Shaking Things Up

It rains even in paradise. As I sit in my Acapulco hotel room this morning, rain is falling, thunder is rumbling, and lightning is flashing (probably the backside of Hurricane Alex).

And about 2:30 this morning, I was awakened from a sound sleep by what were unmistakably small tremors.

I will confess that my first incoherent thought when I felt the movement in the night was that I was back at the healing service where a few hours before I had “fallen out” while Rev. Candy Holmes prayed with me. “Is God still shaking things up?” I wondered.

Of course, the answer to that question is always “yes.” But, as I came to, I realized that in this instance it was simply the earth moving, causing this high rise building to sway and rumble just a bit.

It was enough to get me out of bed and throw on some clothes and shoes, grab my room key and cell phone, and head for the door to go downstairs (by the stairs is a sign: in the event of fire or earthquake, do not use the elevator). No one else was in the hall, and the tremors had stopped, so I went back to bed.

But I slept in my clothes, with sandals beside the bed. Just in case.

I was ready to act when the earth moved. Am I as ready to act when God moves?

Take the Plunge!

Dive in, the water’s fine!

More than once, my late father said those words to me–usually when I was doubting whether I could do something I really wanted to do. He lived his life that way. Ironically, however, he could not swim.

I thought of his advice the other evening when my daughter Emily, and our friends from Chicago, Rev. Brenda Lee and her wife, Lee Edwards, and I went to witness the cliff divers in Acapulco.

It is an impressive feat–partly because the diving distance is 130 feet, but perhaps even more daunting is the fact that the target area for the diver is an inlet that is only 23 feet wide and 13 feet deep. The water is not still at all–waves crash into the rocks and keep things stirred up at all times. Of course, diving off stone cliffs (and climbing up them) barefoot is pretty awesome, too.

The divers, several of whom I met afterwards when I gave them a contribution from all of us, are said to be professionals. They are short and very compact physically, and frankly, look very young (from a distance they look like children).

I observed shrines at the top. Traditionally, the divers pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe before taking the plunge.  

It is said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” I think I understand that a little better now.

It’s All Good, Even When It’s Hard

It always happens.

We have a great visit, seeing sights, reminiscing, making jokes that only family understands, and catching up on the latest in our lives.

Then, the time comes to part, to return to our regular lives. And the wave of sadness washes over me. I experience situational depression.

It just happened again. Emily and I had a wonderful three-plus days together in Acapulco. Then, it is 11:00 am, walking her to the cab that will take her to her bus home to Oaxaca. She negotiates with the driver, puts her bag in the trunk, turns to me for a final hug, gets in the cab. We wave. She is gone.

It was 27 years ago that her mother and I separated and then divorced, but I still am hit hard when any one, or all, of my daughters  and I separate. It is as if I am back to that fateful day in 1983 when I moved out.

Of course, it passes; I know we will be together again. We will talk on the phone and Skype, and write. Besides, we just had this fabulous visit. I have pictures, and memories, to prove it. And here I am, still in Acapulco, with a wondrous collection of MCC friends.

It’s all good, as my friend Amy says. Even when it’s hard.

Of Elegance and Grit

My daughter Emily and I have spent two-plus days in “paradise,” as we have come to call the Fairmont Princess Acapulco Resort. It is  simply beautiful and well-designed–like the peacocks that strut around the grounds. The pools are pristine, the flowers and palm trees glorious, the help unfailingly friendly, the food very high quality (and expensive).

But part of today we spent in the “real” Acapulco, the commercial center where native Acapulcans (I made that up) actually work and live. There are no peacocks there, not even on the long strip of beach that lies between the water and the commercial area. Instead, savvy entrepreneurs tried to sell us lots of things, just as they did on the side streets we walked searching for the particular bus company Emily hopes will take her back to her home in Oaxaca on Sunday.

Getting around like that is made possible by Emily’s fluency in Spanish (even though she looks very gringa). She also got us to a fabulous natural foods restaurant where I had delicious vegetarian tacos (reasonably priced) and we shared a very refreshing drink made of spearmint leaves, lemon, sugar, and water (see picture).

God’s world is a wondrous place, especially when you can experience both grittiness and elegance. My prayer is that all the people in the world have such freedom.

No Denial, No Fear

Two clergy friends are on my mind today–one creating a celebration and one causing sadness.

First, the celebration–my friend has kicked her lifelong cigarette addiction! Glory Hallelujah! Praise God! She was able to do it because she heard her soul (tobacco is like a god with you) in an argument with her brain (its hard to quit, you’ll gain weight and be ornery)–and her soul won. As she said to me, when they argue, her soul is always right.

My other friend was trying to help a dying church carry on its mission. But that meant they had to change and, as so often happens, they could not do that. He tried to lead them forward, but they did not renew his contract yesterday.

The lay leaders liked him well enough, but too many of the members–determined to keep things they way they have “always” been, even though it means certain and rapid death of their congregation–stopped giving, stopped coming, and never stopped hurling attacks at him.

Both acknowledge that they had been in denial for some time–she thinking she could not quit, he thinking that if the church members did not see the light he was a failure.

I often wonder, when Jesus says (as he does often), “Fear Not,” if he means, “Don’t Get Stuck in Denial. “

One Strike, You’re Out

Sometimes, if you’re LGB or T, you can’t even play ball.

In fact, in Memphis, a women’s softball team has been told by Bellevue Baptist Church they have to forfeit all their games because their coach admits she’s a lesbian. That’s just how serious lots of church folks take the matter of sexual orientation.

Of course, we know that in a women’s softball league there is more than one player, or coach, who is a lesbian. I mean, come on. But the other teams, and players, are keeping quiet.

Jana Jacobsen, the coach who admits she is “athletic” in appearance, says she got frustrated when questioned by church officials about her “lifestyle.” She finally said, “I am going to be clear. I am gay, and I find all of this to be absurd and against the word of God as I know it.”

Thank you, Jana Jacobsen. I salute you for being unwilling to hide yourself just so others can maintain their prejudices, and even more because you are so clear about God.

I am sure Coach Jesus is glad you are on his team.

Feel the Power

My parents never forced me to clean my plate, but they did insist I try every food on it. They also insisted that I take my vitamins–and any other medication that was prescribed. And they regularly attended church, and made it seem natural that I would, too.

Today, in an effort not to gain more weight, I am leaving food on my plate (and taking smaller portions). I will try any food except eggplant and animal flesh. I go to church, even on sabbatical.

And I take my vitamins, and other medications, morning and night.

I especially take Vitamin G twice every day–always in the morning and often at night, and a Vitamin G supplement several other times during the day.

Never heard of Vitamin G? It is available all the time, everywhere, although you won’t find it on the shelves at CVS, RiteAid, Martin’s or Food Lion, or even any of the finest speciality stores.

So where will you find it? Stop, be quiet, and listen; or perhaps say a few words of prayer. Turn your thoughts heavenward, or look around you at natural beauty, or gaze deeply into the eyes of a loved one.

And feel the power of Vitamin G.

Let the Renewal Continue!

Thirty-two years yesterday–June 11, 1978–some intrepid souls gathered for the first worship service of Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond. They bravely renewed their relationship with Jesus, and invited others to do so as well.

Ninety days ago, I began Renewal (sabbatical), as did all those who carry on the life of the church those pioneers began. I am grateful for the renewal period that is drawing to a close, and am grateful to the pioneers who began it all.

I am stronger for this time of rest, study, and reflection–and I know that as I return to church tomorrow to join in the anniversary celebration I will see that the entire community has been strengthened.

I have spent much of the Renewal learning more about spiritual leadership. One thing I know above all others from study and prayer these past 90 days is this: spiritual leadership arises from spirit-centered living.

Thus, as I begin a gradual return to pastoral duties over the next month, I am committed to living and leading a new way: putting regular spiritual practice at the center of my life and work.

Renewing at 32–and for me, at almost twice that age!–is only the beginning. Let the renewal continue, trusting in the Spirit!

You Shall Have No Other Gods . . .

“When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ he probably meant don’t kill them.”

I thought of that bumper sticker when I came across an advertisement recently for  rifles. The ad showed a person wearing a gunbelt, a six-shooter in one holster and a Bible in the other. The tag line read, “There is nothing wrong with clinging to your guns and religion,” a quote from Henry Imperato, President of Henry Repeating Arms.

I do not oppose the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, protecting the right to bear arms, but I do wonder sometimes why some people spend so much energy making sure they and others can buy any gun they want. And I am quite clear that Jesus wouldn’t be much interested in owning one himself, or advising others to do so either–except if we needed one to kill in order to eat and feed our family (alas, he was not a vegetarian).

Mr. Imperato may be correct, in a constitutional sense (see 1st and 2nd Amendments), but theologically he seems off base: if one clings to guns as strongly as one clings to religion, then guns have become as strong a force as religion. Perhaps, they have even become the religion, or God.

That I do oppose (see the 1st and 2nd Commandments, among other authorities).

Losing Myself

I spent much of yesterday and today reading—probably to many they are not very exciting books: Understanding Your Congregation as a System, and Leaders Who Last.

But I really enjoy them. The writing is engaging and the authors discuss concerns that really matter to me: how to understand, serve, and lead the people God gathers in the congregation I call home. I also am reading the autobiography of Gandhi as well as a novel, The Postmistress.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not like to read. But sometimes I have gotten so busy that I did not take time to read, to really lose myself in a good book (or books). One thing I have reconnected with on my 90-day Renewal/sabbatical is my love of reading–and its importance in my work as a spiritual leader. 

Still, as much as I enjoy reading, I probably would not have done much these two days. Instead, I would have enjoyed the beautiful, cool, weather by working outside. However, due to a small injury to my left foot, I have been advised to put my foot up, and ice it. Can’t do much outside work that way.

Working outside in the dirt is a spiritual practice for me. So is reading. Both help me lose myself in something bigger than me.