This world. This place. This life.

1 Comment

How was the road trip?

We’ve been home for two and a half weeks, and we’re still settling back in.

A few days after we got back to Girdwood, Liesl came down with the flu, which changed the math around here. Instead of two adults taking care of a baby and a dog, it was one adult taking care of a sick person, a baby and a dog. Now that she’s mostly on the mend, we’re making progress on the daunting, never-ending task of bringing order to our 1100-square-foot condo.

So, how was the road trip?

It’s a hard question to answer, because we didn’t have a clear goal when we set out.

At some point on the trip I posted on Facebook that “there, and back again,” might be the measure of this trip’s success. And we’ve done that.

It was quite an accomplishment to take the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham, and then put more than 5000 miles on the truck getting back to Alaska via the AlCan. Particularly with a baby (and a dog, for part of the trip).

But what was it for? Why did we go?

As I wrote before we went, we were stuck, and we needed to yank ourselves away from here so that we could imagine a new future for ourselves.

We did that, too.

Liesl began to see the giant boulder of grief she’s been carrying around about leaving her job, and possibly leaving Alaska. Now that she knows the boulder’s there, she can set it down once in a while.

I found space to take a chance on a new life, daydream about entrepreneurial ministry, and expand the work I’m already doing.

The trip propelled us into a liminal place. Not into a new, rooted place. A liminal place.

And we’re still there.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’d like a new house, and new careers, without all the constant questioning and considering and good god all the waiting.

We’d like a home with more room for Willa to play, with plenty of space for Brady to run around outside, with a place for Liesl and I to shut the door and remember who we are, apart from our parental roles.

We’d like for both of us to have daily work that feels meaningful, purposeful, satisfying.

We’d like to expend our energy in the present, not in planning for, imagining, and trying to get to the future.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’re restless.

We get cranky with each other. And with the dog.

But then we watch an episode of HBO’s Vice, about Sudan.

And we remember how privileged—and small—our struggle is.

We remember to be grateful for our happy baby, who has enough to eat, and a place to sleep.

It puts our search for meaning and purpose in a larger perspective.

We’re looking, not just for work that makes us feel valued, but work that actually is valuable, work that helps to make a dent, however tiny, in the terrible, terrible things that happen every day around the world, and right here in Girdwood, and wherever you are.

So that’s how our trip was.

We may be sleeping in the same place every night now, but we’re still on the road. We’ll let you know when we arrive.

If we ever do.




Burn your stories

Writers give the world a gift: they name experience.

They find words, string them together, and share them. And when they get just the right combination, their audience says, “Yes! That’s exactly right!”

Naming experience feels good. It scratches the itch in the back of your mind. It brings a fuzzy image into focus. It builds a bookshelf, and organizes your library.

But naming also has a downside.

Once we name an experience, it’s frozen. The name makes its meaning so clear, there’s no room for other explanations.

Last week I told a friend a story from my childhood.

It’s a great story. It makes so many things clear. It helps me understand why I struggle.

And my friend heard it that way. “Oh,” she said, with a shake of her head. “Oh, my.”

But then she said, “You know, you’re almost forty years from when that happened.”

And those few words helped melt the ice trapping me in one perspective. They gave me room to see myself in a new way.

Words are certainly a gift. We need tools to bring the world into focus. We need ways to understand the stream of experience in which we swim.

But the stories we tell ourselves are dangerous, because they are so compelling. We clutch them in our hands, holding on for dear life.

It’s not that we should stop telling stories. But we do need to hold them in open hands, to sweep them from the table like mandala sand.

So tell a story. And burn it. Tell another. And burn it. Again and again.

Don’t worry. What’s true will survive.

1 Comment

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.



Finding “Bright Galaxy”

One of our assignments for UU History class was to prepare a class presentation about our home congregation’s history.  I chose to look at the Anchorage UU Fellowship’s history through the lens of its origins in the Fellowship Movement.

I had previously read two UU World articles about TFM earlier.  The story of the Boulder Fellowship’s beginnings still rings in my ears (“You’ll have to do it yourself.”)

As I returned to those articles, I noticed a reference to Bright Galaxy, a book about TFM published in 1960.  Intrigued, I tried to track it down online.  No luck.

Meanwhile, my interest in TFM was growing.  A tiny spark was becoming a flame, and conversations during my first two days at Meadville last week fanned the fire.

Then last Tuesday the Meadville students hosted a pizza party at the historic Meadville-Lombard building that was recently sold to the University of Chicago.

Curious, I took a self-directed tour.  In the library I found a small bookshelf, piled high and overflowing with stacks of books.  Above it a sign said, “Free Books.”  (ML is paring down in preparation for its move.)

Sitting on top, right at eye level, was Bright Galaxy.

In the months leading up to this class, I’d planned to write my final paper on pluralism, trying to answer for myself the question of how this tradition, with its Christian origins, had become the theologically diverse faith it is today.

Finding Bright Galaxy, and continuing conversations with my classmates, changed that plan.  Now I’m writing about the Fellowship Movement–what was hoped for, what went wrong, what we can learn from the experience.

On the plane home from Chicago, Bright Galaxy was my companion.  Somewhere over Alberta I read that Laile Bartlett, the author, considered the Plymouth Brethren to be one of the spiritual forbears of the Fellowship Movement.  I spent the first 20 years of my life among the Plymouth Brethren.

There is a deep satisfaction when life folds over on itself, and the past is suddenly useful.