When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.


On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.

 

When Lost in the Woods

My friend Harper is four years old.  Yesterday after a worship service at church, Harper sought me out.  She came up to me with a solemn look.  I knelt down so we were at eye level and I asked:  ‘Harper, what’s up?’

Let me pause for a moment and say that Harper is a very wise soul.  She lives fully in the moment.  You know when she’s happy, frustrated or sad.   With Harper you don’t need to guess at what’s going on.   She’s honest, kind and fully present.   I have a lot to learn from her.

On this day she had a piece of paper to give me.  Her voice had a hushed and serious tone: “Kent, this is for you.  This is for when you are lost in the woods.  It’s a map so you can find your way home.”


Her words have stayed with me.  I don’t know about you but there are times when I feel lost.  Times when the darkness of the forest (metaphorically and literally) seems to hem me in and I don’t know which way to turn.

Harper wanted me to know that there is hope when I feel lost.  That I have a friend who cares about me and who has my back.

Who do you turn to when you are lost?  Who has your back when you feel overwhelmed by life?  What map do you use?

Harper reminds us that our hope is close-by.  It’s in the seemingly small expressions of kindness that remind us that we are known, loved, remembered.

On that same morning, my friend Mylinda Baits was leading a workshop at church.  She is a missionary who walks alongside people who have escaped human trafficking. https://internationalministries.org/teams/45-baits .

Mylinda draws upon resources from a program called First Aid Arts http://www.firstaidarts.org  Through art therapy she helps those victimized by unspeakable violence to find  their way toward healing.

In the workshop, Mylinda offered us a taste of her approach to accompaniment.  She asked each person present to introduce themselves with their name:  ‘My name is Kent and I am here to be seen, to be heard and to be honored.’ The twenty people present responded: “Kent, we see you, we hear you and we honor you.” And I responded, ‘I am here’.

Mylinda and Harper both understand that sometimes we feel lost.  It’s part of being human.  They understand too that finding our way home, comes as we let each other know that we are cared for, that we have each other’s back, that we are known.

Being seen, heard and honored is a gift.  On that Sunday at our church on Cabot Street we were reminded that we belong to each other and to a God who created each of us in God’s own image.  Perfect and worthy. A place of the heart to call home.

Harper, ‘thanks for the map’.

 

Church of Woods and Water

Last Sunday I worshipped at the Church of Woods and Water.  The church is located on the upper reach of the Charles River.

The Charles is a hard used, inspiring waterway which runs 80 miles from its headwaters in Hopkinton to the mouth of Boston harbor. The drainage is 312 square miles.

For 350 years this iconic river has provided sustenance to Native Americans, inspired poets and been hard used by industry.  The Rock classic, ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells says it all https://www.bing.com/search?q=song+dirty+water+by+the+standells&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85&sp=5&qs=RI&pq=dirty+water+by+the+&sk=AS4&sc=5-19&cvid=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85#CA!VideoFavoritesAddItemEvent

For the last 40 plus years, since Richard Nixon (bless him) signed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the Charles along with a host of other rivers, once used as a toxic dumping ground, has gradually become cleaner.  Insects, fish, birds and mammals have returned.

The woods, water and soil have slowly healed.   As a Christian, the theology of grace, restoration, resurrection come to mind.

Sure there are elements of toxic metals that remain in the soil and silt.  Points of pollution from fertilizer, to engine oil still find a way to the water.  But the Charles and rivers like it are much cleaner than anyone thought possible before the Clean Water Act was signed.

It is ironic, that Donald Trump is in the process of gutting the EPA by 30% and refers to Climate Change as a ‘hoax’.  The Charles, this fragile waterway which has come so far, is at risk of returning to the toxic pre-Nixon era.  That this newest Republican doesn’t respect the vision of his Republican predecessor is painful to see.

But last Sunday I put my worries for the river’s future aside (if for a few hours).  With my wife Tricia we slipped our kayaks into a stretch of the upper Charles and paddled upstream for several miles.  There were few signs of other humans… a few canoes, a few houses, the muffled sound of a distant car.

For the most part our companions were flowering dogwood trees, old growth white pine, maples, oaks, witch hazel. Birds were in full throat calling to mates, building nests.  Beaver lodges stood as sentinels along the bank.

As we paddled we were accompanied by the wisdom of prophets and mystics.  I heard Isaiah say ‘listen and your soul will live’….I heard the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating ‘the Creator’s first language is silence…everything else is a poor translation’….I even heard Martin Luther: “The sound of birds, wind in the trees, the fragrance of flowers, the mud, rocks, water…all are Logoi, ‘little words’ from the Creator.”  https://www.facebook.com/kent.harrop/videos/10212994239355454/

As dusk approached we allowed the current to return us.  We loaded our car, synched the ropes and left the river.

Soon the Church of Woods and Water will call out to my soul.  I’ll need to return to the woods and  water to be restored, to be healed, to be blessed.

Band of Brothers: A journey into what matters

Some of us keep a bucket list.  From the profound to the mundane we write down hopes and dreams and a plan to make them come true.  As a cancer survivor (ten years out) I’m mindful that life is a gift to be savored, lived as fully as possible.

Recently I spent a day hiking to and skiing the iconic Tuckerman Ravine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckerman_Ravine   I climbed with  ‘the boys’, five lifetime friends now 60.  We decided now was the time to experience  Tuckerman.

The ‘Tuck’ is a legendary bowl for spring skiing on the southeast side of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  No chair lifts here.

To get to the bowl is not for the faint of heart.  You begin with a three-mile hike rising from 2000′ to 4500′ feet while you carry your skis and boots up a rock strewn path.  Before the final ascent you check the Avalanche Information Board to know where to ski and avoid.

Once arrived you put on your boots to carry skis up a steep incline with toe holds made by others.  The best skiers keep climbing to drop over ‘the headwall’ with no room for error.  We watched two young guys far above us drop like rocks, catching air time and time again and eventually ski past us.  Beautiful to behold.

Suffice it to say I chose the bunny slope.

At 61 I’m happy to be able to get to the Tuckerman bowl.  It’s an awe-inspiring setting that causes one to look up and around and within.  The Celts call such settings a ‘thin place’.  A thin space  serves as a permeable membrane separating the conscious world from the supernatural.

For me (and I suspect many others) Tuckerman Ravine is a thin place a portal into a different way of seeing and being.  A place that calls us to look both outward and within in a deeper way.

The ‘boys’ left to right: Tom, Rob, Clyde, Dave, Kent

Adding to the experience was being with life long friends.  Together we’ve shared good times and hard.  We’ve lived long enough to know that life isn’t so much about the destination but the journey itself.

Back at the parking lot we headed to town for dinner and a beer.  We toasted the mountain and we toasted each other.  We were tired and grateful for this ‘band of brothers’.  Grateful for one more day on the trail.

 

 

 

Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!

‘Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!’  Grabbing a line from the Wizard of Oz we are living in a troubling time.  Especially if you are a new immigrant or refugee and God help you if you’re undocumented.

Using a time-tested technique, President Trump and minions play the  anti-immigrant fear card to advance their political agenda.  But this is nothing new.

“New immigration” was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Italy and Russia (areas that previously sent few immigrants).

Nativists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativism_(politics) feared the new arrivals lacked the political, social, and occupational skills needed to successfully assimilate into American culture. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a “melting pot,” or if it had just become a “dumping ground,” and many old-stock Americans worried about negative effects on the economy, politics, and culture.

 Immigration 1930 to 2000:

Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914–18) and into the early 1920s, Congress changed the nation’s basic policy about immigration.

The National Origins Formula of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States, but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. It essentially gave preference to immigrants from Central, Northern and Western Europe, severely limiting the numbers from Russia and Southern Europe, Africa and declared all potential immigrants from Asia unworthy of entry into the United States.

Underneath it all was a desire by those already here to keep America as they knew it.  Essentially ‘white’.

This specter of racism and fear of ‘the other’ has been a reoccurring theme in American history and is once again being played for all its worth by ‘nativist’ like President Trump, advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The antidote of course is building relationships with immigrants, refugees and undocumented neighbors.  In the past two weeks:  An undocumented refugee from Congo (who fled a war) walked into my office to ask me to pray with him.  He spoke of his fear of being deported, separating him from his wife and two-year old son (both of whom are US citizens).

I spoke with a young couple from Brazil who are here on a temporary visa but want to stay and take care of her ailing father who is a US citizen.  And, while my car was being serviced I spoke with a young legal immigrant from Egypt who pumped my gas.  He told me of ongoing insults shouted by passing motorists, calling him a ‘f***ing towel head’ and ‘go back where you belong’.

Such are the stories of  immigrants and refugees that are our neighbors.  ‘Nativists’ would have us believe that they are to be feared, that they are not like ‘us’.

The problem however, is that I’ve gotten to know their names.  Listened to their stories.  Discovered that they want the same things you and I want.  Safety and opportunity.  Their family to be healthy and happy.

Despite  prejudice and hateful rhetoric immigrants and refugees still see the United States as a refuge a place to make dreams come true.  They see what is best in us as a nation…even when we forget.

What is needed is meaningful immigration reform. Something that Congress has resisted since last initiated by Ronald Reagan.

What is needed is the wisdom of a Moses:

‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for once you too were foreigners in Egypt.” ~ Exodus 22:21

Rise Up in Love

On Palm Sunday suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage.  The Coptic church is the earliest Christian presence in Egypt going back to the year 100.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the violence, adding to fears that extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, especially Egypt’s Christian minority. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-egypt-christian-church-bombing-20170409-story.html

That same week in Syria, 70 people, including children died,  the result of an air-launched chemical attack attributed to the ruthless regime of President Bashar al-Assad. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/05/middleeast/idlib-syria-attack/index.html

What are we to make of such horrific events?  Is there any room for hope?

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of?

It is the counter-cultural way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words:

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Christianity teaches that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not we are invited to claim the truth that evil never wins.

Pope washing feet of youthWe think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear.

What forgiveness are we prepared to offer? Who are you and I called to embrace? What stranger are we called to befriend?

In time, ISIS and the Assad’s of the world will be a footnote of history. But the story of love’s capacity to persevere and show us the way will continue to be told.

This Holy Week let us pray for our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers in Syria.  Let our hearts rest with our Coptic family under siege. May our Jewish friends be blessed as they walk through Passover.

Let us Rise Up in Love.

Love Has No Walls

I serve a downtown church in a small city.  The building is brick and situated on a busy main street.  We are surrounded by a variety of small business’ and residences.  Cars and people pass the church at a steady clip.

For most the church is a familiar fixture.  That which is familiar can also be invisible.  How many of us walking down a familiar street take the time to really look?  My guess is that First Baptist Church in Beverly is such a familiar fixture on Cabot Street, that most simply walk past.  https://www.fbcbeverly.org/

The invisibility of the familiar is a fitting metaphor for the plight of religious institutions in today’s culture.

New England as a whole is rapidly becoming more secular.  This is particularly true for those under 30 where fully 1/3 have no religious affiliation.  This trend is projected to continue. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

Yet the same studies show that the majority of those who say that they are ‘not religious’ also self identify as  ‘spiritual’.  By spiritual people refer to a sense of openness to that which is greater than oneself.  A desire to connect to that great Mystery some call God/Creator/Spirit and a desire to find meaning in community.

Recently our church started an initiative ‘Can we chalk?’  The idea is to bring the messages of love and encouragement (rooted in our faith) to the wider community. A box of large chalk is at the entrance to the church inviting people to write on the side-walk words of love and encouragement.

What wasn’t expected is that people began to write words of love  on the brick façade of the church building….At first the messages were in small script

 

Gradually the words became bigger, bolder.   One person wrote: ‘Love Has No Walls’.  Surely this is a message for our time.

I think of President Trump’s promise to build a wall between Mexico and the USA….Israel’s wall between themselves and the Palestinians…The wall that separated East Berlin from West Berlin during the Cold War.   Such walls are ugly and built on fear.  Yet, a passerby took up the invitation of the church and offered a message of hope.

 

Then the messages got even bigger.  A homeless neighbor took it upon himself to create a large mural offering words of love and support.

Such expressions haven’t been appreciated by everyone.  For some  drawing upon the church building is unseemly.  A distraction from the simple beauty of the building. Nothing more than graffiti.

I understand their point.

I think there is an element of discomfort with losing control of our message.  We invited church members and neighbors to take us up on an  offer to spread messages of love on the sidewalk and they did.  But then the messages morphed onto our walls.  We didn’t expect that.

Our space has become unpredictable.

We are no longer invisible.  Each day people stop to read the messages.  Some take photos.   We’ve initiated conversation in the wider community.

‘Can We Chalk?’ as a public art project was not intended to be permanent.  Soon  the side-walk art will be washed away by rain and eventually the walls will be cleaned too.

But I hope we as a church take away an important lesson.  A lesson taught by the early Church in the Book of Acts in the first century.  That the church of Jesus Christ is not intended to be contained or constrained by bricks and mortar.

The church is to be a living, breathing community that goes out into the community to offer healing, hope and love.  To  listen and learn.  To build bridges not put up walls.

Loving in such a way is unpredictable.  Love takes us from the comfort of what is familiar and brings us to a new level of intimacy and engagement with our community.

In doing so we find that we are no longer invisible.  This is Good News.