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Henri Nouwen and a Response to the Orlando Attack

        

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Henri J.M. Nouwen

Last Saturday, June 11, my morning coffee companion was Henri J.M. Nouwen and Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life written and published in 1975. Much of his basic premise is that “the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. That morning I was contemplating Nouwen’s words reflecting solitude not as a state of loneliness, but as a condition of our heart and soul that makes “it possible to convert slowly our fearful reactions into a loving response.” How was I to know that the very next morning, June 12, the nation and I would be horrified by the Orlando attack on the LGBT community?

       I am a christian, a follower of Christ. I am also a lesbian. For most of my life I kept my same-sex orientation a secret and did everything I knew to do to not have the attractions and not be gay. It was a secret that took me to the depths of depression, the doors of insanity, and the brink of suicide. In my journeys into contemplation and spiritual solitude I have moved toward acceptance and reconciliation—acceptance of myself as a lesbian christian woman and reconciliation between that fact and my basic spiritual beliefs. I certainly identified with Nouwen’s counsel that in our solitude the events of the world around us “as well as the many personal disappointments and pains, no longer can be seen as unavoidable concomitants of our life, but all become urgent invitations to a response; that is a personal engagement.”

       Faced with the burdens of our reality, the few “extremists” or “fanatics” become “indispensable reminders that no lasting healing will ever take place without a solidarity of heart.” These few “force us to ask ourselves how many games we play with ourselves and how many walls we keep creating to prevent ourselves from knowing and feeling the burden of human solidarity.” Nouwen proclaims that we fluctuate “between the humble confession that the newspaper holds more than our souls can bear and the realization that it is only through facing up to the reality of our world that we can grow into our own responsibility.”

        Do we and how do we protest the realities of our world out of solitude? Hopefully we do as “life can teach us that although the events of the day are out of our hands, they should never be out of our hearts, that instead of becoming bitter our lives can yield to the wisdom that only from the heart a creative response can come forth.” Nouwen reminds us that, “When our protest against war, segregation, social injustice, (the Orlando attack against the LGBT community,) do not reach beyond the level of a reaction, then our indignation becomes self-righteous, our hope for a better world degenerates into a desire for quick results, and our generosity is soon exhausted by disappointments. Only when our mind has descended into our heart can we expect a lasting response to well up from our innermost self.”

       Can we, in the solitude of our hearts truly listen to the pains of the world—most especially now the pains of our LGBT community? Nouwen asserts that we can for in the solitude of the heart “we can recognize them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own. There we can see that what is most universal is most personal and that indeed nothing human is strange to us.” When we stand in solidarity with our fellow humans, our LGBT brothers and sisters, in their suffering and pain, then “our first attempts to alleviate these pains can come forth.” Feeling another’s pain leads us to compassion, which “brings healing and new strength. The paradox indeed is that the beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain.” Nouwen recalls our history “when men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” My thoughts go to the work and movement of Ghandi in India, Mandela in South Africa, and King in America.

       Nouwen reminds us that spiritual “movement from loneliness to solitude, therefore, is not a movement of a growing withdrawal from, but rather a movement toward, a deeper engagement in the burning issues of our time.” Our acceptance, affirmation, and welcoming of our LGBT persons has been an issue in our nation for decades. Does not the senseless, violent attack targeting the LGBT community known to frequent Pulse, prominently known as a gay club, elevate the issue to that of “burning issue?” Must we not respond and engage this issue from the solitude of our hearts!

       And then Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, happened! With my shock and horror of the attack, with my heart both numb and yet heavy with sorrow and compassion, and with Nouwen’s word fresh in my heart, I was moved to engage, to seek a creative response — to bring our local LGBT community as well as our community at large together in a gathering to remember and honor the Orlando victims, and to stand in solidarity in our pain and sorrow as well as in our hope and resolve for positive change and a brighter future. Over 200 people gathered at a local park on Thursday evening, June 16, and we did just that. My words to that gathering and to everyone, everywhere:

On behalf of East Texas PFLAG and our other sponsors – Tyler Together, Pineywoods Voice, Tyler Area Gays, Tyler Transgender Support Group, East Texas Islamic Society, and Life Covenant Church – I want to say welcome and thank you for your attendance and participation this evening. We are gathered here as a community to stand in solidarity with Orlando and the families and friends of the victims in the horrific attack on the LGBT community there last Sunday. Earlier this week, our president called for our nation’s flag to be flown at half-mast in memory and honor of the victims in Orlando. Tomorrow our nation’s flag will return to full mast “normal,“ if you will. But life will never be the same for friends and families of the Orlando victims, nor for the LGBT community, most especially for those whose lives were murderously taken last Sunday morning. They have no life to live. We want to take this time to remember and honor those killed and reflect on 49 lives, 49 sacred souls with names and faces that were snuffed out by an act of senseless violence fueled by hate and terrorism. As we seek to come to grips with, and process the shock and horror of the attack, we grieve and we support one another. For those of you who may not be an integral “part” of the LGBT community, we want you to know that your presence and your shared grief and support is important, desperately needed, and much appreciated.

Now, we will remember and honor the victims, their families and friends as we join one another in the bonds of our common humanity – our sorrow in loss and our hopes for positive change and a brighter future. John David Creamer, pastor of Life Covenant Church, will lead us in prayer.

(As each name and brief bio of the 49 victims was read a volunteer from the crowd walked to the front carrying their picture. A bell was rung.)

As we prepare to leave this place may we carry these sacred lives with us. May the light of their lives continue to shine in us and through us and may their light guide us and give us courage. Courage to act in ways that champion acceptance, not accusation; courage to seek out and participate in conversations and community, not condemnation; courage to speak and act in ways that foster love and compassion, not hate and violence. Courage to know, not just in our heads, but also in our hearts, that every human life is sacred and to live respectfully of one another and our beautiful, God-given diversities.   In doing these things, then, and only then, will we truly remember and honor these 49 beautiful, sacred lives.

Join me in 49 seconds of silence as we remember these, reflect, and resolve to act and live in ways to honor these 49 and ultimately ourselves and our community.

(Silence).

Thank you.

       Anwar Khalifa with the East Texas Islamic Society will close our gathering.

It was an outpouring of community solidarity, grief, compassion, and love. In his closing, Anwar asked all the clergy present to come to the front and join him for the closing prayer. A very moving and much needed gathering together. It is my hope and prayer that as a local community, a nation, and a world we will seek the solitude of our hearts and that our hearts will change in ways that nurture our compassion and desire to live in solidarity with all humankind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sacred: Part II-Reflections and Ponderings

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          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this:  the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          In reflection, it seems ironic that the night I heard these words ended my CPE training. I continued to have difficulty with the retina, needed additional surgical procedures, and was not able to return. However, I continued, and to this day continue, to revisit and ponder upon the events of that night and the words I had heard. Given the manner in which I had received them they were much more than mere words. It felt as if they were more like an edict, a proclamation, a lens through which to view all of life.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of life. . .”

          I know that sanctity is the quality or state of being holy or sacred; thus life itself is considered holy and sacred; inviolable — to important to be ignored or treated with disrespect. The origin of “sanctity” is the Latin word “sanctus” meaning sacred. 

          I believe the “sanctity of life” message that I heard was a foundational theological and spiritual truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives.  It was not the “sanctity of life” political message that was being touted then, and we hear often today in the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate. Again, it was a universal truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives. We hear today the expressions — Black Lives Matter, LGBT Lives Matter, Cops Lives Matter — and they do because ALL LIVES MATTER. Oh, that we might embrace ALL LIVES MATTER and SANCTITY OF LIFE as spiritual truths and live them out in our daily lives and not simply use them as catchy slogans to promote our political, racial, or cultural biases.

          Christianity’s foundation for sanctity of life is grounded in the doctrine that God is the Creator and God chose to create man in His image. Man is God’s image bearer. It is also quite relevant and important to notice that this valuing, worthiness, sacredness of life is universal to the traditions of all major world religions and perhaps represents their deepest teachings, roots and values. Sadly, we, all of us, are not living up to our traditions.

         “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this. . .the sacrament of relationships. . .

          What does that mean? Being brought up in the Baptist faith tradition, I was more familiar with the term ‘ordinances’ than “sacrament” so I had to do some study.  I knew of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments” in the Protestant faith traditions.  I quickly learned there are seven sacraments in the Catholic faith tradition. But,what exactly is a sacrament? What is the meaning and purpose of a sacrament or sacramental rite.

          Well, I read a lot about sacraments, their meaning and purpose.  Most of which I understood, some I did not as I am not a theological scholar.  I was able to grasp that sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacramentum and means “a sign of the sacred.” A sacrament is also a portal of grace in and to our lives.  Sacraments not only come from God, but they also make God present in our lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Sacraments are visible signs of invisible things whereby man is made holy.”

            So, in my ponderings, I have come to understand sacrament to be an outward expression of the sacred/the holy, that which points us toward God, and/or that which invites God’s participation in our life. I had learned long ago that in a sacramental marriage God’s love is manifest in the loving, grace filled, covenant relationship between the couple. God and His love are mirrored in that relationship. Thus, the sacrament of marriage is intended to be an outward sigh of God’s love and grace, the sacred and holy.  Now, that is in theory, at least. We know from experience that that is not nearly always the case.

          As I continued to ponder on “sacrament of relationship” I began to ask myself could it not be possible for us to manifest/mirror the love of God in all our relationships from the loving, covenant relationship between life long partners, to the kind, helpful, affirming relationship between intimate friends and family, to the courteous, respectful relationships with our co-workers, to the respectful acceptance of differences with those we call our enemies. If we accept the premise of the sanctity/sacredness of human life — all human life — then it is not a huge jump to conclude that if I am sacred, and you are sacred, then how we relate and treat one another should be “an outward expression of the sacred” — a sacrament, if you will. Can our relationships not be a “portal of grace” to one another? The sacred in me recognizes, respects, and responds to the sacred in you in a sacred fashion. Can not the sacred and grace be expressed in how we relate to one another? Thus, the Sacrament of Relationships–all relationship.

          “Brenda, if you know nothing else, know this. . .the sacredness of death.”

          What is sacred and holy about death? For so long in our cultural history we have not talked about death and dying and what it means for us individually and as a people. Thankfully, we are beginning to move toward conversations regarding death, even our own deaths. As Michael Dodd, a religious naturalist, says, “Death is sacred, necessary, and real.”

          As I studied the word “sacred,” the definition “worthy of or regarded with religious honor and respect” caught my attention. Certainly through my experiences that evening in the hospital, I began to view death with a worthy regard and sense of honor – sacredness. I suppose that, in the first place, if we view the individual life as sacred then the death of that life is no less sacred. Death is a necessary and inevitable part of the cycle of life. As surely as we have birth and life, we must have death. In our natural world, death is life-giving.

          Just a little aside here: I have an affinity for dead trees, and my partner gives me grief about that at times, especially when I am taking photos of them. I see a dead tree still standing tall or fallen, and I am in awe at the growth and change that has occurred from tiny seed to towering trunk. I envision the life that the tree has exuded and nurtured from the insects it has fed, to the nests and young is has held, to the seeds and seedlings it has propagated. Even in its dying it will decay and continue to provide sustenance and return rich, life-giving nutrients to its mother earth. For me, that is a sacred process.

           Then even more so would not the death of a person, any human being regardless of race, creed, or culture, be a sacred thing. Consider with wonder the growth and change the person has experienced in his/her lifetime. Note with awe, perhaps most strikingly, at the deathbed, the lives, the family, the relationships the person influenced and nurtured. Yes, and even as much as we don’t like to think about it, and however we frame it –“dust to dust, “ashes to ashes,” “coming from God and returning to God,” that person’s remains will in some fashion return to the earth and become life-giving. Death – a sacred/holy thing in the cycle of life.

          Now, in my opinion, what makes us as humans different from the tree is our attribute of soul or spirit. What I have come to believe regarding the human soul/spirit — and I believe it is undeniable and universal — is that it is “eternal.” In our christian faith tradition the soul/spirit of the deceased has eternal life with God. And, perhaps an additional way of viewing eternal life is that the soul/spirit of the deceased is carried and lives on within us — in our hearts and souls and in our minds and memories. And that is a sacred/holy thing—coming from and perhaps an extension of our sacramental relationships.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this – the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          Those words have become transformative in my life – my beliefs, my thinking and my sense and expression of my spirituality. I had begun to move and grow from a more rigid, perhaps fundamental, spiritual worldview a couple of years prior to this experience. You might say this night and these words somewhat “sealed the deal.” I am, and always will be, a christian (with a small “c”), a Jesus-follower, and a member of the church catholic – again small “c.” However, much of the dogma and doctrine of faith traditions no longer fit into my new found paradigm of what is truly sacred and holy.

          What I heard that night was a universal spiritual truth of the sacredness of life, relationships, and death common to all peoples, cultures, and faith traditions.   In all our differences, we as the human race hold, at the very least, these three things in common. We all have life. We are living, breathing, and capable of thought, emotion, and action.

          We all have relationships. We are born into relationship. You and I are someone’s son or daughter, perhaps mother or father, or brother or sister. So is our neighbor that aggravates us at times, our Muslim co-worker, the immigrant, perhaps undocumented, that does our yard work, the adorable grocery clerk, the annoying taxicab driver, the soldier we would call our enemy. All people are in relationships, and someone loves them and they love others. Think about it.

          We will all die, at some point, and that death will be sacred as it marks the passing of a sacred life, a shift in sacramental relationship, a return to that from which we came. In death we all participate in that natural circle of life. In death, a life is mourned by others, and others will continue to carry the soul/spirit of the deceased within themselves.  

           We can’t escape it. The sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationships, and the sacredness of death are elements that unite us with one another. It is my hope and prayer that we can come to realize this at both the head and the heart level, come to truly see others as “sacred” beings, and seek a respectful, peaceful unity in sacramental relationships with all peoples.

 

 

The Sacred Part I: What I Heard!

We are in the midst of Holy Week and I awakened this morning to the breaking news of a deadly attack in Brussels. Two locations bombed, thirty-one individuals killed without provocation, hundreds others injured–physically and/or emotionally, and relationships and families thrown into turmoil and grief with the loss of loved ones. In the wake of increasing global violence and incidents such as this, I am shaken with grief and despair. I am apt to question “why.” Why do we continue to destroy our fellow humankind? What have we lost, forgotten, or failed to learn in our lives’ journeys that we treat one another with such disregard and inhumanity.
      Honestly, as I lay in bed last night, I committed to sharing this post today. The news of this morning affirms our need to be reminded of what is holy and sacred.  I so want to hope in the midst of despair! 

The Sacred: Part I– What I Heard!Unknown

      In the late 1980’s I marked a verse in my old King James Bible, Matthew 10:27:

What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in light, and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.

 

More recently I discovered and really like The Message translation:

             Do not hesitate to go public, now!

I’m going public today and share my story of an experience that changed me, my life, and my spiritual path and journey.

         In October of 1997 I was in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE – chaplaincy) training. I was six weeks into the course, and it was my first rotation being on call– an all-nighter as hospital chaplain on-call. As I sometimes do with first-time experiences, I felt a bit apprehensive, but not overly so, trusting God to lead and guide in all that I might be called upon to say or do. I also knew that as I began the evening, I was a bit more vulnerable –physically, spiritually, and emotionally — than I might ordinarily have been in that I was recovering from surgery for a detached retina. The last couple of weeks had been full of uncertainties. My prayers were for a quiet night.
         I began the evening by making a few visits and the “rounds” of the various floors and departments. I then retired to my assigned “sleeping” room. Although, there would be no sleeping that night. Without going into the details of each case, I will simply say that there were four deaths in the hospital that night.
         The first was a heart attack victim in the emergency room — a 60 year old man, a family in the midst of shock, confusion, questioning, and grief. I have distinct memories of physically supporting the wife as she stood by the gurney holding her deceased husband’s hand. I did everything I knew to do as chaplain even as I wrestled with this, my first face to face encounter with death.
         The second was a middle-aged woman who had been on life support for several days and the decision had been made to remove the life support. I checked in on the family a couple of times, thankfully, the family’s minister was present with them.
         The third death that evening was an elderly gentleman in the oncology unit. He was alone as family members did not arrive until after he had expired. The final death was an older gentleman also in the oncology unit. His wife and daughter were present with him. I assisted them with some of the necessary paper work and waited with them until the funeral home came for the remains. When they left, I walked them to their car through the maze of construction that was going on at the time. As I walked back into the hospital through the construction tunnel shrouded in black plastic, it was four o’clock in the morning. I was exhausted — even more drained than when the evening began. I recall my prayer as I walked, “Please, God, no more tonight.”
         I got back to my “sleeping” room and leaned against the bed. That’s when it happened. I fell apart–overwhelmed with emotion and exhaustion. I began to cry — deep gut wrenching sobs. The events of the evening were soaking in, and I felt tremendous sorrow for the families. I also felt a sense of wonder and gratitude for the guidance and grace that got me through the night. In the midst of my sobbing I heard God’s voice — not a loud audible voice, yet more than “a still, small voice.” I heard these clear, distinct words in the depths of my heart, mind and soul.

              “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of Life, the   sacrament of Relationship, and the sacredness of Death.”  

I was taken aback. Where did that come from? And I continued to weep hearing those words over and over again.
      I did lay down for a bit, but sleep was impossible. The events and scenes from the evening were running like a video loop in my head. I could not shake them. In wonder and awe and still somewhat incredulous, I kept hearing and thinking about His words. The message that the most important things in life to know were the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death. It was as if when we know and practice these, everything else will take care of itself. I left the room early, completed the log of the night’s events, and exited the hospital shortly after 7 am in wonder and awe, and with lots to ponder. 

In the Moment — September 11, 2015

Rock Springs Run! I Almost Missed It!!

0924150939-00Since our arrival at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, FL my desire and intent was to kayak down the Rock Springs Run Paddle Trail, which is touted as the number one paddle trail in Central Florida. I must admit that even with my desire and intent, I felt a nagging anxiety. Yes, I felt nervous, uncertain, scared, and fearful of doing what I wanted to do. I suppose my anxiety was rooted in several things. First, I have never kayaked this particular paddle trail. I would literally be entering unknown and uncharted waters — at least for me. Second, I would be doing the paddle alone. I know, the “rules” of kayaking urge us not to go it alone, but in this instance, I have no choice. Do it alone, or don’t do it at all! Third, it is a long paddle — 8.5 miles — requiring four to five hours minimum paddle time. Fourth, Rock Springs Run is on the Wekiva River which is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Now, I am fine with scenic. It is the “wild” that causes me pause. In this case one might translate “wild” into alligators. Also, I had been told that the current in the upper run was fairly swift, and the river was definitely not straight — lots of crooks and turns. This combination can be difficult and even treacherous. So, I was anxious. Bottom line – I was scared!

I knew that if I didn’t push through the fear and do the paddle that I would be disappointed with myself and with not getting to experience the river up close. So I shared my feelings with Lou Anne which actually made me feel better and decided that I would go to the launch point, King’s Landing, talk with the folks there about the river conditions, take a look at the water, and then make my decision. Which is exactly what I did and launched the kayak at 9:30 am. I would paddle the 8.5 miles to Wekiva Island, and Lou Anne would meet me at the take-out there at 1:00 – 1:30 pm. I set the launch location as a waypoint on my GPS, set the trip odometer, and paddled out. Still a bit anxious, but ready for the challenge!

I entered the main channel and was greeted by dense water lilies with a paddle trail snaking through their midst. There were also a couple of houses on the right — nothing wild about that. The river was wide bank-to-bank, but the water lilies made the paddling trail much narrower. This was the case intermittently throughout the trail. Toward the end of the trail these plants were blooming a colorful red and blue. When I was not traversing the lilies, the banks were lush and green with large towering oaks, palms (the short, bushy saw palmetto as well as the cabbage palm tree), and the occasional cypress. It was a jungle out there – really!!

0924151012-00 I wasn’t far into the paddle when I spotted my first alligator. It was swimming parallel to the kayak about 8-10 feet to my right. With him being in the water, it was difficult to gauge his size. Given the distance between his eyes (sometimes this is all you see of them) and his wake in the water, I guessed him to be about 4-5 feet. Sorry, no photos! For me, the right action when spotting a gator in the water is to keep moving and not do anything to draw attention to myself.   The presence of alligators in the river forced me to change my paddling patterns. I normally enjoy paddling close to the riverbanks just to get a closer look at the plants and critters. However, with the gators as often-unseen companions and with their propensity to lie quietly in the vegetation along the banks, I opted to keep my paddling path in the middle of the river. This was my first of four alligator sightings this day. All were quite similar, with the exception of one in which the gator was swimming across the river. He spotted me and went under the water. If he stayed on the same path underwater, I floated over him. My only thought was, “I hope he doesn’t come up while under me!” I moved forward with short, quick paddle strokes in hopes of not disturbing him!

About thirty minutes into the paddle, I had a definite decision to make. I came to a sign reading: King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around. I knew that my destination was still at least eight miles down river. Yet, I launched from King’s Landing and the attendant had placed a blue band on my wrist. Does that sign apply to me? I decided it did not and continued down the river, which became much narrower with more obstructions, fallen trees or branches, in or over the water. I was paddling deeper into the jungle! As the river narrowed, the current was more noticeable, and my river trail became one crook and turn after another. The wild had now merged with the scenic! I had to pay attention and be intentional with my paddle. It became a challenge to place the paddle in the water at the right time and rudder angle to make the upcoming turn, and to make it before the current carried the kayak into the oncoming bank. I maneuvered the kayak left, then right, then right again, then left again consistently. Only once did I have to dig myself out of the bank. No, you won’t see photos of these sections of the river, as I was too busy with the paddle!

0924151030-00  I was enjoying the paddle and the challenge of the crooks, turns, and the fallen trees and branches even as I felt I was going “deeper into the jungle.” Maybe an hour to an hour and half in, I encountered an obstacle that would require much more strategy and maneuvering than any of my previous encounters. A large tree, probably 18-24 inches in trunk diameter, had fallen and was blocking the entire span of the river. I considered going to the right, but the still green branches filled the river and even lay upon the bank. The left option looked a bit more promising. The base of the tree was high enough up on the bank that with my 5’ 3” stature there was a possibility of going under the fallen trunk albeit a “duck” would be needed. This plan was complicated by the fact that the tree had fallen across another large tree trunk that obviously had been in the water much longer. The resulting trunk configuration looked like a slightly squeezed “X” lying on its side. The water level barely covered the lower cross trunk, but there was enough for me to push my kayak over it. Actually, as I started the crossing, the current pushed the kayak and me laterally over the lower trunk. Luckily, I was still in the kayak. The next step was to push and paddle the kayak along the trunks toward the bank, make a right turn at the opening, duck, and go under the upper trunk. I did it! My heart was pounding and my hands shaking, no doubt, the result of both the exertion and the fear. I must admit that there was a moment as I struggled to push and paddle the kayak up and through the opening that I thought, “Am I going to make it!”

I relaxed for a bit, basking in the excitement of having met the challenge. As the trail continued to be littered with obstacles and having encountered the large tree blockage, I suddenly recalled something I had read previous to launching to the effect that the staff of King’s Landing does a good job of keeping the Rock Springs Run free of obstacles. Hgh!   I was not experiencing a run “free of obstacles!” I then remembered, “King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around.” Whoa! My heart was not pounding. It had been grabbed and caught tight in the vise of FEAR. Where am I? Am I lost? Should I have turned around? Do I need to turn around now? I don’t know that I can paddle two hours against this current? How will I get around that tree again?

To counter these questions, my first response was to tell myself, “Just breath, Brenda, just breath.” Is it really possible that I had turned the wrong direction? I kept visualizing a map of the river that did have a side stream; maybe I had turned down that stream. I dug in my wet sack and pulled out a simple map of the paddling trail. No, that side stream was off the lower section of the river. I was in the upper part of the river. I felt somewhat better. I then remembered that the day before when I left Wekiwa Springs for a short paddle I had set a waypoint on my GPS. I also knew that today’s paddle would take me toward Wekiwa Springs and less than a quarter of a mile from that waypoint. I pulled the GPS out. I had traveled almost three miles today already. I located the Wekiwa Springs waypoint and programed the GPS to “Go To” that waypoint. When the screen popped up, I felt a wave of relief. My current location was on the track between this morning’s King’s Landing waypoint and yesterday’s Wekiwa Springs waypoint. I was headed in the right direction! I just needed to keep paddling.

And paddle I did with even greater enjoyment and confidence. My confidence was bolstered even more when I saw the brown state park sign that read, “You are halfway.” I had reached that part of the run within the bounds of Wekiwa Springs State Park. Eventually I passed Otter, Big Buck, and Indian Mound Campsites maintained by the state park. I knew I was doing well on my time so I parked the kayak – lodged it against a tree trunk – pulled out my snacks, rested, and ate a bite of lunch consisting of an apple and mixed nuts. As I sat in the kayak, I remembered my fear and being scared about doing the run. Just think! I almost missed it! I almost missed this adventure – the alligators, the lily pads, the narrow twisting, turning river, the jungle, the heart stopping fear, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges.

I finished the run. The river widened. The jungle disappeared – so much so I had to break out the sunscreen. The lily pads returned sporting gorgeous red blooms and so thick they brushed the sides of the kayak as I maneuvered the trail. I saw another alligator or two. They kept moving and so did I. The last half hour or so I actually met some other folks making their way upstream. Not what I would want to do! I arrived at Wekiva Island around 1:30 pm pretty much on schedule feeling both very tired and very content. Lou Anne was walking down to the landing to meet me. What an adventure I had to share! Just think, I almost missed it!        September 24, 2015

THE BEACH OUTING! — September 6, 2015

We got up at 7:30 am and were off to MCC Holy Cross of Pensacola by 9:15 am. There was a good crowd at church and I enjoyed the service — praise and worship music was uplifting and the sermon was good. One we all need to hear and heed regarding taking care of our world and the earth because there is no “dealership” where we can go and purchase a replacement.

IMG_1117  After church we drove to Pensacola Beach on the Gulf Shore National Seashore. The gleaming white sands and crystal clear blue/green water still amazes me. It is so unlike our Texas Gulf – murky, brown, and stinky! We sat our chairs up on the ridge of sand just above the incoming waves and enjoyed our picnic lunch. Of course, we lathered up with sunscreen before eating. The temperature was a both/and. We were both warmed by the sun, and the truth be known it was hot, and cooled by the sea breeze. The seashore is a tease that way! It is hot, but the breeze makes it feel cooler

We went into the water and played for a while letting the waves “wash” us back to shore. I went about 100 yards out, and the water was still only hip to chest deep. In our “washing” we occasionally had to look toward the shore and find our chairs, only to realize that the waves had carried us far down the beach. The “washing” was fun, but walking against the waves to our point of origin proved to be somewhat of a workout for the old legs!

We retired to our chairs and enjoyed the vast view — 180 degrees — horizon to horizon. I listened in darkness to the consistent, rhythmic melody of the soothing rolling surf. I dug my feet into the sand and felt the warmth and cool of the gritty massage. I watched the children playing– onIMG_1125e cute little girl in particular. She looked to be about 18-20 months old and was decked out in a pink and white bathing suit topped with a matching cap. Regardless of coaxing by Mom and older brother and sister, she literally dug her heels in and absolutely refused to go into the water. If the diminishing waves caught her feet, she screamed and ran backwards.   She squealed and seemed the most content when grabbing fists full of sand and throwing it in the air. Oh, such simple delights of children!! What a joy!!

As we started back into the water, we noticed an ominous cloud behind us. A front was predicted to come through with a possibility of thunderstorms. With the winds ahead of the front the surf was up moderately and the yellow caution flags were flying. We went back into the water anyway and continued our jumping and “washing” exercise. Of course, occasionally we didn’t jump soon enough or high enough and would get blasted by the wave swell or breaking surf. This brought on episodes of spitting and sputtering and attempts to get the salt water of the mouth and eyes. That usually doesn’t wIMG_1126ork — trying to get salt sea water out of your eyes with hands wet with same is a fruitless effort. Oh, well, just endure the momentary sting and let the natural tears do their thing and all is soon well! The playing continued until we heard the roll of thunder in the distance and saw a flash of lightning.

Out of the water we came, gathered our things, and lugged them back to the car, as did many others. Dripping and gritty we prepared for the drive back to our camper trailer looking forward to a warm shower and dry clothes. Not looking forward so much to the cleanup — sand in the chairs, towels, car, etc. Why is an outing atthe beach so much fun and at the same time takes so much effort?   Ah, but that horizon to horizon vista, the rhythmic sound of the rolling surf,  the warm, cool sad between your toes, and the squeals of delighted children!! It tickles my soul and makes my spirit soar! No doubt, it is worth the effort!

Notes on a Kayak — August 3, 2015

Steeple Reflection

I have moored myself between the cypress knees on the shady east side of Big Cypress Bayou. I am about seven and one-half miles downstream from Jefferson, Texas, and maybe a half-mile from where I entered the bayou at my Dad’s property. Again, “Dad’s property.” He has been deceased almost three years, and I continue to have difficulty saying “my property.”

The dragonflies are buzzing around, hovering inches over the glass surface of the murky, brown water. Brown water that is somewhat out of the ordinary for water that is usually a clearer dark green. I assume that the water has not cleared up after the torrential spring rains and flooding. The water level is continuing to fall – thus, the dirty brown water filled with mud and silOff down the Bayou!t.

Anyway, back to the dragonflies, which I assume are responsible for the fish jumping just off my bow. I wonder if the fish will actually ever catch the darting dragonflies. Ahh! Could that be why the fisherman’s artificial lure is called a “fly?” Now, that just occurred to me as a new thought; however, as I think about it, I know I have known that or had that thought before. A brain blip, I suppose??

The stillness and the quiet are palpable. The cachophony of sound is delightful. Now is that not a paradoxical observation – or, more accurately, an auditory sensation! In addition to the aforementioned jumping and flopping back into the water and the dragonflies buzzing, I hear the cardinal singing, the woodpecker pecking, the squirrel chattering, a crow cawing, and the cicada’s chorus. Either bank is robed in towering bald cypress and decorated with hundreds of beautiful, yet grotesque looking, cypress knees bent in homage to the life giving trees. Oh, no! Can’t be! Yes, it is—an electric power line is running through the branches of the trees. Oh, well! So much for getting away from civilization.

Scupper plugs! Yes, I did buy and install some scupper plugs, yet I am still sitting in a bit of water. Albeit, not nearly as much as I was before. I’ll still have to work on that I suppose. I also know I have to go. I could stay in this place, in these waters, along these banks for hours on end. I suspect that’s Dad’s place and space still, and forever, in my heart.

Notes on a Kayak: July 23, 2015

Scupper plugs! Must get scupper plugs, as my bottom is wet! One of the perils, or lessons learned, I suppose, on a first outing in a new kayak. The lighter weight craft proves much easier on my back and shoulders as I carry, load, and unload it. However, the lighter weight results in a lighter load capacity. Thus, when I sat my bottom in the cockpit, the deck went down and water came in through the scupper holes. With my older, larger kayak I never used scupper plugs, and I never got wet. Well, at least I wasn’t heavy enough to sink the craft. I made sure of that before I headed out into the lake.

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The wind was up a bit when I first launched so I retreated to paddle along the shoreline as opposed to bucking the wind and risking more water in the craft. I enjoy the shoreline more than the open water anyway. The shoreline offers more to see and discover as I move quietly in the water and peer into the grasses, the bushes and at times the shallower water depths. I sometimes feel like I am playing “cat and mouse” with the water creatures. It is a challenge to see how close I can get to the turtles on the logs before they “plop” off into the water? Or, how long can I float alongside the ducks before they sense my presence and flap away?

I started out this morning thinking I would paddle around the entire perimeter of the lake. However, as I made my way around the lake – almost halfway – I decided, “No, I don’t want to do that.” This change of intention was not due to my limited time on the water this morning, but more from my need to just “be” and not to be “doing.” So I paddled into a small cove, found respite from the wind and sun, and here I sit, maybe somewhat

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reclining in the kayak. The silence and solitude is welcome and restful. The occasional bird song breaks the silence.   There have been two “plops” behind me, but I have seen no turtles since I stopped paddling. As I came into the cove there was a small turtle on a stump out in the water. I think it might have been a musk (stinkpot) turtle given its size and high dome. But, alas, it “plopped” into the water before I could snap a picture!0723150936-01

Dragonflies are fluttering all around me. In this cove I float on a mirror, flawed only by a wee bump. Wait! That’s a tiny little head. How close can I get? I move in silence and stealth. Ooops! There he goes into the deep – a large round body for such a wee little head. It is my friend — the turtle.  Now, to just sit back and “be” on this delightful sunny and warm day. Warm, mmmm! Except my wet bottom!  Yes, definitely scupper plugs!!

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Appeal for UNITY Amidst the Christian and Gay Divide

rainbow02NOTE:  This post first appeared in the T. B. Matson Foundation blog,Weighty Matters, on July 11, 2015.

Long before the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, the debate regarding the religious or moral “rightness” of same-sex intimacy was at fever pitch. The Court ruling, far from settling the issue and “putting it to bed” (pardon the pun) has, in many ways, added fuel to the fire, and the temperature continues to rise.

First, let me be straight regarding who I am. I am an out, gay, Christian woman in a fourteen-year covenant relationship with another Christian woman. We worshiped together for many years at the First Baptist Church of Tyler, TX. I believe First Baptist would be considered a fairly conservative Baptist church affiliated with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I will not go into the details of my years of struggle coming to accept my sexual orientation and the journey, with God’s grace, toward reconciliation of who I am and my Baptist faith and beliefs. When asked how I reconcile being Christian and gay, the short answer is that I am a child of God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and a woman who happens to have a same-sex orientation. However, my story and struggle is not the point of my writing today.

I write today because I am saddened and heartbroken, and to pose a question: What are we doing? What are we doing to our Christian brothers and sisters, to our churches, and, perhaps most importantly, to our witness to the world of the all-inclusive love and grace of Jesus Christ? Perhaps that is a question we should ask ourselves daily and not just in regard to current issues of sexual orientation and our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks.

Here’s the source of my heartache and sorrow. More and more regarding the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, I see battle lines being drawn, troops being mustered, and “war” strategies taking shape. I see the flourishing of a “them vs. us” mentality and thinking. I recall reading the call to arms by Matthew Vines, founder of the Reformation Project, to “eradicate homophobia through the preaching and teaching of the Bible.” (ABPNews, 9/13/2013) That was almost two years ago! Now, eradication of homophobia would be a good thing, a very good thing; however, I don’t know that it will happen through the preaching and teaching of the Bible. After all, did decades, perhaps centuries, of Bible teaching and preaching eradicate homosexuality? Go figure on that one!

Then there is the NALT – Not All Like That – Christians Project, launched in 2013 “to give LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world—and especially to young gay people—their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender” (notlikethat.org). I am in agreement that it would be a good thing for LGBT-affirming Christians to be more vocal, to speak up and share their convictions in their congregations, Bible study groups, at work, at school, wherever they might be, in any circumstance and, particularly, in response to something hurtful or derogatory that has been said or done. Both The Reformation Project and the NALT Project are great, and they have done and continue to do good work. Yet, the fire still rages and the temperature still rises.

If we want to truly talk about and strive toward “reformation,” let’s talk about relationships. Let’s sit with one another and share our stories, our faith journeys, our soul yearnings, and see and come to know the Christ within – within ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how true soul formation and reformation occurs.

What hinders us from sharing our stories? Could it be the “other?” How do we perceive, approach, behave toward, and relate to people whom we believe to be different from who we perceive ourselves to be? How do we get to know the “other?” Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different? If we answer “Yes” to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that we start sharing our stories, our heartfelt convictions, and listening to one another as opposed to entering battle heralding our proclamations and unfurling our regimental flags.

I sometimes wonder in this gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, if both “armies” are more focused on attempting to change, convert, and convince the “other” side than on loving one another and fostering unity in the body. Again, I would ask a question: With regard to this issue, what is our desire? Is our desire to be “right,” or is our desire to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness to the abounding love of God through Christ?

I am reminded here of Paul’s urgings to the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6 Emphasis is mine.) I see the division among Christians on the gay issue, and I am saddened. I see and hear the “gay-bashing” from many Christian groups, and I am saddened. I am equally saddened by the “church and/or Christian-bashing” coming from various factions of the LGBT community, even at times from the Christian LGBT community. Where is the humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? This breaks my heart.

As Christians, regardless of our beliefs on the gay/same-sex marriage issue or any other aspect of our present-day culture, we are bound together in Christ. I want for us, the church, the body of Christ, to be inclusive and affirming of one another, bound by Christ’s love for us, our love of Christ, and our desire to share His love with others. I want for us, the church, through and because of our bond in Christ, to be able to sit with one another in covenant community and engage in civil and respectful dialogue about all sorts of issues and questions – even, especially, the hard ones. Yes, we may disagree on some things, and – since Christ binds us – we can agree to disagree, be respectful of one another’s “soul competency,” and carry on with the mission to share the love of God through Christ. As Christian brothers and sisters, gay and straight, I want for us, the church, to live in unity and the peace of Christ, knowing that unity does not require uniformity in thought or action, nor does the peace of Christ mean there is no disagreement. I want for us, the church, to be the Presence of Christ in and to the world. Somehow, I don’t think we are being that, the Presence of Christ, in our responses to the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm. I am saddened and heartbroken. Again, I pose the question: What are we doing?

More and more, I am being called back to Matthew 10:27, a verse I claimed many years ago: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear proclaim from the roofs. (NIV) I also like The Message translation: Don’t hesitate to go public now. Well, I have gone public!

A COMMENTARY — MY HEARTFELT THOUGHTS

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Given the occurrences of the past few days regarding the City of Tyler pulling its sponsorship of a local author’s, Lou Anne Smoot, scheduled Adult Summer Reading Program presentation and taking down the display of information and resources set up by East Texas PFLAG, a local affiliate of PFLAG National, I’m asking myself, and our Tyler community, what is the REAL concern here and what can we do to make our community better and stronger – a true community with common unity.

It might be said that this is a done deal. a dead issue.  Corrective action was taken by the city. I applaud that action.   The PFLAG display is back up, and Ms. Smoot’s talk will continue as planned, albeit without the sponsorship or promotion from the City and Tyler Public Library. The reason given for that action being the City’s perception that Ms. Smoot’s talk would be “political.” Purportedly, the fact that the news release announcing the event, written and published by the city/library staff, contained a quote from a current politician gave City Hall the perception that  the talk would be “political.” Although some may question City Hall’s “political” perception and their reasoning behind it, we all can, out of respect for the persons, authority, and policies of City Hall, accept the decision for non-sponsorship of the event.

Some concerns regarding the PFLAG display focused on the proximity of the display to the library’s children’s area. The display was and is in the main check out and information area of the library, adjacent to, but not in the children’s area. The display is not of the sort to draw children’s attention – – no colorful pictures, stuffed animals, or dangling ornaments. It contains books, brochures, and pamphlets with words on them. Some of those words are faith communities, gay, family, lesbian, ally, transgender, safe schools, homosexual, bible, and healthcare. In reflecting upon this concern, I would think that if a child were old enough to be inquisitive and ask a question, then this would be a wonderful opportunity for parenting. The parent(s) could answer the child’s questions and offer information and guidance as they, the parent(s). deemed appropriate.

This “library incident” has brought me, and I hope all of us, to a greater concern and questions. How do we perceive, approach, behave toward and relate to other people, especially those we believe to be different from that which we perceive ourselves to be. How do we get to know the “other?” Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different?   If we answer, “Yes” to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that the best thing for us to begin doing is to share our stories with one another and listen to one another. It is in the sharing of our stories that we as a people and a societal community are able to know and gain some understanding of each other. Hopefully, a knowing and understanding that will better able us to relate to one another in a more positive, accepting, respectful manner regardless of our race, culture, religion, sexual orientation or any other aspect of our being that may be different. It is in sharing our stories that we find our commonalities and the threads that can truly unite us together as humanity and a community.

I applaud Ms. Smoot for her courage and willingness to be vulnerable in sharing her story. I equally applaud those who take the risk to listen and especially those who might perceive Ms. Smoot as different from them and still take the risk to listen. Regardless of the differences we perceive in one another — race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability or disability, gender identity, economic status, or gender expression — we are all human and have in common the most basic aspects of our humanity — life, family, relationships, the gamete of emotions — from joys and sorrows to love and anger – and ultimately death. Can we not share our stories and listen focusing on these common aspects of our lives that we might all grow and live better together.   Can we not celebrate the diversities that enrich our communities and our world?

I conclude with a quote from Christian ethicist, David Gushee,

We will honor creation and human life together, across religions, nations, and cultures, or we will perish together. Treat life as sacred! This is God’s command – to all humanity. The response is up to all of us.

                                 From The Sacredness of Human Life by David P. Gushee,

Maybe we need a story telling hour for adults at the Tyler Public Library.

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