Monday, April 21, 2014

Moving Day: The Joy and Sadness of Leaving Home

Move (verb) 1. to go from one place of residence to another; to advance or progress
--Random House Dictionary

Thirty six million Americans, 11.7 percent of the United States population—that’s how many of us will move this year. Move: pick up, pack up, gather up all of our belongings, pile it all up into some type of vehicle and then hit the road for a new place to call home.

Very soon it will be moving season again around here, balmy spring and summer days when we pull into our neighborhood and see the moving vans. Oversized brightly colored trucks sitting in suburban driveways or double parked on cramped city streets. Strong young women and men balancing boxes, carrying photo albums and house plants and family heirlooms into a new place or out of the old place.  I always feel bittersweet, wistful, even sad, when I see someone moving in or someone moving out. In the past few weeks four close friends have let me know that they are moving soon. 

I envy them. Who doesn’t imagine the excitement of packing it all up and embarking upon a brand new life chapter?  But I mourn their loss too.  Moving means things have to change.  Moving means that folks who were close, connected, right next door, are now going away and so that relationship will be different. 

Life moves. Life moves on.

When I was younger I was a serial mover, didn’t stay in any one place for very long.  From my early twenties to mid-forties I moved eleven times between four states, for grad school and seven job changes. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of sticky packing tape and bulky cardboard boxes, a lot of teary goodbyes and anxious hellos, seeing what was once my home fade in the rear view mirror, flying by highway signs which proclaimed “Now Entering!”  Wondering what adventures lay ahead. 

Americans move for lots of reasons, in the dance of exiting and entering, departing and disembarking.  Job changes. Family changes like aging parents or retirement or marriage or divorce.  We move to get a fresh start or to finally settle down, move because the place we’ve lived finally has nothing more to offer us. Move because some shining city calls out with a siren song of hoped for prosperity or the chance to reset life and being again. 

The U.S. census reports that folks from the northeastern U.S. move the least and folks from the wide open west are the vagabonds of our land. The top five states for moving to are Alaska, Vermont, Oregon, Kentucky and Texas.  The top five states for moving from are Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Ohio.  Who stays put the longest? Those from the bayous and from Bourbon Street in Louisiana, which boats a native born population of almost 80 percent. We Bay Staters are homebodies too: 63 percent of us have never left. Nevadans can’t seem to stay put. Only 24 percent of “Silver State” citizens started out there.

It’s harder for me than it once was to accept this truth of human movement, of friends and family one day just letting me know that they are leaving.  Maybe it is because I am older and change doesn’t seem as good a friend as it once was to me.  Maybe settling in rather than moving on is my natural state now. Maybe a restless spirit is the province of the young and a desire to put down deep roots is the comfort of the old.  Who knows?

Yet I do know this. God did not create human beings in stasis, just resting in place, still.  From the moment homo sapiens stood up and walked on two legs we have been moving. Moving on up.  Moving away from. Moving towards. So as the person who this time is staying in place and watching as the moving van pulls away, I offer a simple prayer and blessing for all my “in motion” friends, the ones soon to depart.

Via Con Dios! Go with God! I’ll miss you, lots. But sometimes? It is time to move.




Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week and Easter at Pilgrim Church in Sherborn

Maundy Thursday Service
Thursday, April 17, 7:30 pm

Good Friday Service
Friday, April 18, 7:30 pm

Prayer Vigil
In sanctuary, 6 pm to midnight on 
Holy Saturday, April 19

Easter Sunday, April 20
6:00 am Easter Sunrise Service
at Farm Pond led by the Senior High Youth Group
9 am Easter Service
Featuring the Pilgrim Band

11 am Easter Service
Featuring voice choirs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Marathon One Year Later: To Endure is To Win

Marathon (noun) 1. a foot race over a course measuring 26 miles 385 yards  2. any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance                     
 --Random House Dictionary

Just keep going.

No matter what happens. No matter what obstacles appear in your path blocking the way.  No matter how much your legs ache or your lungs burn or your spirits flag and all you want to do is stop and rest. 

No. Just keep going.

One foot in front of the other, step by step and stride by stride, mile after mile after mile after mile.  Do whatever you have to do to keep running.  Imagine the finish line in your mind and crossing over it.  Say a prayer to God to give you the strength to endure the pain. Don’t think about the distance which lies ahead.  Focus on the next landmark, the next corner to turn, the next mile marker to pass. 

Just keep going.

Distract yourself if it helps.  See the crowds cheering you along. Read the brightly colored handheld signs of encouragement. Listen to the shouts of support and love.  “You can do it!”  “Just five more miles!” “Almost there!”  Or focus on your breathing.   One breath in. One breath out. 

Yes, just keep going. For you. For every one. Especially this year.

I tried to write about the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and this year’s race so many times in the past month.  I kept coming up empty, wordless, mute. What more can be said about that awful and awe-filled April day?  Bright blue skies and terror filled streets. Victims lying across Boylston Street in a nightmarish urban war zone. Brave first responders and bystanders scrambling to save someone, anyone.  Sketchy and confusing news reports--what happened?!

And I wasn’t even there, nowhere close to the finish line.  I can’t, most of us, can’t ever imagine what it was all really like…for the families of the three spectators who died, or the sixteen people who lost a limb, the 264 hurt, the runners frozen in fear at exactly 2:49  pm, the cop gunned down in the manhunt. No words or sentiment could ever capture it all.  All I can offer is one prayer and plea and hope as 36,000 runners and millions of marathon fans walk back into the memories.

Just keep going.  KEEP GOING! Keep running. Keep striving.  Keep on keeping on until the very last runner finally crosses the finish line next Monday afternoon. 

In response to trauma, sometimes that’s all we humans can do and that’s a good thing and that’s a miracle and a victory. To face death and grieve deeply and then carry on in life somehow. To be knocked down by circumstances beyond our control and then find the grace and the grit to pick ourselves up and start running again.  To live through tragedy and terror and then refuse to let it break us and instead go on with life, even, especially, when it is so incredibly difficult.   To run and not grow weary.  To stumble but not fall.

To just keep going.

So bring on the 118th running of the Boston Marathon next Monday. It is time. It will be a bittersweet day of memory and memorials, an anxious day as we remember where we were and what we were doing. But I believe the marathon has already been won before it begins, before anyone departs Hopkinton for that 26.2 mile journey. 

For you see, we can and we must and we will, just keep going.  GO BOSTON!




Monday, April 7, 2014

An April 15th Truth: Taxes Make Life Better

“The expenses of government, having for their object the interest of all, should be borne by everyone, and the more a man enjoys the advantages of society, the more he ought to hold himself honored in contributing to those expenses.” 
 --Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot

It is tax time again.

Less than a week to go before most of us will carry out that most civic and most slandered of civic acts: paying taxes. Come April 15th 136,000,000 or so Americans will meet their legal obligation to pay some $1,042,000,000,000 in federal income taxes (more than 1 trillion dollars!); 3,171,000 Massachusetts taxpayers will pay approximately $11,933,400,000 in state income taxes.
That’s a lot of money. A lot of taxes.

These numbers don’t include the other taxes we pay too: “sin” taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, etc.), corporate taxes, property taxes and the sales tax.  There are more exotic taxes too: on the cars we rent, the plane tickets we buy, and the hotel rooms we sleep in.  Is there anything not taxed?  As the Beatles 1966 song “Taxman” proclaimed, “If you drive a car, I'll tax the street; If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat; If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat; If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet; ‘cuz I’m the taxman.”
Taxes—we’ll pay and we’ll complain.  Loudly. Rant, rave, and protest. Some will call themselves “patriots” as they kvetch about how awful all these taxes are. How unfair, and odious, burdensome and “un-American”.
If there’s one civic punching bag Americans love to pummel even more than the government, it is that same government’s authority to tax. Yet…I just can’t hate taxes. I can’t do it, even as I mail in my tax returns, even as I see a big chunk of all my hard earned money going away to Washington and Beacon Hill.  For you see I always come back to the people I know who are directly helped by and through the payment of my taxes, our taxes.  On April 15th I remember how taxes actually benefit me and my loved ones and my community and nation so much.
There’s my grandfather and mother who are well cared for by Medicare. My neighbor who was transported to the hospital by the local fire department when an emergency struck.  My friends whose house caught fire. A 911 cal and the police and firefighters were there in minutes.  The University of Massachusetts, the school I proudly call my alma mater: if not for the taxes which support that school and underwrote my loans, I never could have attended.  I think of my friend the army chaplain who cares for his soldiers in such an amazing way. Or the relative saved from life on the streets by extended unemployment benefits and Mass Health Care.  My Dad who was the first in his family to get a Masters degree because of Uncle Sam and the GI bill.  The prisoners I work with at the Norfolk County Jail receiving treatment for their drug addictions.  Taxes underwrite the hope that when they are released they’ll stay out of trouble and be clean and sober. 

All programs funded by taxes. All people directly served by taxation.  No taxes? No government services.  No national defense. No first responders.  No Head Start or food stamps or senior housing or health care for the poor and the elderly.
Every American could easily write a very, very, very long list of all the ways the paying of taxes makes life better, safer, gentler, and healthier.  It’s just that when we get all self-righteous about taxes, especially around the 15th, we tend to forget. We suffer from civic amnesia. 
Like taxes. Hate taxes. The choice is ours’.  But there is no ignoring one absolute truth: taxes directly benefit millions of us every single day. 
So I will pay my taxes. Try to pay my fair share.  Pay because as a citizen and a “patriot” that is my duty.  My obligation. My responsibility.  It is my “rent” in a way, for being blessed by God, lucky enough, to call this great country and this great state my home. I pay taxes because I am grateful for all the ways my government serves my family, friends, neighbors and strangers, especially the ones who are in need.
Let the choruses of tax griping begin.  Sing right along but remember… taxes are an integral part of what it means to live in community, and to be responsible for, and with and to each other. 

See you at the post office on the 15th.

Monday, March 31, 2014

On Opening Day, All Things Begin Again

“People will…walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon… where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters….The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers…been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”   --from the film “Field of Dreams”

I write this column on a cold and rainy Monday morning, as only New England can offer on the final day of March.  Piles of dirty ice and snow still dot the front yard after the longest winter in recent memory.  Spring is extra stubborn this year and hasn’t really shown up, not yet.  But that’s ok.  For you see in just a little less than four hours, the first pitch of the 2014 Boston Red baseball season will be thrown. 

Same as it ever was.  Same as it will ever be.  And that is good.

So for the next 182 days, until September 28th, (perhaps even beyond!) I’ll be there with the Sox and they’ll be with me too.  It’s been this way for me for forty seven seasons. I’m not sure exactly where or when I first caught baseball fever, began to mark the passage of time in my life through a kid’s game, played by nine men on a diamond, and not just any team but by the Sox.

Maybe it was one spring night long, long ago: Dad had the game on in the car and I started to ask him about balls and strikes. Or it happened as I played wiffle ball in the backyard with Joey from next door, each of us arguing about which Red Sox star we’d portray, Carl Yastrzemski or Rico Petrocelli.  We’d swing away at pitches until dusk fell and then our Moms would yell out the backdoor that it was time to come in for supper.  There was my first Fenway Park visit, Grandpa marching five of his grandsons into a July afternoon game.  Sitting in the bleachers in the hot sun, peanuts shells crunching underfoot, fans shouting at the players, vendors singing out, “GETCHA HOT DAWGS HEAH!”

Seems so long ago.  Seems just like yesterday too.

That’s the amazing nature of human life.  It all goes by so fast sometimes, at a pace which can be breathtaking, even overwhelming.  Sweet memories—wasn’t that just yesterday?  Has that much time really gone by?  In the midst of this often frenetic life journey, I know I need some truth, some reality, some thing, which does not change. Which is dependable and right and real and that I can count upon to just be there, to return once again.  

That’s why I need baseball, this year and every year.  The Red Sox. Spring in New England.  Warming April days and muggy August nights.  A game on the radio as I drive down darkened roads and highways, the window rolled down, a summer breeze blowing in, Joe and Dave lazily calling out the action.  Mornings turning first to the sports pages to see what happened the night before. 

Baseball is back again.  All is right in the world.

Yes, I know it is just baseball: a game, a diversion, entertainment.  I know it is easy to be cynical these days about modern sports with its overpaid spoiled athletes, steroid use, and overpriced tickets, blah, blah, blah.  I know that for many folks baseball is passé now, no longer the national pastime, too slow, too nuanced, too dull. 

But for this little boy who still lives inside the man, baseball is one of the few things in my life which always beckons me back: season by season and generation to generation.  If we are blessed by God, we can all claim a few such truths: a family who loves us through all the years no matter what, faith in a God who sustains us day by day and, yes, a game, a game which grows up with us and then begins again every year, without fail. 

So dust off the glove.  Retrieve from the shelf in the closet that faded red and blue cap.  Stock up on some mustard for the first hot dog of the year.  The Sox are back.  Spring is here.  Summer can’t be far away.

Listen for it…”Play ball!”

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Mystery of Flight 370: Lost...

Lost (adjective) 1. no longer possessed or retained; no longer to be found; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.    
--Random House Dictionary

In 2014, how can a commercial jet airliner just seem to vanish, be lost?

It is a jumbo jet after all, a technologically sophisticated flying behemoth.  The Boeing 777.  Fully loaded it weighs a million pounds.  Fully powered it zooms through the clouds at almost 600 miles per hour and soars to 35,000 feet.  Two hundred and forty two feet long the plane can carry up to 451 people and travel nearly 10,000 miles non-stop.  Everything we know about this human made marvel would seem to suggest, even somehow guarantee, that a “thing” this substantial, this real, could not ever disappear.  Go missing. Right?

Not in our hyper-connected brave new world. Not when breathtaking technology links us in a second to others, to anywhere else worldwide.  Sitting in Massachusetts I can easily call a friend in Caracas, or Skype a buddy in Cairo or surf the web to read an Africa based blogger or book a flight, then jet off to Timbuktu or Taiwan.   

Click, tap, type, send: the distance from here to there seems so short, so small, so controllable. Google “map it” and we can see, be anywhere on God’s green earth, up close, as if we are right there.  We are a global village.  More wired, more linked, more integrated than ever before in human history.  There’s nowhere which is “nowhere”, yes?

So where is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 souls onboard her?  Lost. Lost.  No avoiding this hard and sobering truth.

For the families of those missing folks, this mystery is heartbreaking, tragic, and awful.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to have absolutely nothing to go on: no news, no evidence, no real leads. Those loved ones have a right to protest, to push, to insist, and to demand that those in charge give them answers.  No question on that.

But what’s amazed me in weeks since the airplane’s disappearance is how totally freaked out so many of us are at the fact that even today, getting lost and being lost is still a real possibility, a risk.  That for all humans think we know about reality, about existence, about the big blue marble we call home, life is still a mystery.  Not every question can be answered, certainly not always immediately, maybe not even ever.  Not every solution is attainable. Not every corner or part of this vast world or even bigger universe has or will ever be fully plotted or parsed or tamed.

You wouldn’t know this by turning on the TV or opening up the newspaper or surfing the net.  Coverage of Flight 370 has been wall to wall since the day it vanished. Everyone has an opinion.  The rock singer Courtney Love tweets her theory and it goes viral.  CNN features alien abduction theorists and the ratings soar.  I get the natural tug of trying to figure out something so wondrous, so odd.  The drama of wondering “why?”  The newsworthiness of the story. It makes for riveting journalism.      

But what’s lost in this tale of loss is a humble recognition that the world is still a very, very, very big place and we humans are well…kind of puny. Flight 370 is tiny compared to the size of the oceans it may or may not have flown over.  A needle in a haystack is the operative cliché.  The earth is comprised of 196.9 million square miles of surface area, land and water.  That’s huge. 

What’s lost in our global speculation is the reality that even as humankind creates “safe” or “foolproof” or “life changing” machines, when we place these in the hands of fallible human beings, assume they’ve been engineered well, there is always a chance for failure.  Always. A plane vanishes from a radar screen.  A mass produced automobile kills and injures scores of drivers.  A tainted drug sickens unsuspecting patients.  No machine is perfect.  No human either, even in this modern world where it is so easy to assume we can know it all, explain it all, control it all and answer it all.  But we can’t.

As the author of Psalm 8 writes in a prayer to the Creator of the Universe, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is [hu]mankind….?”  The mystery of Flight 370 reminds us of our true place in the cosmos.  Not at the center of all things.  Not the master of all things.  Not the maker of all things. Nope. We are just one part of this beautiful and scary and wild and awe inspiring place called Creation.

I do hope and I do pray that Flight 370 is one day found. The largest air and sea search in the history of the world is bringing us closer to a final answer.  But for now…it is lost.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March In Massachusetts Means Mud Season

"Here in purgatory, bare ground is visible,
except in shady places where snow prevails.

Still, each day sees the restoration of another animal: a sparrow, just now a sleepy wasp; and, at twilight, the skunk pokes out of the den, anxious for mates and meals…”

Earth’s open wounds – where the plow gouged the ground last November -must be smoothed; some sown with seed, and all forgotten.

Beside the porch step the crocus prepares an exaltation
of purple, but for the moment holds its tongue…
                        --excerpted from “Mud Season”, by Jane Kenyon

In northern New England this time of year is called the fifth season, mud season, when after a long and earth chilling winter, the ground finally begins to thaw out.  It’s the season in between seasons, a “not quite yet” time.  And this year with all the cold and snow we in the south have experienced, it is mud season here too.  A time of natural transition. Winter fades, and oh so slowly releases its grip, but is not ready to fully relinquish its hold upon us or Creation. Days warm up with tantalizing temps and gaudy sunshine but nights still dip below freezing, the backyard bird bath a mini skating rink.  Birds have returned and sing out but you get the feeling they do so with tiny scarves wrapped around their necks. We even use daylight savings time to trick us into thinking the earth is about to turn and yet the calendar forces us to wait. 

To face into the mud. To trek right through it. No detours. No shortcuts.

And so for the next few weeks we’ll just have to wade through the mucky landscape which is March in Massachusetts. Scrape the mud off our shoes before we walk into the house. Listen to the squish of mud beneath our feet as we march to the mailbox. Shudder as the mud suck our boots downward on that walk in the woods with the dog. 

Mud is a curious thing.  It is messy, mucky, and chilly, especially in March.  “Dirty” by definition. First blush might tempt us to conclude mud’s not good for much of anything but creating a big mess. Yet within it are all the nutrients needed for life, for the greening again of the world. That seed planted last fall in fact depends upon the embrace of mud to wake up and begin to bloom.

No mud, no spring. No crocuses pushing up, no blue jays blasting away, no green buds exploding on the branches. Mud is life. Mud reminds us that even from the coldest depths, life always seems to find a way to push up, to push out, to push through.  Mud is the stuff from which God made humans. “God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!” (from “The Message”, by Eugene Peterson)

So even though a part of me wants to protest and skip over this sloppy time of the year,  jump over our fifth season, I know, the earth knows, and God knows we just have to wait in the mud this March.  Wait and trust that April is approaching, and will be delivered to us, faithfully, by a Creator who can take the mud and make a new thing, once, always.

Bring on the mud.  Let the thaw begin.  Let the slush give way to water. Give me earthworm filled dirt and spongy clay and bouncy topsoil waiting to be turned over. Sure, it may be messy.  But it is our New England mud. 

Winter is almost gone.  Spring is so darn close.  That’s the good news of mud. 

The bad news? Don’t forget to wipe your feet before coming in the house.