This world. This place. This life.


The Church of Vitamix

willa likes itA few weeks ago a new Vitamix (well, refurbished) arrived here via UPS. I bought it primarily to make baby food for our Willa, who’s just starting on solids.

It’s amazing. A different class than any other blending appliance I have.

I wish every baby-food-making parent could have one. But they’re expensive (my refurbished one was more than $400).

And that’s where the idea came from. What if a church bought one, and invited new parents to prep their food there? As a stand-alone mission—or as part of a larger ministry to parents of infants?

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A must-read blog for ministers

On January 8, 2011, a blogger named Ashleigh Burrows was shot in Tucson, Arizona.  She had brought her neighbor and friend, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, to meet their congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.

The tragedy outed “AB,” and now we know that Ashleigh Burrows is Suzi Hileman.

The day after the shooting, “Little Cuter” (the blog name of AB’s daughter) posted about her mom; regular readers of the blog had intuitively known that the woman with Christina was AB, and were concerned.  About a week later, AB wrote a post, titled, “What I Know.”

All of us wonder sometimes how people find their way through unspeakable tragedies.  Ministers have a vocational interest in this question, because the people they care for ask, “How can I make it through this?”

AB, aka Suzi Hileman, is doing the hard work of answering that question, not in broad generalities, but in the ordinariness of daily life.

In today’s post she writes about how she wants to stay on the couch, completely covered by a quilt, a gift from a well-wisher.  But her husband’s smile lures one arm out from under the quilt to answer a phone call, to accept an invitation that leads to A Perfect Afternoon.

I imagine that Suzi will write a book about her experience.  She writes well, and her story is extremely compelling.  But in the meantime, the writing she’s doing on her blog is an incredible resource, a soul-touching gift.

If your calling is to care for people, if helping people walk through tough times is part of your vocation, then I invite you to walk with AB.  Because of her shattered hip, she uses a walker and is building up some amazing muscles.  So slow to her pace, and build up some muscles of your own.



When the universe laughs at my fears

After I met with the WRSCC last October, they granted candidacy, but asked me to take a UU History class.  When we got back to Anchorage, I signed up for the class at Meadville Lombard, even though I was a few days past the deadline.

The onslaught of reading began immediately.  I purchased some of the books, downloaded others online, and checked a surprising number of them out of our local library.   One I requested through inter-library loan, and for $3 it came to me from Naropa.

Avoidance is one of my favorite ways of (not) dealing with anxiety, and I found all kinds of ways to avoid reading.  Then we flew to Michigan for Christmas.  By the time we arrived back in Girdwood, I was feeling seriously behind the eight ball.

My anxiety reached its peak the week before I left for Chicago.  One night I was up until 4 a.m., mind racing, thoughts swirling.  As we do these days, I posted my anxiety on Facebook.  A friend messaged, “Seriously, what are you so anxious about?”

I replied:

  • flying by myself.
  • getting to the place I’ll be staying.
  • walking back and forth to class in the big city.
  • the presentation I’m working on for class.
  • meeting new people.
  • figuring out how to be a minister again.
  • Liesl’s health and safety while I’m away

Liesl dropped me off at the airport.  The line at security was non-existent.

I worried about her driving home–an hour’s drive–on the Seward Highway in the dark, without studs on her tires.   She called while I was still at the gate to say that she’d made it home safely.

I boarded the plane without incident, had a lovely conversation with the woman sitting in the window seat, then realized that everyone had boarded, and the seat between us was still empty.  A gift of an empty middle seat.  Unheard of.  And we left Anchorage early.

Liesl had loaned me her noise-cancelling headphones, and I plugged in some podcasts, then snoozed–as much as that’s possible on a plane.

We landed in Chicago–again, early.

It was easy to find the Go Airport Express counter, and the person working there was very friendly.  He knew that my plane had landed early, and the shuttle was ready and waiting for me.  The driver was also wonderful.

It was about 8 a.m., and I discovered that Chicago has daylight that early.  I wouldn’t be walking to class in the dark the next morning.

Check-in at the International House didn’t start until 3 p.m., and I wasn’t looking forward to a long sojourn in the lobby after taking the red-eye.  I stopped into the café, bought coffee and a muffin, sat down to wait.  After breakfast, and a few more podcasts, I checked back in with the front desk, and found out that my room was ready.  Hooray!

I settled in, took a bit of a nap, then ventured out to find the Lutheran School of Theology, where my classes would take place.  An easy 20-minute walk brought me to the front door.  Even on a Sunday someone was there to tell me where classes were held, and that I could purchase lunch in the cafeteria the next day.

But I hadn’t learned yet.  That night I was still worried.  Trying to sleep on a thin dorm mattress, in a loud building, I was awake until at least 3 a.m.

On Monday morning, fortified by a 20 oz. sleep substitute (coffee!), I started out for class.  By lunchtime I was convinced that the week was going to be wonderful. And it was.

Liesl had some hiccoughs at home.  Our kitchen isn’t set up for accessible cooking, and walking an energetic, excitable Australian Cattle Dog is a challenge, particularly when the weather serves up freezing slush.  But for the most part, she and Brady also had a wonderful week, an adventure of their own.  The highlights of her week were poker night with friends (where she won almost every hand!), and getting toasted at Chair Five with her co-workers.

On the flight home, I had an entire row to myself, and Bright Galaxy as my companion.  I watched the landscape flow past beneath the plane, and I was filled, overwhelmed, with gratitude.

The faith of my childhood taught me two conflicting messages about ease and adversity.  One said that “When God closes a door, he always opens a window.”  And the other said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Neither of these is the lesson I learned from this experience.  “God” wasn’t opening a window for me, and I wasn’t being lured into a wrong path by its broad, easy expanse.

This experience was an invitation to let go of my fears.  To acknowledge that the catastrophes I imagine–with such clarity and detail–are just that.  Products of my imagination.

The ease of my trip to Chicago was a rare gift, a treasure.  I’ve written this lengthy post primarily for myself, as a cairn of remembrance, a pile of Ebeneezer stones.  When anxiety comes knocking again, as I’m sure it will, I’ve asked Liesl to just say, “Chicago.”


“Summer” in Chicago

Last week in Chicago was a kind of mini-summer for me.  The weather was just a bit warmer than here in Girdwood.  There was much more daylight, even on cloudy days, even when I spent 9-5 in class.

But it was more than the weather.  I walked about a mile each way, from the International House to the Lutheran seminary where Meadville was renting classroom space.  And I spent all day long with wonderful, creative, interesting Unitarian Universalists, all of them passionate about their faith tradition.

Add all that together, and it felt a lot like the Alaskan experience of summer.  Fueled by sunlight, we feel an intense surge of energy that begins building in the spring.  It’s easy to get up in the morning, and hard to go to bed at night.  There’s so much to do, and we feel so good.

But then August hits, and all that over-expending of energy suddenly takes its toll.  It’s still light out early in the morning, and late into the evening, but we find ourselves dragging, exhausted by light-induced activity.

August hit at about 4 p.m. last Friday.  Suddenly, as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub, I could feel the exuberance draining from me.  I’m glad I recognized it for what it was.

Friday also happened to be my 40th birthday, and my gift to my introverted but sunlight-addled self was a quiet evening alone.  I bought a Napoli sub and a strawberry cheesecake from Medici’s, and walked quietly, slowly back to my dorm room.  My partner’s mom called, and then my parents called.  I packed my suitcase.  Watched some Netflix on my iPod.  Went to bed.  Got up at 4:45 a.m. the next morning for the long trip home to Anchorage.

What a difference a week makes.  We’ve had rain here in Girdwood for the past three days, and today the mountain at the Alyeska ski resort is closed due to high winds and rain-induced instability.   The residents of Chicago are hunkered down, waiting out a blizzard.

Stay safe, everyone, wherever you are.


Shattered luminosity

Sometimes we are formed by the persistent pressure of water, and sometimes we are cracked open in single moments by earthquakes.

There was a time in my life when I believed in God.  God was luminous, precious, beautiful.  God was the love that saves, the strength that protects, the light that directs.  God was the singular, self-contained, separate Other.

I sought God with all that was in me.  I yearned for God.  I wanted to know God.

I looked for teachers to help me find my way.

I found many teachers, and finally one I trusted more than any other.

I closed my eyes, and opened my heart.  I reached out, and gently held the luminous orb.

Then the door slammed shut.  Literally.

Startled, I dropped the ball of Light, and it shattered.

In the sudden darkness, I thought light was gone forever.

But now I see that light inhabits everything.

The name of the ball of Light was God.

The luminous shards embedded everywhere have no name.