Archive for August 2013
At the top of the ridge in Santa Fe, far from the bustle of the main district, sits Museum Hill. On one end of the plaza is the Folk Art Museum; at the other is the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. They are beautiful adobe buildings, simple and clean-lined, framed by the blue hills and green pińon trees behind them.
I was there this summer, and decided to visit the Museum of Indian Arts again after many years. I was moved beyond expectation by the permanent exhibit there: “Here, Now, and Always: Voices of the First Peoples of the Southwest.” I grew up surrounded by the beauty of the Pueblos and the pottery, the weavings and the carvings, that make this place so special. Yet the depth and care with which this museum leads the visitor through Native American life and spirituality is astonishing.
As I entered the exhibition proper, I noticed a sign: “Please listen.” Underneath the sign were two telephones, one labeled “Tewa” and the other labeled “Navajo.” I picked up the first one and listened for a few minutes to a voice speaking Tewa; soon, the English translation began. It invited all who enter to prepare themselves to encounter the objects and memories the Tewa people find sacred. It suggested that one enter in a prayerful spirit, as a way of honoring the lives of the ancestors who things we were viewing. I picked up the phone labeled “Navajo”, expecting it to be the same message, but found something different. Like the first phone, the message was first given in the native language. However, the content was more warning than invitation: addressed to the Navajo (Dine’)
people, it reminded them that it is considered a sacrilege to observe antiquities, because the Navajo believe that each object contains the spirit of the person who made or owned it, and are thus to be left undisturbed. However, the voice, concluded, if you know yourself to be a person surrounded in prayer, whose soul is at open and at ease, fully honoring the ones who went before you, and you still feel compelled to enter, go ahead.
I hadn’t even entered the exhibition and I was already immersed in a spiritual reckoning: was I a person surrounded in prayer? Was my soul open and at ease? Did I really know what it means to honor the spirits of those who are no longer here in body? I think so. I hope so. I entered.
Maybe we all need those signs sprinkled around our landscape. Before we enter our homes, our work, our church, the movie theater, the hospital, our cars: are we surrounded in prayer? What is the state of our souls, right here, right now? Are we open enough to truly take in the beauty that is right in front of us, the sacred nature of our lives as we are living them? And do we honor, through our actions, the people whose lives shaped ours? Can we be trusted to see the world as sacred?
At the Museum I was invited to take seriously the holy nature of life. I was invited to see the sacred nature of baskets and blankets and feathers. I was reminded that when I do not remember to see the world in this way, my soul is made smaller and my life less grounded. It was a beautiful day on Museum Hill. The air was soft, the colors crisp, and I was able to see it all, with eyes just a bit more open. What a blessing! Thanks be to God.
We must remember the worlds
our ancestors traveled.
Always wear the songs they gave us.
Remember we are made of prayers.
Now we leave wrapped in blankets
of love and wisdom.
~ Luci Tapahonos, Dine’/Navajo
We’ve been talking a lot about Kindness lately here at church. We saw a movie last Saturday whose theme was Kindness; we’ve been circulating a convocation speech by George Saunders that talks about the same thing. (Read it online (click here) or by contacting the church office and asking for a hard copy.) Everyone agrees that Kindness is an essential tenant of the Christian faith. We all believe that it is both a choice and that it is life-giving.
So why aren’t more people kind more of the time? Why don’t we always choose that path? What are the barriers that keep us from doing what we know is the right, best thing?
Here Is my list of the barriers I see and experience in my life. Do they resonate with yours?
* Fear Is this any of my * business anyway? What if I make it worse by meddling? What if I get in trouble or put myself in danger by reaching out?
* Embarrassment I might feel embarrassed by saying or doing the wrong thing or, worse, embarrass someone by shining a light on their need.
* Lack of Awareness I’m busy, I’m filled up with my own concerns and don’t notice what is happening to someone else.
* Judgment I find myself evaluating that the person in need did to “deserve” their plight. Maybe if I reach out I am enabling a bad choice or habit. Or, it’s twin:
* Inconvenience Not now! This is not a good time for me!
Now, these are not admirable things to feel. But I think that part of being human is to have thoughts and feelings that we are not proud of, and unless we bring them out into the light of day, they can do an awful lot of harm. They become our unexamined motivations, our rationalizations for why we aren’t stretching ourselves more, challenging ourselves more, asking more of ourselves. Every time we have the choice to be kind to another human being and we let something derail us, we are stepping away from the life God offers us: a life rooted in community, and courage, and love.
Thanks to Jesus, we have a model for what that kind of life looks like. His whole life was about reaching out to those others didn’t notice; his entire stance was to take the time and take the risks to be more loving to the people in his midst. We have only to root our lives more deeply in his loving kindness to see the transformations that can occur – in our lives and in the world.
Thanks for George Saunders (see above), we are reminded of how we might do that: “…to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been…clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.” Be kind.
May it be so!
Our regional Conference is in the process of selecting a new Conference Minister. Rev. Ken Iha, a longtime minister and colleague in the NCNCUCC, will be leading us through this time. He recently wrote to each of the churches as he began this call, and I thought you would want to hear what he had to say.
It is a blessing to be in a denomination that respects the gifts and autonomy of the local church, even as it encourages the support and challenge of living in covenant with other +churches. Rev. Iha knows our Conference well, and it will be a joy to be in ministry with him.
As I began my ministry with you, I was reminded of a reflection by the late Lutheran minister and educator, Gerhard Frost. These were words shared by a friend of his, words which I now share with you:
Give yourself to God in trust and to your neighbor in love.
Remember, contempt for persons besets us all.
Servanthood centers in grace and in our fellow humans.
We have a way of life to share:
if we’re too busy for people, we’re busier than God.
Wherever you are, be sure to unpack;
no place on God’s great earth is just a stepping-stone.
People, profound and complex, are always there, great as saints
and great as sinners.
Be ready to forgive and be forgiven.
Avoid the tyranny of swift success,
recalling that where persons are at stake
many things must just be lived with in love
and left undone,
awaiting the miracle of God.
Alan and I are traveling this week in New Mexico, visiting family and relishing the geography! It is so wonderful to reconnect with people and places that shaped us as we grew up.
One person who had a shaping influence on this congregation is Randall Mullins. As your first Chaplain, Randall helped you build the foundation of your next steps as a congregation — teaching and loving you as you discerned your path. As many of you know, Randall has just come through a difficult year dealing with cancer. He has kept us informed of his journey and the profound ways in which this time has shaped him. In one of his most recent missives, he shared these thoughts:
“Staying in the moment is essential. Incremental steps are the practice. Finding ways to behold grace and yet be wiling to feel the reality of loss and change is a challenge. Mercy flows and Love is ever present.”
These words can speak to anyone who is trying to live life as fully and gracefully as possible, in the midst of any challenge. Health crises, depression, aging, loss, or family transitions — the wisdom applies. So, thank you, Randall, for once again sharing your faith in a way that impacts ours.
Thanks be to God!
(Randall and Sharon will be in Houston on August 5th for follow up tests and scans, and then will visit family in Washington before returning home to Memphis. Safe travels!)
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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