all that this meant by way of reliance upon God and the stripping away of all other social and personal supports, was something that was taking shape over a long and difficult period of time. It had begun for Jeremiah at a specific moment in his personal life and had continued. The experience of inner self-discovery had not ceased since that first day. The sense of call belong too to his private inner world as a part of his personal understanding of God. Yet it had to be a public and openly declared part of his self-understanding, since it alone could explain his declarations and his personal authority to declare them. No one could confirm or deny that he possessed this calling; it was between himself and God.”Clements, Ronald E. Jeremiah. John Knox Press, 2012.
I was blown away by this passage. While reading this commentary, I connected deeply and intimately with Jeremiah in a way that I have never connected before this moment. Certainly, I am not the first pastor to sigh over the direction of American Christianity. I can connect the dots between the political and social forces of Judah in Jeremiah’s day and the the political and social forces in modern American religion. I am not the first pastor to wonder if the rhetoric and posturing of many modern church leaders on television is not the gasp of a system that is about to go into exile. This is not where I felt a connection.
I felt a connection as I remember my past. I remember being a teenager who felt called away from a suicidal grief into the love of God. I remember talking with a youth leader about how I wanted to go into ministry because it was tugging at a deep part of me. I remember being a youth leader and a church intern who just kept feeling the compulsion to go deeper. I remember studying and taking the first steps into ministry. I remember the interviews, the affirmations, and the ordination. I remember all of those moments.
I also remember praying with trusted friends in Malvern, PA, at the Academy of Spiritual Formation as I admitted that I was occasionally mixing drugs and alcohol to get through the pain. I remember talking with close friends about how it felt less and less like a choice. I remember asking them to pray for me as I started trying to get free of that compulsion to drink. I remember being dry and miserable on my own without a single supportive voice. I remember the first time I said: “Hi, my name is Rob and I’m an alcoholic.” I also remember that it took a few attempts to find the courage to say those words. I remember meeting with a sponsor for the first time and sharing stories. I remember the anxiety and fear. I remember the first time I worked through my fear and clearly stated aloud why I always note that we serve non-alcoholic juice when serving communion: I say it because of people in recovery like me.
I remember talking with Pastor Parish Relations Members at my church about the fact that my wife and I were separating and how it partially related back to my own journey of recovery. I remember sharing that I had a relapse and that I had climbed back on the wagon quickly because I was afraid. I remember crying with fear about being honest. I remember how freeing it was to tell people that I attend meetings daily via Zoom to continue to seek freedom. I also know that I have both amends and living amends to make with people I have harmed along the way. I remember almost every conversation with someone I have known for a long time where I have said something along the lines of: “I’ve had to come to grips with something.”
Through all of these things I have never felt my call to leadership ebb. In fact, I have had many people open up about their own struggles and the struggles of others. I have talked with wandering folks who come to my church each time they are in the area because the pastor not only understands the journey towards sobriety but is walking down that same road. I share a cup of coffee with them after church not out of sympathy but out of true camraderie as a sojourner down a similar road. I have even performed funerals for people who have and have not found a way to freedom on that same road. I feel like I am a better minister since I have found the courage to be honest about my alcoholism. Honestly, I feel more hampered by the pain of marital and parental separation than the daily journey of recovery.
At some point I hope I will get to the point where I share with others in those meetings that I’m not only an alcoholic but a pastor. Honestly, that’s almost more scary than sharing with the church that I have a struggle with addiction. According to one study published last year, the national average of drinks consumed in the United States was 17 per week (Survey: Americans consumed 17 alcoholic drinks per week in 2020). It seems less strange to admit that I am just another person struggling with the disease of alcoholism that has been on the rise over the course of the pandemic than to admit to other people that I have a very very close relationship with “the God of my understanding,” especially if that means they might share less freely about their own journey and struggles.
In the meantime, I do feel called to continue in ministry quite strongly. Clements indicates of Jeremiah, the calling that Jeremiah experiences was one that nobody could confirm or deny from the outside. I identify with that description of the calling deeply. The calling is first and foremost internal.
Surely, I could be reappointed or even stripped of a title, but that’s different from having the authority to confirm or deny a calling. As the Bishop said at my ordination, ordination was a recognition of what God has done and what God is doing in my life. Ordination was an affirmation of what God was doing and recognition that God was at work in a special way. That journey has not changed and that calling has never ceased. It still burns deeply within me.
I wish I could put into words how strange it is to be called to leadership and authority while daily admitting that I am powerless to straighten things out on my own. The power was never mine, but it often feels easy to assume I am more powerful than I am, which many of my colleagues likely understand. I personally have come to believe it makes me a better leader as I am quite clear on the fact that the power I hold and wield as a minister does comes from God and not from my own strength.
So that’s the story of the long absence between posts. Yes, I am in recovery. No, I’m not ashamed of admitting my need for God to work in my life every day through the process. Yes, I am allergic to alcohol and I have a disease. No, having a disease is not the end of the world. This disease is a disease and not some moral failing or mark of worthlessness. Good people that I have come to trust tell me that there is a solution and I believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Truly, I live each day with hope and courage that comes from being on my knees and asking for help each time I wake up in the morning to the snuffling sounds of a dog and each night that I go to sleep alone. God is with me on this journey and that journey will continue 24 hours at a time for the rest of my life. I am okay with that journey and I will keep walking.
Yesterday I knew, I knew, I was thirty nine. Body, heart, and soul. I was sure I had one more. How could time flow so quickly? A friendly voice spoke Had I done the math? Did I? Of course I was sure I was so sure that I knew, I knew, I was thirty nine. As the shower rained, curiosity nagging, I checked on fingers. The fingers say I'm forty. I knew I was thirty nine. It seems so stupid that I forgot my own age, but who really cares If I add a syllable or see who I am inside? I am who I am and I don't dwell on my age. The tree was happy as the colorful lights shone and celebrated with me.
Living up to my blog title
I have to admit that this transition from one church to another has been a bit overwhelming lately! Switching from a primarily written leadership at my previous church, to an in-person leadership in a parking lot at my previous church, to a digital leadership in my current appointment has been quite an existential workout over the past two months.
It is hard to imagine that one month ago today we were frantically putting boxes into our cars as my wife and I officially moved to Trumansburg. We still have boxes to unpack and my church office has never appeared so organized. Just yesterday I finally started sanding down the pieces of furniture my wife wanted painted before we put them into their final resting places. There’s still so much to do before we are fully settled!
Catching up with the running train of a church has been an experience, especially as I keep trying new things. As always, it is the odd stuff that sticks out in memory. In my church life, I found myself prone in a creek bed in a gorge earlier this week capturing a picture for tomorrow’s slideshow background. It was a cool picture and definitely worth the silt and creek dust on my clothes..
In my personal life, I took the scooter that I purchased (in a thus fruitless attempt to help me zoom around Syracuse at Annual Conference) to the local skate park to ride around the ramps and pipes with my kids as they each roller bladed, skateboarded, and toddled with a walking bike. I only tripped over my feet and hit the ground once—I was impressed, but still ultimately lost our game of tag.
In my spiritual life, I have found great comfort in using one of the eLearning resources through the Upper Room. I have been reading through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s “Prayer, Stress and Our Inner Wounds” and doing the corresponding eCourse. It has been uplifting to take the time to slow myself down for personal growth.
Wherever you are, I pray that your summer is going well. Rest assured that blogging will become more regular as routine slowly asserts itself in this new place and new space. Blessings today!