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The Comma blog now resides on the University Congregational UCC website, which has been totally rebuilt. Here’s the link to it on the new site: https://universityucc.org/the-comma/

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The Comma team

Last week, as I was reflecting on all the chaos that was unfolding in the first days of the new administration, I came across this piece of advice. It emerged during the South African resistance to apartheid, and it felt like something I could hold on to.

In the midst of great turmoil, just do the next good thing.”

imageSunday there was a spontaneous march in Seattle on behalf of immigrants here in Seattle. For many in my congregation, that was the next good thing they could do. But I could not join that group. I was flying down to Northern California for a United Church of Christ Pastors’ Retreat. I did take a sign with me to the airport, but I did not march in downtown Seattle. I was stepping away.

Eight of us from churches up and down the West Coast gathered to talk together about how our churches and how our lives are going. I have been meeting with this group for eight years now, every January. Relationships have deepened. Trust has grown. When I come home from this gathering, I always feel renewed.

This year, I was particularly eager for my retreat. In the two months since the election, I have felt an ongoing need to be with people of faith who are feeling the call to stand up for love and justice and compassion. I arrived Sunday night at the Franciscan retreat center above Danville. Being surrounded by images of St. Francis, and looking across at the Mount Diablo fit my mood. It feels right now like I am wrestling with my own internal saints and devils, not to mention what I see all around me.

So eight of us spent our two days together speaking of new strength we have seen in our congregations and ourselves since November. We encouraged each other in our work. We shared our fears and our hopes. We laughed together and prayed for each other. We ended our time by breaking bread, drinking wine, and worshipping together.

While we were away, the chaos in the wider world continued. The executive orders that have been coming from the new president throughout the week, culminating with last Friday’s ban on immigrants and refugees from select predominantly-Muslim countries continued to cause heartbreak and confusion in this country and around the world. Six people were killed and eight wounded at a Quebec City mosque during Sunday night prayers. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the shooting by a white man a “terrorist attack on Muslims”. The governor of my state of Washington announced a lawsuit against the president over his immigration ban. The city of Seattle continued its strong stance as a sanctuary city.

I have returned knowing there is much work ahead.

imageBut even as I rush to the work, I am grateful that January has been a month of retreats for me. Two weeks ago, I was in San Juan Batista, California, leading a retreat for the women of First Congregational UCC of San Jose, the congregation I served twenty years ago. I saw great strength and courage in that community of women as they committed to let their lights shine in the world. Last week I was with the women of my current congregation at Pilgrim Firs, the UCC camp in Port Orchard. Thirty five of us at that camp had our own Women’s March in solidarity with women, men and children all over the world marching for human rights. And earlier this week, I gathered with the pastors.

There will be a lot to do in the weeks, months, and probably years ahead. Staying engaged in the work will be critical. Sometimes we won’t even be sure what to do. In such times we can be on the look out for “the next good thing.”

But we also know we will need times of rest and renewal, space for strategizing, ways of recalibrating our internal compasses to match the touchstones of our faith. For the work ahead, we need deep roots and regular nourishment. Sometimes we “retreat” to move forward.

imageThe biblical word for such times is sabbath. The profound spiritual principles underlying sabbath remind me that I do not do this work alone, and every one of us needs good rest as well as good work. We are bound together, and lean into one another, even as we proclaim ourselves also bound to a wider world. When I need a break, you step forward to keep watch. When you grow weary, I take up the torch. The saying I learned from my Kenyan friend Loyce is,

When you want to go fast, go alone. When you want to go far, go together.”

We have a long way to go. May we find the balance between action and rest, between deepening renewal and “all forward” energy. And then let’s go far, together.

Pink River

img_20170121_1114067201

 

This Great Outpouring

This Great River of Love

This Great Connection

of which we are all apart

and so easily forget –

we felt it that day

we feel it still

flowing

flowing

reminding

grounding

strengthening

centering us still

moving together

arms outstretched

gathering each other,

holding each other close

never forgetting

castaways and refugees

battered and bruised as we are,

and how we keep on

flowing,

flowing,

flowing,

 

 

 

 

 

imageOn the farm this week, the ice is thawing and the rains are coming down. The sheep continue their daily march from the barn to the field and back to the barn at night. The watching coyote has appeared on the upper field in the middle of the day to remind me that his whole pack is still out there, checking on my faithfulness to my “put the sheep up at night” chore. These daily chores continue, no matter what else might be happening around me. The farm work has continued to ground me as I prepare for what might come. The repetitive nature of the work is not unlike the work I continue to do in the wider world and within my own soul. If you call my phone and I don’t answer, you will hear, complete with the sounds of bleating sheep, “I’m out in the barn doing chores or something.” That about sums it up.

In these few months between the election and the inauguration of a new president tomorrow, I have needed my daily chores. I have needed a reminding of what matters most, and of who I want to be in the world. When I was in motorcycle school fifteen years ago, I was taught that in order to avoid a crash, one needs to look not at what one wants to escape, but at where one wants to go. “Your bike will go where you are looking,” our instructor explained. “If there is something in the road you want to miss, or if there is something happening up ahead that you want to get around, don’t put your focus there. Instead, look to where you want the bike to go.”

Those wise words, when I remember them, have helped me more than once in my motorcycle riding. But in high-stress situations on the bike, it is easy to forget. I will find myself focusing precisely where I don’t want to go. “Watch out,” I say to myself as I give my attention over to that thing in front of me that I don’t want to happen. And the more I give myself to it, the more I find myself heading right where I don’t want to be. Then, somehow, it is as if I hear the voice of my instructor whispering to me, “Look up. Look beyond. See where you want to go.”

imageAll of that is simply another way of saying what I have learned in my wider work. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I remind myself. These words are usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but as it turns out, he never actually said them. What he did say was, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. . . . We need not wait to see what others do.”

This thought, either in the words of my motorcycle instructor, or the pithy bumper sticker quote, or the longer actual reflection of Gandhi, all invite me to the same place. They remind me of my chores: to keep doing my own inner work of transformation; to claim the larger story, rather than to allow someone else to shape the narrative of my life; to be accountable for my part of the larger call of Jesus. And finally, this insight empowers me to continue to live in the light and the hope of my faith.

imageThis weekend I will be gathering at a Women’s Retreat with many from my church. Others from my congregation will be watching the inauguration on Friday, and marching on Saturday somewhere- in Seattle, or on Whidbey Island, or in Washington D.C. We will all be doing our chores, as we continue to look to where we want to go. We are working for a world that recognizes the ways we are all connected, that honors diversity and values each person, that is aware of the sacredness of all creation, that embodies social justice and acts out of reconciling love. Jesus, citing his Jewish tradition, put it this way: “Love God with all your heart, with all your being, with all you strength, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).

Morning Run

january-2017-120A man on a park bench looks

out at the solitary gull perched

on a log floating

in the middle of the lake.

 

A young man who has just started

to grow a beard leans

forward on the stone wall watching

the white sailboats rolling

in the waves, knocking

gently on the dock.

 

A woman with curly blond hair and a flowing

black dress strides

down the walk, right arm raised,

palm outstretched, shading

her eyes from the sun.

january-2017-005

A little girl in a pink dress holds

her father’s hand tight, leans

down to touch

the puddle, to stroke

the water with her fingers.

 

The puddle ripples.

 

A little boy holds

hands with his older brother and his mother, swings

back and forth, jumps

up and

down.

 

Hush now, hush, his mother says,

Give me a minute.

I’m just trying to figure out

which way to go.

 

january-2017-002

*********************************************************************

(The picture of that exquisite bird is from my friend Esther Elizabeth.)

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Zen proverb

The temperature on the farm this morning was 21°. Every outside hose, water trough, bucket, and dish was frozen solid. I did not want to get up and do my chores. But on the farm, every day, the animals need to be fed. And even more importantly, every day, they need their water.

Normally I enjoy this rhythm of daily chores. It gives structure to my time and assures by the end of it that at least I have done one useful thing. By the time I leave to catch the ferry into Seattle, I have been up for at least two hours, and am ready to engage with whatever comes next.

imageBut when the weather turns this frigid, the relentless need for carrying water, every day, becomes grueling. It is dark when the alarm rings, and my bed is so warm. I know that I will have to put on several layers of jackets and coats, and a hat and gloves, just to open the door. And even then, the cold will seep through, and my hands and face will be numb before my work is finished.

And carrying water, instead of just turning on the faucet up by the house, is also hard work. The buckets get heavier every year. If I fill them too full, they slosh on to my pants, making me even colder.

imageSo up at the house I fill the buckets half full, and carry them carefully down to the lower pasture, and pour them into the water bucket, and return for another load. Freezing weather pretty much doubles the time it takes me to finish my morning chores.

Still, as I sit writing about doing my morning chores in 21° weather, there is something that feels solid and faithful about the work. Caring for my flocks in warm weather is one thing. remaining faithful to the tasks in this cold season takes me to a new level of my daily chores” spiritual practice.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

imageI am reminded of the bigger picture of daily practice- that no matter what might be happening in the wider world, there are some tasks I am called to do, every day. Every day I am called to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.

Every day I am called to show up, no matter how cold the world has turned.

imageOn the farm now it is cold and dark, but we are turning toward the light. The animals seem to sense the change. Just last week, on the shortest day of the year, I went to the chicken coop and found two eggs. The hens had not been laying for more than a month. Left on their own, they do not lay eggs in the dark season, when hatching them out would mean raising chicks at the leanest and most dangerous time of the year. But as if they were prophets anticipating the light, just before the world began tilting back toward the sun, the hens began laying again. It is just an egg or two a day right now, and they might take another break before they all start up their daily production in ernest, but my chickens have offered their judgement on life, and their verdict is “Yes.”

imageWe humans who follow the Gregorian calendar, named for a pope, and counting the years from the birth of a Jewish baby in occupied Palestine, have linked our New Year to this turning of the planet from dark to light. Last week we had our Christmas eve candlelight services, and our Christmas dinners, and now we are gathering our resolve, or perhaps rejecting the thought of resolutions all together, and preparing ourselves to face 2017.

The year about to end has been a troubling one. Not just for what has actually happened this year, although some of these “happenings” have been big, but also for the direction in which we find ourselves pointed here at the end. 2016, a leap year, gave us an extra day as nationalism, narrowness, and fear seemed to be on the rise in ways many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. Likewise, the virtues of generosity, curiosity, and compassion seemed to be on the wane.

imageI suspect that in the days to come we will need prophets who are bold enough to anticipate the light, and to respond bravely based on that conviction. Here on the farm, in these cold, dark days, the hens are laying their eggs. The guardian dog keeps watch over the flock as ewes are carrying lambs that will be born in the spring. The daffodil bulbs are just beginning to stir themselves for their mid-winter blooming. Even in these cold, dark days, life continues to affirm itself. My prayer for us in 2017 is that we each find ways to act with courage and compassion to join in that affirmation.

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