Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rear View Mirror: 5 Things I Will Not Miss

I am rather amused that I only have five things.  At least five I am willing to publish.  They say that folks either love or hate the ABQ.  I managed to circumvent that notion by loving the activities and the food and the people.  However, I have serious reservations about the loveliness of the climate.  It has been pleasingly cool for the last few days.  More similar to a day at a Pacific beach than the typical ABQ summer weather.  An employee at Starbucks told me he had heard people complain.  Apparently some folks like scorching sun and sand blowing in your face.

So to follow up on a few of the things I will miss, I have a few that I will not.

Fading.  Everything fades in the consistent mile high sunshine.  Pieces of paper that are nowhere near the window, fade.  Books inside a home, where the blinds are always closed, inside a glass cabinet, fade.  Playground equipment and road signs, you name it.  The sun scalds you when it is freezing outside. A similar volume of sun would be fine, just a little bit further away please.

Dog Pee on Hot Xeriscaping Rocks: It smells worse than the worst day at a hot beach with no wind and lots of dead creatures rotting in the sun.  The sight of poo on xeriscaping, also not a favorite.  Why does it look less awful on grass??  Actually I won't miss the xeriscaping at all.  At least not the rocks type. A garden of untamed wildflowers would be prettier.  Xeriscaping has come a long way in the last decade or so, yet it still is just one more item for the high spring winds to pick up and hurl in your face.  I failed to convince myself that the elaborate rock and crushed granite displays were better than nothing.

Evaporation Beyond Belief: In cleaning out my house I discovered a jar of jewelry cleaner that I had forgotten about.  You know the watery stinky ones that are not very good for your jewelry.  Anyways it was sealed and in a drawer in the bathroom and ALL THE LIQUID EVAPORATED.  Through the plastic.  Then there is this darling glitter globe ring given to me a decade ago by a young friend.  It was a fantastic conversation piece.  However after about one year, ALL THE LIQUID EVAPORATED.  Through the plastic.

Vege-what? New Mexico is sort of like what would happen if you mixed up Texas, California and Colorado, and covered it in green chile stew.   I have been a vegetarian for almost 20 years. It has never been harder.  This was surprising, given the hippie streak in New Mexico. Apparently here the norm is bacon loving hippie-ness.   My diet was less stressful in Arkansas and Mississippi!  Watching folks refuse meatless options like they were horrible insulting alien dishes; encountering folks who seem insulted by my choice.  Catered event dinners with nothing healthy or vegetarian on the menu. Dinner of cornbread, anyone, anyone?

Those days when the swamp cooler doesn't really work.  Evaporative cooling is more physics than chemistry.  For it to be effective it needs to be under 95 degrees (f) and under 35% humidity, or something like that.  When those factors are in play, I prefer swamp coolers.  They are moist rather than drying; they are usually a comfortable cool rather than a frigid one.  Some folks feel that it is environmentally better than AC; and it is certainly a much simpler contraption.   However, there are always days in the summer when neither of the 2 factors listed above are present.  On those days, which must total about 20 a summer, then the SC is a joke.  Last summer while in Indianapolis I had dinner at a restaurant whose AC was non-functional.  Everyone else at the dinner party was very uncomfortable.  I found it normal, normal for when it is one of those days when the swamp cooler just ain't gonna cool anything.  I noticed a few swamp coolers in my new small town...which is more humid than here.  I wonder how that is gonna work.

What life factors here in the ABQ are forgettable for you?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Beep Beep: 6 Things I Will Miss

In less than a month I will be relocated to the Northwest. I am ridiculously excited to return to humidity and rainfall and green grass.  However, I have been getting a bit sappy, loving last lunches with friends, carrying my favorite known-her-whole-life four-year-old to the car.  Besides my friends what will I miss?  Here are six to begin with.

Roadrunners.  They are real critters (this sometimes surprises visitors) who don't honk.  However,they are so unique it feels like you have spotted a leprechaun.  

Cafe Lush Red Chile.  The arguments about the best green and or red chile in Albuquerque are endless.  However my favorite is the red chile at Cafe Lush downtown.  It is like tenderly hot silk.   

Eggs Anytime.  Eggs are not relegated to morning food around here.  There is no time when a 'breakfast burrito' is not obtainable.

Smell of Cedar and Pinon roasting in the sun.  When you go for a hike around here, generally the world smells like cedar and pinon.  I may have to buy a large box of the incense cones they sell.

Green Chile Roasting in the Fall.  At first sniff I thought I was smelling the smoke of rank pot.  Then it grows on you.  There is a large roasting facility not far from my church office and home.  Many evenings in the fall you find yourself blessed by what I call the 'verde wind'.   

These seed pod things.  There is something therapeutic about crushing these under your foot.  (Apparently they are not from maple trees.  I thought the leaves looked maple-y.  Sycamore, which explains the trunks.)

Albuquerque and New Mexico friends...what would you miss?

Next week...6 things I know I won't miss.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Second Breakfast Surprise

It was the perfect setup.  On the first day of class we signed in, we found our nametags and then went into the parish hall.  There before us was an amazing table filled with fresh Hawaiian fruit, milk, butter and sugar.  At the end of the table was a huge rice cooker full of hot steaming rice.  We made ourselves a second breakfast.    I wonder…would you?  It was fantastic, all of my fellow guest students agreed.   

We had registered for a short course in Asian Multicultural Ministry.   That just happened to be in Hawaii.  Darn.  J  We were to be guests for a week with a Methodist congregation in Honolulu.  The guests, we were a fairly diverse group of mainstream, religious, well educated American adults.  This was turning out to be the best class ever, and we hadn’t even started!  The members of this congregation were to be our co-hosts with their pastor who was our instructor.  They were mostly Japanese American, and  When they saw us making and enjoying our delightful mix of fruit and sweet and butter and rice…they were shocked.  Surprised.  One man needed to sit down. 

Food is an intense subject.  It is the place where cultures divide and mingle.  Food is memory, it is friendship, it is survival.  In Japanese culture rice is roots, it is shelter, it is almost life itself.   The words for breakfast, lunch and dinner share the root word for rice.  Rice is community.  It is nearly impossible to cultivate rice on your own.  Growing rice demands lots of people working together,   and it may have been this food revolution that brought primordial east Asian tribes together.  Rice can have a sacramental-like quality.  There are things you do when eating rice and there are things you do not do, and these vary across Asia.  Milk and butter and sugar and fruit mixed up with rice?  Apparently not.  We were guests, and we had thrown ourselves, bellies first,  into the things our Japanese American hosts just did not do!

Our host, a Caucasian American pastor who specializes in Asian American ministry, he knew exactly what he was doing.  It was a set up.  His Arkansan self knew that the student guests would walk in, and we would see breakfast (or second breakfast).  He also knew that his congregants would see a table of unrelated food.  He was inviting cross-cultural conflict.  Not with an idea, or a philosophy, but with something as intimate and important as food.

Paul is not thrilled with some of what is going on with the Christians of Galatia.  These are men and women who are Jesus-is-the-Messiah-and-Risen-Lord believers within Jewish diaspora communities.  Beyond the letter is a disagreement about hosts and guests,  about insiders and outsiders, and about the relationship between outward signs and inward realities.  As you already know, right down to this very day conventional Judaism is defined by diet, can be defined by what you wear and more.  For Paul’s opponents, full incorporation,  following Christ within the Jewish community meant following the lifestyle of traditional Judaism.  All of it: head, heart, belly and body.  No exceptions.

Hard as it is for me to say, the hosts, the insiders, let’s call them the traditionalists, are not entirely wrong.  The Judaism Jesus lived seemed indivisible from the ritual and dietary practices that we might casually refer to as KOSHER.  All practitioners of a religion are more likely to experience the benefits of religious practice when they are steeped in it,  when it is woven into their lives from first breath to the last.   For the insiders, these practices tie them to life, to hope and to eternity.  When Jesus challenged the assumptions about what is done, and what is not done.  When he wondered aloud about the relationship between what we do on the outside and where our heart resides, the insiders were shocked.  Surprised. 

The insiders, let’s call them hosts,  in the hope that they might see themselves that way, the hosts of the Galatian community are grappling with some of the very questions that Jesus’ life demands of us today.  This dynamic of host and guest ties this letter of Paul with our lesson from Luke.  The 70 disciples are sent out two by two to find hosts and to be guests.  Maybe something in your mind stumbled when you heard 70 instead of 12.

There are many qualities that distinguish the Gospel of Luke from its siblings Mark and Matthew.  One of the most important is Luke’s rootedness and expansiveness. Luke is very sure to root the good news of Jesus in pious traditional Judaism,  and to grow from those roots an immense plant, like a mustard tree, big enough to be home to all who need it.  So whereas Mark and Matthew offer a commissioning of 12,  Luke gives us that and  a commissioning of the seventy disciples.   

Seventy, which is the number of the nations listed in Genesis,  seventy which from the deepest roots of Judaism is a number that is inclusive of everything.  So we are sent out in pairs,  pairs are required by Jewish law for credible testimony.  Thirty-five pairs of everyday men and women who left their nets and followed.  Dozens of folks who are now sent out, bearers of Christ.  They are to prepare the way and to be humble guests.  Guests who  journey out to break bread and heal and proclaim the good news.  Expansiveness isn’t just about inclusiveness.  It is also about servant leadership being the task of all who follow Christ.  We are to have deep roots and tall stalks and shady branches.  We are to be good guests, and good hosts. 

There is nothing easy about being either a host or a guest.  Both roles, are about being a servant of a greater good.  Both hosts and guests will need humility and generosity.   The way of the world, the reality of being humans that make new humans, is that  God willing, there will always be the challenge of being hosts and being guests.  Being church insiders means being a good host for whomever comes knocking at our doors.  No exceptions.  

Life together is a constant interplay of insiders, and outsiders, life together is being a host for what was  and a guest for what is to be.  Bestselling author John Green once wrote that "imagination is a kind of nostalgia for the future."  Those of us who are hosts must learn to expand, to love what was and to help what was become what comes next.   Those of us who are guests must come ready to become rooted, to break bread, to heal and imagine.   Imagination is a kind of nostalgia for the future.   

Maybe this church thing is like rice.  It needs roots, but it also needs strong stalks, lots of water and a community to bring forth its gifts.  It travels well,  it feeds well, it has found a home in almost every nation on earth.  There are as many ways to prepare it as there are to be offended by the preparing of it.  Yet whether it is beautifully plain or covered with fruit and butter, it is still good food. 

That class really was the best class ever.  Not just because it was in Hawaii or because we ate a lot of really good food.  We were transformed by each other, hosts and guests.  We became a community, we became friends.  It was a course in multiculturalism for our hosts as well.  Is there anything that isn’t?   Can you remember a time in your life where you were a host, or a guest;  and you encountered a new way to eat, or work or live?  Can you remember a time when you were surprised by joy?  I can.


Episcopal Cathedral of St. John
Albuquerque, New Mexico
July 7, 2013
Season after Pentecost
Ordinary 15C

The whole quote is this:

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (...) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”  Later on.."The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive."   from Looking for Alaska

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dwelling together

The Amphitheater Campground sits
directly above Ouray, Colorado!
A few years a go I met a man who leads survivalist training.  Not basement stocked with tin cans, but wilderness survival training.  He told me about an unusual part of his business. Pre-marital survival weekends.  Actually, it was just an overnight with you and your to-be-spouse and not much else.

Couples would spend the first evening and morning in training with a typical bed to sleep in.  They would spend this time learning how to make do and survive in the wilderness.  What to eat, and what not to eat.  Sort of a condensed version of the prep time in the Hunger Games.

Then they would be taken to a remote wilderness location, given a random pocket full of stuff: jellybeans, small piece of string, a nearly empty lighter or one match.  Then he would leave and return to find them at the same spot in 24 hours.  There were emergency safety precautions in place, but this entrepreneur claimed to have never used them.

It is radically brilliant in its simplicity.  Common wisdom says that you should travel together before you commit, experienced counselors want for a couple to have worked through a strong disagreement as well.   Yet this idea, it is sort of extremely perfect.  It is setting up a context of crisis.  It is both prepared and safe and demanding at the same time.  Crisis are not usually so manufactured.  A happy couple may be blessed to not encounter a rough patch.  This overnight in the wilderness would bring out our best and our worst.

The businessman said that some couples come out sure that they have  relational work to do before getting married, and wisely, some couples come out wholeheartedly against marrying each other. Yet there are also plenty who come out reassured about their readiness for the intensity of marriage.  This isn't a fail safe concept, but it is certainly a step away from the wedding industry nonsense that so many couples get lost in.

So what may you ask does this have to do with family ministry!  At the least it suggests that besides our counseling systems, we may want to take a step further into something that both demands human-ness and perhaps fosters community.  However I will leave that for those who have that vocational focus.

What it does remind me of is that for many years I have suggested that I am not at home at a church until I have slept there. (That will be really easy in my new digs!)  I have also been known to insist that a new church building isn't really home until it has had an overnight.  There is something about dwelling, sleeping, playing and eating together that does something to pull back the veil, something to invite that transgression into the holy.

I recently returned from a short car camping trip with a handful of church friends.  One friend I have traveled with frequently in my ministry here, one friend who i have spent lots and lots of time with, but never went anywhere with, and a family which includes a daughter I have traveled with, a parent I have worked with frequently and a parent I barely knew at all.  There was no agenda, certainly no religious one.

Every pastor has to set their own boundaries.  What and which friendships to make and keep, while keeping a safe church and best practices.  Something crucial to the pastoral dynamic can be enriched by casual time together.  I found myself wishing I had done this earlier, not right before I depart. Something very real and revealing happens where we get away from costumes and studies.

Jesus and the disciples and the countless other followers of this man were bound together through their traveling trials. The gospels don't offer any funny anecdotes about the time Peter burnt the dinner or Martha tripped over a tent.  We don't know who snored, who was up early tending the fire or what jokes they told as the sun went down.  Which is really a shame.

Trans-formative pedagogy includes three primary partners: critical thinking, heightened imagination, liberating practice.  An adventure like ours to a campground above Ouray, Colorado, offered all of these.  Many of our journeys offer such opportunities for holy play and critical adventure.  Journeys that invite the obvious interplay of faith practices and worldly living.  

  • At home and beyond how can we do more to bring these three elements into play in our ministries of formation? 
  •  The practical question is this..what do you do to initiate deeper community within the practice of our faith?