Throw aways worth keeping

Mexican Sunflowers_1I went to Whitenight’s Farm and Greenhouse sometime back in May. The weather was warming up. I was in the mood to plant vegetables and flowers.  I  have a friendly relationship with Karen who works there. She may even own the place. I don’t know. I like her and the business alot.

My intention was to cultivate a colorful garden. I also wanted to build upon my efforts to farm and nurture Monarch Butterflies. Gardening is a healthy spiritual practice for me.  I wanted some Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) and Milkweed plants. They are key ingredients for farming butterflies.  The farm didn’t have any as it was too early to plant them. Karen wasn’t there that day so I didn’t get to check in. The cashier was kind enough to take my contact information. She ordered the amount of plants that I wanted. I went back to the house and planted my peppers, tomatoes, and some other things.

Then, life happened. Other priorities and diversions came along and I forgot about my gardening goals.

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Photo – courtesy of Whitenight’s Farm

Someone from Whitenights probably called at some in time. I don’t usually answer calls from unknown telephone numbers. They didn’t leave a voice mail message or maybe I accidentally deleted it.  Regardless, about six weeks later, I stopped in again to ask Karen about how the monarch butterfly season was going for her. I wasn’t seeing any monarchs in my backyard.  She indicated she hadn’t seen any monarchs either.  She then inquired whether I still wanted to buy the milkweed and sunflowers I had ordered.

Crap, I had forgotten.

She wasn’t even sure that the greenhouse still had them. Karen hadn’t ordered a lot more of milkweed and Mexican Sunflowers because of the dearth of butterflies in the area. Weather and conditions south of us were preventing monarchs from making it to Pennsylvania – at least that’s what we heard.

 

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She asked someone to look for my ordered plants just in case.  They were still there – about to be thrown away and looking very parched.  I felt awful because of my poor memory. I was responsible for the plants dying. Karen told me to go ahead and take them home. “Plant them anyway and see what happens.”  I offered to buy them.  She gave them to me for free. Feeling guilty, I bought some planting soil and some other stuff.  How many flowers and vegetables wind up in compost or garbage bins because customers like me aren’t as responsible as we should be?  Nature’s unpredictability and human shortcomings don’t probably help much either. I headed home with my almost dead garden plants and a heavy heart.

I planted the Tithonia in a section of my garden were the lilies and bee balm were doing great.  I used a heavy dose of planting soil, watered the twigs, and offered a prayer of gratitude for Karen’s generosity and hope for some growth.   Maybe the flowers and the butterflies would survive despite my forgetfulness. Maybe I should just be thankful for the manner in which my tomatoes, peppers, hydrangea, and other garden plants and vegetables were thriving. Well, was I in for some surprises as spring turned to summer.

We had a very rainy summer. I traveled quite a bit; so, I was away from home. My garden was on autopilot. garden_3 I came home to this picture.

My sunflowers had flourished! There were bees and butterflies all over the place. Monarch caterpillars were crawling all over my milkweed plants elsewhere in the yard.

I understand simplistically that these plants don’t need me or my feeble expertise to grow.  They are like the mustard seeds that Jesus speaks about in a fairly famous parable. Little seeds can grow into great big plants as long as they have good exposure to sunlight, healthy soil, and enough water to drink. This is not rocket science. Some would say, me being among them, that people are doing much more to harm than good to our planetary environments.  The most recent United Nations Climate Report suggests that human beings must take unprecedented social changes if we will survive and avoid catastrophic planetary peril. It was more than 90 degrees in Norway and over 100 degrees in Japan even as the rains fell in Pennsylvania and wildfires burned uncontrollably in Europe and Oregon. “Weirdness abounds” according to Rutgers University Scientist, Jennifer Francis.

We lose or waste billions of tons of food on this planet. Americans are especially wasteful as we throw away $165 billion dollars of our (un)prepared food. (Quention Fottrell). What would we gain if we would at least compost some of this supply?  Who is going hungry as food spoils on our garbage dumps?  blog 3What I find spiritually, ethically, and theological renewing is that there are emerging efforts across the globe to confront these realities. Episcopalians have decided to make the Stewardship of Creation an important goal by funding environmental stewardship initiatives. Organizations such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute purposefully blend research in the physical and social sciences, education and practical solutions in order to assist people and nations adopt a path toward sustainability.

One of my core personality principles that I commonly lose sight of is that everyone and everything is ultimately connected.  I have a deep longing for some idealistic future even as I overlook the beauty of this present moment.  Wholeness already exists. Paying attention to the joy I experience by going to Whitenights and planting flowers will help me to avoid becoming anxious or fascinating upon an unrealistic future.

Dr David Daniels astutely says that those of us who desire transformative change for ourselves, our gardens, and this island Earth our home must identify where we feel violated, angry, or afraid. How do these negative emotions shape and harm our future and our present? It is only then by confronting what is really going on that we can choose to act differently, and become someone who is born anew.

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Read Dr. David Daniels article about saving the planet through self-inquiry and personal growth.

In my own experience, I may look at myself as being ashamed of throwing away the flowers and letting them die at the nursery and along my life’s pilgrimage. Instead, I may choose to receive the gift of these dying flowers and plant them to see how they will grow and beautify my life and the lives of the people around me.

Developing daily rituals such as enjoying the beauty of the garden I’ve participated in growing, valuing the relationships I have in this moment, and continuing realistic, inspiration advocacy for the causes I love. These changes will have immediate as well as long term benefits . This pilgrimage invites a sustainable, beautiful path.

I’m going to purchase some mums from Whitenights today.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

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New, Neutralized, and Renewed

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The Valley of The Dry Bones imagery and text from The Saint John’s Bible. (calligraphy by Donald Jackson)

I occasionally consider what I believe in and why I believe it.  When I use the word believe I don’t mean to express it as a way of just thinking.  Believing for me is as much as more of be-living. Where, Why, How, Who do I profess and express faith and practice in my daily life. Am I faithfully devoting myself to issues and principles greater than my own free will and best interest.  Do I minimize hypocrisy as much as possible?

I am both a spiritual and religious person.  That is to say that I practice Christian rituals and believe in a triune God. That doesn’t suggest that I’m an orthodox Christian. In fact, my hypothesis is that I’m actually more heretical or universalist than many of my Christian contemporaries. I’ve become less dualistic in my thinking and beliefs. I slowly and steadily am stepping beyond my ego toward engaging the actual and mysterious paradoxes of life.  Such paradoxes are full of koans . For example – evil, vicious actions indeed may lead to renewed life.  The innocent murder of a sinless person possesses the capacity to redeem the world, not in a substitonary fashion but rather in  transformational ways.

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Donald Jackson. The Crucifixion. Preparatory sketch 1.(Luke 23:44-49). Preparatory sketch

This past week, I (and millions of other Christians) traveled through Holy Week.  This story is a religious and spiritual meta-metaphor for not only Jesus of Nazareth but for us as well. The Holy Week pilgrimage proclaims theosis.  God offers in-breaking presence and power in Holy Week. Power in weakness and defeat, then and now, provides means for resurrecting and guiding our steps toward becoming more human and divine.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and protest at the Jerusalem temple create conditions for tumult.  He accepts these challenges even as he celebrates a first sacramental communion and last mortal supper with his disciples.  He suffers the shame of betrayal. He is falsely accused of crimes. Roman officials, most likely with the assistance of fearful and/or jealous religious leaders, conspire to murder Jesus. All of these events provide the passionate stew for something miraculous to happen.  Jesus dies a horrible death. Then, amazingly – three days later he appears in a wounded yet transformed being to demonstrate loves power over hate, grace’s victory over evil.

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“It’s just pure support, love, and compassion for every single person who is an American citizen… We need love.” (David Hogg, March, 2018). Check out the values and visions that were and are #BehindTheMarch.

 

All of this “greatest story” is a dramatic representation as well  as a demonstration of Divine, in-breaking manifestation for transforming our abilities to become more human and divine. Do you want a current example today, here and now in America.  ‘Consider the activities of the Parkland High School Students before, during, in front of, and “Behind The March.”

Richard Rohr OFM, describes human development in a couple of coincidental ways.  First, he (along with Carl Jung) suggests that God offers people of faith opportunities to mature in two halves. These two segments do not have to be equivalent in time. Some, perhaps many of us (and the communities they live in) never reach the second half. We spend the first half of our lives building up our senses of individual and tribal powers, security, and ego-based (false) identities. Rohr, October, 2012).  We construct laws, rituals, and structures to support these values. It’s therefore important for children to learn quickly that God and their families love them as well other people different than them. Children who feel safe, beloved, and connected to God, themselves, their communities, and the creation more broadly develop healthy ego structures and boundaries. (Rohr, March, 2018). As we all know, or discover, this process isn’t easy. We live into the harsh and often perplexing realities of being human. This is the stage for the first portion of Jesus’ Holy Week as well as our own.

In life’s second half, our egos and we along with them come to understand that life isn’t all about us and/or the groups we belong to in this world. Our egos and souls emerge to claim what is our truest being. We adopt a holistic sense of who we are and why we are here, now. We have a shadow side as well as a bright side. Psychotherapy, and authentic religious, spiritual experiences unleash us from the bonds of our disbelieving what we understand about ourselves and the world we live in. Living in this half of life redeems us from selfishness, elitism, consumerism, and a host of other ego-based vices we are witnessing today. Peter begins this process when he betrays Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ trial.

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Regrettably, we can’t just leap-frog from the first stage of development onto the second stage.  We require a bridge. Often, it is a treacherous one. Moving from life’s ego-based into life’s soul-based domains typically requires us undertaking and accepting deep loss (death), shame, and wholehearted love.  People living with the disease of addiction(s) encounter the Divine through a vital spiritual experience. Victims of trauma and grief receive God’s Grace from unexpected encounters and unexpected healing circumstances.

Witness how the two halves of life and the bridge between them happens between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. Jesus’ followers and enemies alike believe that he is a king.  Victims of the Roman Empire seek a Messiah. Political, imperial, and religious authorities observe a threat. A clash happens leading to chaos, confusion, and death.  And then new life happens in The Resurrected Jesus Christ. Women  witness The Lord on Easter Sunday morning. They set set aside their fears. They had possessed an understanding of how their world was supposed to work. It didn’t. Powerful religious and political officials collaborated to execute their King. He died …. And then rose again. Thus the disciples who encounter The Christ cross over from the first to second half of life. They choose to adopt new beliefs, regardless of the costs. They remain in Jerusalem accepting the possibilities of being slain as their Messiah had died just a couple of days before them.  They were, as Jesus was, reborn and willing to offer new life to other people too.

M12This process of “order, disorder, and reorder” is what life, death, and resurrection should be all about as followers of Jesus Christ.  Every day provides each of us moments to contemplate and act upon what half of life are we living in. Who are the people transformed by their soulful, sorrowful, and life-giving experiences who inspire us?  What stories from scripture remind and redeem us? How does Christ’s compassionate life of offering sight to the blind, food to the hungry, and peace to victims of violence.  Have we picked up on our crosses and struggled up Calvary’s hill to die as one of the men who hung on crosses next to Jesus? What may we do to live with him now, forever on the other side of Easter’s empty tomb? How was your Holy Week? How is it going today on this side of Jesus’ and your own potential resurrection.

Apocalypse – the costly cement of racism.

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Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

I believe in an apocalypse. I actually think such revelations happen in small and large ways every day.   I’m not one of those fundamentalist Christians who believes that Planet Earth is about to crash into Planet Niburu. Conversely, I am re-creating myself as a 21st Century millennialist.  A sense of emerging humility is guiding me to accept the world as it is. New ways of being human are unfolding and dying is part of such a universal and apocalyptic process.

We should desire to live in a safer, healthier, more compassionate world. But, tribalism kills us.  Fear prompts us to blame some external force that is imprisoning us or murdering us. It is who we are as a species. We fear people we don’t know. We objectify others for our problems rather than accept our own faults. We claim to be better than someone from another culture. We wouldn’t act as they do. Yes, we mostly would.

We hope that God or the president or something will make life better. We lack responsibility, creativity, or power to design and enjoy Sabbaths in sacred time and space. We dream of living in a new millennium but  our “thoughts and prayers” are insufficient on their own. Another transformational apocalypse unfolds on our fragile island Earth. Its impact mostly crashes upon impoverished, marginalized people who don’t have the time, money, or access to yoga classes, this week’s diet, or fresh kale.

Screenshot (13)We as a species are frequently willing to deny rational truths about what is taking place in our world. We neglect or deny such rational truths based upon what we value. We are unwilling to give up, power, possession, or property even when such things do not give us the happiness we seek. We refuse to accept some fact or principle even when it is blatantly and factually untrue. We fight or flee from other people when they confront, and especially attack us with their different truths.

Why? Because we are who we are because of what we feel. Our identities are most important to us. Who we are in this day and age is actually much more lethal than it was in Jesus’ day. And, we haven’t matured all that much since the time when Romans crucified thousands of Jews including Jesus of Nazareth. In evolutionary terms, we remain adolescents. Like many teenagers, we think we will live forever and our actions have no consequences. Wise elders among us know such falsehoods are dangerous and tragically risky. We cling to our egoistic, childish, and self-centered attachments – often irrationally. If we desire to bring a new age into being, we must grow up and die daily in uncomfortable ways.

Thus, we indeed find ourselves on the brink of catastrophic consequences. One way of understanding our apocalypse is to see it through the lens of ancient prophets. They were  not just oracles who forecast a future imperial utopia. Instead, they viewed stark realities though the paradoxical presence of widespread despair & irrational hope. They spoke and wrote with confidence because of an unshakable faith and trust in a divinely engaged God who was witnessing and responding to all human cruelty.

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Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’ interview with Stephen Colbert.

Such prophets abide among us today. Ta-Neihisi Coates prophetically writes and states that we who live in the United States are living and participating in An American Tragedy. One aspect of this tragedy is that our president, in Coates’ words, “who is effectively conducting diplomacy with a nuclear rogue state via Twitter. … We forget how far gone we actually are.” This state of affairs and results are happening because we elected the country’s first Black president. A significant number of white people in the United States resent that reality. Power dynamics are consequentially shifting in the waters of American whiteness.  President Trump seeks to reverse initiatives that President Obama brought into being  according to Coates. Later on  The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Coates if he has any hope about  us becoming a better country, creating better race and political relationships. (h/t to Constance Grady on Vox.) Coates’ answer: “No, but I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope”

Really? Not at the church where I serve – at least not authentically. I’m kinda like Coates in one way.  I don’t want to make up bullshit when I don’t believe what I’m teaching or preaching. I have a hard enough time convincing myself that God is present in the continuing suffering and oppression of black and other people of color in the United States. And yet, that is precisely where God is as God was with Jesus.

I am convinced too that our economic and social ways of being are tragically unfair to millions of white people.  That’s not the main thrust of this blog post though. I and millions of people participate in seen and unseen racist ways and motives as a white people.  Thus, I question whether or not I am hopefully dismissing my own racial prejudices by mentioning Coates on my blog. My intention is to become more responsible for addressing the absence of manifest hope for “overcoming the racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. (Sen. B. Obama, Philadelphia, 2008). Racism is one integral chemical in the apocalypse that is revealing itself to me. I learning how to cope with suffering that is and isn’t within my control.

cornerstoneDespair haunts my apocalyptic thinking.  Perhaps I’m reading too much into scripture. Today’s Gospel suggests that Jesus was quick to point out what happens when religious peoples, especially pastors’, priests’, and theologians’, actions are hypocritically inconsistent with God’s yearnings for humanity’s peace and prosperity. He quickly and rudely points out how powerful authoritarians act quickly and violently to harm and execute God’s prophets.  Matthew’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants‘ analagous assault on the vineyard owner’s of course includes Matthew’s conclusive context to the parable. Such an interpretative ending also runs through all other readily available gospel writers’ narratives too, including the Gospel of Thomas. If we don’t like those endings then it is up to us to faithfully elect how to redact and revise them. This is resurrection and reordering work. Jesus the Christ provides a source and cornerstone for such miracles.

Human beings, then and now, choose to observe what is going on in the world and reject it. Our mortality is established upon love/hate relationships with the world we live in and the people we live with each day. We cement ourselves and our stories upon truths that we are attached to and their presence becomes the foundation for our own destruction. Unacknowledged or racial prejudice is one such cornerstone. Will it be that our blind eyes and anxious hearts will cause us to lose the vineyards we live in. This message is especially pertinent for people with significant degrees of racial, political, economic, social, and historical power. Let anyone with ears listen.

Saturday Chores

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Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Mohave-Pyracantha-(Firethorn)-450w“You’ll get your allowance when you trim the Pyracantha bushes and pick them up.” That’s the way my mother invited me to get going on my Saturday chores when I was a kid.  Some Saturdays were easier. Mow the lawn. Pull some dandelions in the backyard. Those weren’t such bad tasks.  The Pyracantha though. They were a pain!  I had to get the ladder out.  The clippers were electric but I had to use an extension cord.  I also needed hand clippers for some of the tougher parts of the bushes.  Cutting the branches was bad enough.  Getting them into the trash cans was a whole different deal.  The branches all have thorns.  Thorns that are long and sharp enough to penetrate the garden gloves I used.  Suffice it to say, I have lingering and unpleasant memories of Saturday chores.

Mom isn’t around to make me do my chores anymore. I’m accountable for giving and receiving my allowance.  I don’t own any Pyracantha bushes. In fact, I don’t have to do too many outside tasks anymore.  I’m lazier than I was 45 years ago. Someone else mows the lawn. It rains more in Pennsylvania where I am now in contrast to Arizona where I grew up.  No one can make me weed the gardens or prune the roses.

Such freedom opens portals to lethargy or complacency. It is leisurely to watch ESPN. Pulling weeds isn’t as much fun. Yes – and – the current human narrative states that a person cannot accomplish great things without putting in the labor necessary to achieve beauty.  One evidences a beautiful yard because the gardener, homeowner, or someone chooses that they enjoy gardening. They and other neighbors around them delight in their yard being beautiful. The same rule applies for living a beautiful life as well.

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Chores are different for me now. I exercise time and energy in something when it inspires me. I’ll move dirt around when I believe such an endeavor will bear good fruit. Putting the work in needs to amount to more than a $5.00 allowance. And yet, setting my expectations too high also keep me on the couch rather than outside with trimmers or a shovel in my hands. The trick is to find a rhythm in something that seems worthwhile beyond the mundane.

I’ve been getting dirt under my fingers and spending time on my hands and knees spending time with monarch butterflies.  I blogged about this initiative a few weeks ago. Tending to butterflies and milkweed plants has become something of an obsession for me.  My neighbors may wonder why I’m looking on the underside of milkweed leaves. (Because I am searching for butterfly eggs).  I’m watering the zinnias and the butterfly bushes in late August because the Monarch Migration to Mexico is underway. I’m interested in sending a few more monarchs on their way south in a healthy way.

There’s more to it though.  I am getting a lot out of it. It is pleasurable to observe a butterfly transform itself from a speck of an egg to a clumsy caterpillar to an emerald green chrysalis to a orange and black butterfly. The process takes less than a month and it seems like a lifetime.  There are heartbreaks in learning how to accomplish this chore. The caterpillars will die if I do not keep their cage clean.  I have to be extra careful what I feed these insects because they are very susceptible to viruses.  The fact is that I can’t keep all of them alive, especially the ones living on my milkweed plants in the garden.  It is wild out there, even in the midst of the beautiful lawn that the church’s volunteer mows for me.

Simply put, I care for the butterflies because it is meaningful to them and even more meaningful to me.  Somehow in this simple, routine, and meticulous labor, I feel closer to God and to myself.

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I suppose that many people, like me, view spiritual disciplines to be something of a chore. Few people I know love to meditate. It is soooooo pleasurable to observe one’s mind flirt back and forth when gazillions of thoughts and feelings leading to absolutely nowhere.  (NOT!) Other people, including myself, pray or intercede to The Divine because they view such a practice as a religious obligation. Praying is believing some say.  Yes and….who, what, or why is more shaped and formed by such prayer? God or us?

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Read Parker Palmer’s 5 Habits of The Heart

 

Quaker, speaker, writer, and educator Parker Palmer offers all of us a valuable purpose for undertaking such daily spiritual practices. Palmer writes: “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. … We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.”  (Palmer, 2011, para. 5)

 

My spiritual discipline for now is hardly representative of orthodox Christianity. I’m fairly faithful in saying the Lord’s Prayer at least once a day. I actually am spending more time looking after insects and accomplishing sun salutations. Once again, I am the only responsible for punishing or rewarding myself on most days.  I discern that what matters most is to undertake something and to stay with it. Experiment – probe your limitations with curiosity rather than complacency. If one particular meditative chore isn’t working, find something else.

The world is too complicated a place to take on all of its uncertainty and tragedy without completing daily spiritual chores. So, we all might as well find something that is not just tolerable. It is fruitful.  There are many alternatives to checking in with one’s ego and anxieties to be sure. And, if you want to know God and yourself more wholly, you have to get your hands dirty and your soul renewed in the grittiness of silence and breath – observation and hope. Be mindful of the thorns though. They can be really hard to get out from underneath your skin.

Blessings along The Way,

The Moment When

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What is it?  What might it become? How might it die? How might is also coincidentally live.

From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged — a Summer Afternoon
Repairing Everywhere
(From Cocoon Forth a Butterfly – Emily Dickinson)

I’ve been working on a creative project since the middle of July. My soul needed (needs) something to believe in. I’m weary of following politics. I preached plenty about parables. I’ve gone on a few hikes. I’ve anxiously pondered what my “Why” is. All of these psychological and spiritual tasks have been worthwhile. I still felt depleted, uninspired.

What is life all about when it is happening? Do the sleepless nights and walks in solitude really matter? What is occurring beyond the veils of my anxieties and unfilled expectations that grounds me? Does my meditation on my comfortable chaise create fruitful pathways to calm and clarity. Most of the time I seemingly chase my thoughts and wonder why the f%#k I’m wasting 20 – 25 minutes. Focusing on my breathing and being still with God is tedious.

Being alert isn’t hard for me when I’m leading worship, sharing communion, or chatting in Christ. And, that work requires energy. Being a person of faith and professing it in word, deed, and prayer also begs for belief in God beyond creeds, collects, and spoken confessions of faith. Thus, the contemplative time, though chaotic is worthwhile.

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I need(ed) a project. It is time to believe between anxious sighs. I grow weary with proclamations bemoaning the nation’s current political and religious crises. I stumbled into this project somewhat unconsciously. Throughout the summer, I’ve been gardening. My zinnias and roses are blossoming. I’ve verified that garden_2you have to work really hard to kill transplanted Milkweed and Rose of Sharon. Waking up early and watering the garden has brought me a certain sense of serenity.  A month ago, after a hike in Nescopek State Park and a short stop in the park’s  butterfly garden, I made a choice. I visited Folks Butterfly Farm.  David Folk gave me a tour. He showed me his butterfly garden. He taught me about monarch butterfly stages of life. I came home with 15 caterpillars, lots of questions, plenty of doubts, and a significant sense of awe. Monarch butterfly caterpillars can really eat!  They are very particular though. They only feed on milkweed. It is a creative evolutionary mechanism for them. The milkweed is toxic to most of their predators.  Otherwise, butterfly caterpillars are very low on the ecological food chain. They don’t have any natural defenses other than the vast numbers of the eggs that adult female butterflies disperse on milkweed plants near and far.

monarchpupae1I had a business trip that I had to take during this pregnant period. So, I offered instructions to friends for the time I would be away from the nursery.  I didn’t do a very job of guiding them. Ignorance is no excuse. Sadly, many of the caterpillars died.  I’m still not sure why.  I think that their food supply wasn’t as fresh as it should have been. And, while I was away four caterpillars pupated. The first one connected herself to the top of the cage. She  was hanging out for me along three others when I got home.

This past Saturday morning, I went to check on the survivors and the first chrysalis had turned a deep, deathly black. I panicked. I thought that she was dying.  Then, some of my meditative practice took hold. An inner voice told me to be patient. Wait and see. Let go of the matters that are beyond my control.  All of those spiritually pithy statements that I share with other people I shared with myself.  I went shopping. I checked on my email. I prayed, asked friends on Facebook to pray along with. I lit a candle. Then I came back in about 90 minutes later.

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Born – August 5, 2017

Bill Plotkin in one of his recent Soul Musings wrote: To the caterpillar, the cocoon is a tomb. But it’s actually a tomb-womb. To the caterpillar, it’s only a tomb. This is a place to die. Does the caterpillar know that there is some possibility for life after being a caterpillar? We don’t know, but we imagine not. For us humans, we don’t know what’s possible for us. We’ve heard stories, and yet we really don’t know, individually, for us personally, what the possibility might be. In the cocoon, the caterpillar body liquefies. It becomes caterpillar soup. It’s just soup. But there are these special cells that have been in the caterpillar all along that are in the soup, too. These cells biologists call “imaginal cells.” (Bill Plotkin, Waking Up and Co-Creating a Life-Enhancing Society, July 28, 2017, para. #1)

Imaginal cells.  Imaginal cells are born in cauldrons of uncertainty. Creativity is an infant born out of tension, expectations, confusion, and faith.  Plotkin adds that people who choose to go through such a metamorphosis have to die much like monarch butterflies do.  We can’t become truly who we are unless our psychological, sociological, and spiritual adolescent is consumed. Cocoons of discovering cultivate the wisdom our souls desire. Our addictions, distractions, grief, and hopelessness are the essence,as David Whyte writes, of our true vows.  (Plotkin, July, 2017).

I don’t know if I’ve discovered my truest purpose. I still wonder why I am here.  Nonetheless, I regained a sense of wonder. I observed an intelligence that is so far beyond my own through the birth of a monarch butterfly. I am confident that a human birth, mortally and spiritually are equally if not more powerful. I have baptized a baby who was about to die. I cried.  I understand too that many mothers encounter a sense of joyful death as they give birth to a child. Sadly too many mothers and too many babies die during childbirth. Tragically, we as a species are killing butterflies by the millions.  In the midst of problems far beyond my sphere of influence, I personally regained a sense of purposeful joy through this summer project.  The next class in my own spiritual cocoon as well as in the silent carnivorous presence of 20 more monarch caterpillars began yesterday.

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Blessings along The Way

Mountain High

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Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. (Luke 9: 28-32)

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A view from Windy Point Vista in the Coronado National Forest, AZ -photo by @Arizona_Hiking

I was probably six or seven years old when I first went to Mt. Lemmon. My friend Rudy Drahovzal’s family had a cabin not far from Rose Canyon Lake. When I was 11 or 12 years old I had something of a conversion experience while participating in a Royal Ambassador Camp  on that same mountain. I pledged at a worship service that I would become a missionary for Jesus Christ. Then, a couple of days later, my mom came to pick me and a friend up. We drove home and I went back to playing baseball in the park close to my house.  That’s true and it isn’t.  From time to time I pulled out the bench from in front of our living room spinet piano. I placed on the bench the Bible that my mom gave to me. It was a baptismal gift. Then I silently preached like Pastor Crowder did at Calvary Baptist Church. Our cat Lucky looked up at me with cold, dark confused feline eyes. Then I became a teenager and church became impacting me like my sermons impacted our family cat. I stopped going to Calvary when I was 15 or 16. It’s weird though. The church’s current mission statement is “Empowering the Generations to Love and Serve God.”  I guess something kinda took.

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Feast of the Transfiguration Icon (12th Century) – St. Catherine’s Monastery – Mt Sinai, Egypt

This Sunday is the Feast of The Transfiguration. Episcopalians celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration on Aug 6th. This feast day occurs rarely on a Sunday. (5 times between now and 2050). Celebrating Jesus’ transformation is important. And yet, the feast day of Transfiguration is like many other churchy events. (Easter, Christmas, All Saint Day). We gather together. We sing special hynms. We’re going to play with play dough at Christ Memorial this Sunday. It should be fun if not life transforming. And, that’s the point!  Why climb a mountain if it isn’t going to benefit you and the people around you. Is it just for “the sake of it?”    What does it mean for us that Jesus takes his closest friends and disciples up on a mountain for a mystical encounter with the Divine? Do such transforming moments happen for us? Is Jesus the only transfigured One?

Again, if so, what’s the point?

Why pack the family in the car and drive for 45 minutes to get to Windy Point Vista to see a beautiful sunset? Is it just to have fun?  I hiked up to Finger Rock a couple of times when I lived in Tucson. It’s a big time workout! You definitely shouldn’t go alone or forget water like I did one time. On the other hand, taking it all in is a unique opportunity to experience the Divine in the beauty of Southwestern deserts and mountains. The Feast of The Transfiguration offers Christians the same sort of faithful exercise.

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Finger Rock – Santa Catalina Mountains – Southern AZ

A quick summary of Jesus’ scriptural visit to Mount Tabor suggests that God intended for Jesus and his disciples to receive a prophetic message from Elijah and Moses. God provides this particular moment for Jesus’ closest disciples to observe and “listen.”  Unsurprisingly, Peter, James, and John are confused and amazed. The moment so impacts Peter that he wants to enshrine it.  Let’s build an altar! That never happens today, right?

Instead, Jesus guides his disciples back down the mountain. The moment doesn’t exist for itself. Indeed, the moment occurs for the purpose of entering into Jerusalem to confront evil earthly powers and practices. This transfiguring, life-changing event shoves Jesus into the darkness of Gethsemane’s Garden. Moses and Elijah’s presence were God’s means for reassuring Jesus that he would be able to endure the Cross of Calvary’s agony.  The Feast of The Transfiguration and Easter Sunday’s brilliance are incomplete and spiritually insignificant without Maundy Thursday’s and Good Friday’s shadows.

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Easter Vigil Altar at Grace Episcopal Church – Brunswick, MD.  ‘Looks like a cool church!  Check out their Facebook Page and Live Broadcasts.

The Rev. Anjel Scarborough – Rector of Grace Episcopal Church – Brunswick , MD writes:  The Transfiguration is a story that calls us to face our understanding of Jesus’ identity: “Who is Jesus to me?” and “Who is Jesus to us? (A. Scarborough, Who is Jesus to us?, The Transfiguration (A,B,C) – 2014, Aug 6, 2014, para. 10.) She adds that many contemporary Christians identify Jesus with all kinds of false messages. Jesus’ transfiguration allows us to claim that we are a Christian nation. That’s a bold claim! Millions of people are suffering from all sorts of addictions, racism, and poverty. We claim to be Jesus’ faithful disciples and messengers of Christ’s gospel. Preachers, politicians, and congregants claim hypocritically that God’s intention is for us to have more worldly possessions. Such glorified messages of Christ’s transforming power and resurrection fail to recognize that Jesus Christ empowers his (and our) glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Millions of people will die of starvation today, including people in our hometowns.   And to follow Jesus means to join him by living faithfully and hopefully in irrational, real-world and bewildering steps of daily discipleship. Faith in God, courage in confronting death, and accepting Christ’s graceful, merciful resurrection happens because of the Transfiguration. (A. Scarborough, 2014)

There will be lots of people this Sunday who will transform their lives by climbing mountains rather than sitting in church pews.  Thousands of Christian children are attending camps. They will read bibles, go on hikes, and hopefully gaze on divine sunsets rather than connecting with their I-Phones.  For those of us who will be in Church, let’s respond humbly to the question of what does it mean to be a disciple of our transfigured Lord?  Here we are – living in our own Jerusalem. Is our church communicating the transforming message of God’s love? Do we seek to heal the suffering of someone close by as Jesus does? Does our faith communicate that we are special and people who don’t share our beliefs are flawed; or, does our faith invite us and other people to climb up mountains to encounter God, offer thanks for God’s radiance, and return to be deliverers of justice, joy, and eternal life beginning with right now.

I’ll place my virtual piano bench away now.  Blessings along The Way – Become Enlightened this Sunday!

 

 

 

Drafting a New, (Re-Imagined) Narrative

 

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Photo by Arnaud Mesureur – See more wonderful photos at Unsplash.

I wake up this morning into a world where the President of the United States is demeaning the hostess and host of a television program.  Politicians and citizens alike are bewildered by this conflict.  Their anger is appropriate. The President of the United States is a misogynistic bully who pays more attention to what talking heads say about him rather than the oath of office he took to faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States.  And  … shouldn’t they and we be more concerned with matters of greater import?  The President has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Accords. The United States is doing everything it can to prevent refugees from predominantly Islamic war-torn nations to flee violence in order to seek sanctuary in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Millions of people are at risk of losing their Medicare. Hundreds of people will die of hunger today (One person every ten seconds).

This is not the world I imagine or hope it should be. Read more