Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dump Divine, All Dumps Excelling

Toy Shop at the Dump I have a clever friend who for several years had her grandchildren convinced that the recycling center at her town dump was the local toy store. Every time they came to see her she would take them to the “toy store” and let them choose big ugly plastic things, pots for percussion, and special jars for catching fireflies. My friend would wink at the attendant and tell him to put their “purchases” on her account. It worked until her grandchildren gained in wisdom (i.e. became Lego-savvy) and caught on to the fact that Star Wars Lego sets never seemed to be in stock at Nana’s toy store.

In the small town New England where I live, we love our dump. Officially, it is The Recycling Center and Transfer Station and a few refer to it as The Hancock Mall, but mainly it is just The Dump. Our beloved Dump. It is a gathering place, a place of business (in that purposefully casual, sidelong way we, as New Englanders, prefer), a place where even curmudgeons get to strut their neighborliness.

007It is also a place where we share. At our dump, we have been sharing so well that some changes are in the works. Improvements that will help with the congestion and make it safer for patrons of the ever popular Swap Shop. Technically speaking, the Swap Shop is more of a Give and Take Shop. You don’t have to swap—you can inspect the goods and take home an item without bringing one in that day. Which makes ours a theologically correct dump–a time to sow and a time to reap, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3).

In true Swap Shop spirit, here are a few things you may want to inspect and possibly take home. Good stuff that has come my way and now begs to be shared:

  • A friend who is a Franciscan brother recently introduced me to  One beautiful photograph a day posted with a simple question for spiritual/personal reflection.
  • One of my summer neighbors (who coincidentally I saw at the dump this week) appears in this excellent video of MLK Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of that speech later this summer (August 28).  Don’t miss some of the other good things on the Salt Project website.                                                                                                          
  • And finally, it’s free. It’s on-line. It’s Harvard. And no one cares about your SAT scores. Registration is now open for a  course this fall on The Letters of Apostle Paul. Seriously, all you need is curiosity and an internet connection. Part of the EdX initiative bringing free courses from great universities to the people. Foodies, for instance, might want to investigate  Science and Cooking. Education evolving!

Advent in Summer

Except for a week or two at church camp, I did not go to sleepover camp as a child. During what would have been my prime camping years, it wasn’t yet part of my family culture. Later on, my family worked its way and its means around to the notion and I’m glad my younger brother and sister got to breathe in balsam and forge friendships lakeside in New Hampshire. Camp remains a foundational experience for them. Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t feel deprived. As an oldest child, I had a different (and equally rich) set of experiences.

Still, I would have told you at the time that my favorite movie was one set at summer camp–The Parent Trap (with Hayley not Lindsay). And I listened with intense fascination to the stories a neighborhood friend told when she got home from her month away at camp. I especially liked to hear about “Christmas In July”—a week when cabin mates became Secret Santas and the dining hall twinkled with Christmas lights.

I still think about Christmas in July. Sometimes I wish we could do Advent in July. I might be better at the spiritual discipline invoked by Advent during the summer than I am in December. Advent is the season of waiting and I don’t wait well in December. Give me a present early and I’m likely to sneak a peek. I over identify with Mary and want her to hurry up and get past labor and delivery so she can hold that sweet little baby in her arms. Liturgically speaking, I am not one of those ministers with strict Advent sensibilities. Don’t tell the Advent police, but in Hancock we cheat. We sing Christmas carols well before Christmas Eve. One simple reason—lots of our folks travel to be with family on and after Christmas and not to sing carols before they go means not to sing them at all with the people who are part of our family of faith.

But I don’t want to lose out on the spiritual discipline of waiting. I’m just more attuned to waiting in the summer. Maybe the lengthy days help. Everything stretches out and elongates in the summer. Conversations. Visits. Projects. My patience with a God who is only partially revealed.

 This summer my waiting is focused on a certain plant in my garden. Orphaned at a church plant sale last year, it was an ugly, papery, bulbous thing tagged with a set of finicky instructions. I coaxed a little greenery out of it last year, but nothing more. I waited. I put it in a heavy pot and lugged it around all winter, keeping it away from cold drafts and curious dogs. I waited some more.

AgapanthusBut the plant seems to be blossoming this summer And yesterday I got to see one in full bloom in a garden in Cambridge. A prophetic Agapanthus. And what do you know? It looks like my plant will be wearing blue. Mary’s color. One of the colors of Advent.

We are all waiting for something. To be waiting is to be alive. Or as Joan Chittister  puts it: “Waiting is an education. It tells us who we really are and how we really go about the great adventure of life.”

Happy Advent.

Praying Like Bonnie

SunIf I ever get sick, I hope Bonnie will pray for me. She is in prayer as she is in life–blunt and a touch bossy. There’s a smackdown quality to Bonnie’s spiritual life. She is not afraid to let the Almighty know what He or She ought to be doing. Bonnie prays the same way she directs traffic, a skill described by Sy Montgomery in The Good, Good Pig. (Note to friends in other parts of the country who may not have read Sy’s book—do. You’ll love it. And to preaching friends, great stuff in there on the surprising ways we become neighbors. End of plug.)

I don’t know Bonnie’s whole story. My years in ministry began just as de-institutionalization from state facilities started to ramp up, so I can probably guess. It’s enough to say that Bonnie once lived somewhere else, and now she lives among us. Which is our gain on many levels.

Bonnie is our lead-off batter on Sundays. After the sermon and heading into the pastoral prayer, when I ask if there are any concerns or celebrations before us as a congregation, Bonnie is the first to speak. Her prayer requests are mostly about things you can see—broken arms, car accidents, incidents involving flashing lights and ambulances. Sometimes she struggles to find the right word. On those days, she’ll pull at my sleeve before church.

“We’re gonna pray for my nayba who’s havin a hahd time breathin, whatda ya call that?”

“Emphysema? Asthma?” I’ll suggest.

“That’s it, that last one. We’re gonna pray ‘bout that thingy,” she’ll say with a royal wave of her hand, dismissing me to get on with my job.

One of the things on my “To Do” list is to order another batch of cards with Bonnie’s artwork on them. Even when the note I write is short and dashed off too quickly, I don’t worry so much about it when it goes out on one of those cards. Because if I can send someone a little bit of Bonnie, there’s more in that than any words I may scribble. I may be Bonnie’s pastor, but she is the my teacher, one who keeps teaching me how to pray.

P.S. Just added an album to FCC Hancock’s Facebook page where you can see six of Bonnie’s paintings.

Forgiveness is a Place

Yahweh's Other ShoeFunny how when you start to think about something, you suddenly see incarnations of it everywhere. There’s probably a good Yiddish word for that phenomenon. A couple of days ago, I wrote about Nelson Mandela’s smile and that same night, browsing the bookshelves here in Minnesota, I came across a book of poems by Brother Kilian McDonnell. He writes more eloquently than I ever could about Nelson Mandela :

For twenty-seven years he built a house

of freedom within the house of pain…

For twenty-seven years he drew no syllogistic

judgment of revenge—blood for blood, grave

for grave—no clichéd homilies of cheap grace.

He breaks open truth’s dungeon, uncages

robes of justice, erases the colored gavel,

unapartheiding tables and toilets, unscrambling

the syntax of despair, un-poisoning the chalice,

drinking from the cup with those who locked his cell.

This is freedom. Here all can breathe.

Forgiveness.  Maybe it’s not an act, but a place. A place we go to share the cup with people the world would excuse us for hating. A place where language does not intimidate because all are fluent in smiling. A place where the air is so Maine-morning fresh with freedom that all can breathe. I’m booking my ticket to that place today.

Smile Like Nelson Mandela


Nelson-MandelaIt is tempting to not turn on the news this week. Once again I am out in Minnesota, being splendidly taken care of by the good folks at The Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. I have my own lakefront apartment and last night they welcomed us with local beer and wild rice and maple brats. Under the spell of such extravagant welcome, it would be easy to let the world fall away.

But being something of a news junky (and since I am here for a residency on digital media), I couldn’t resist a little peek at CNN this morning. Where I learned Nelson Mandela is in the hospital again. He’s 94 now. One of these times, we are going to lose him. When we do, the world will lose one of its great, great smiles.

Some say it’s the eyes that tell, but for me, it’s the smile. I fall in love with smiles. It’s where a person’s character is revealed. Who in this world has a better smile than Nelson Mandela? All those years in prison, that extraordinary capacity for forgiveness, delight, wisdom–it’s all there in his smile. One of these days the world is going to lose that smile. And it will be up to us to fill that void with other smiles. So start now. Smile like Nelson Mandela.