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I’ve been clearing space and making time here in Sarasota, Florida, on the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean’s northerly extension.  You could use Google maps or a GPS “app” to try to locate us here, but you will not quite find us that way.  Like the man in the kayak, asking the way to the mangrove tunnel from which we had just come, and looking helplessly and repeatedly at his iphone, you may find it disorienting, or hardly believable, but neither the actual place, nor the route to it, show up on such gadgets.

This is my first post-Facebook blog.  Yes, I know that this means of communication is also dependent on the internet, but I hope that it can be a more meaningful and personal way to stay in contact with many of you, and to allow a more thoughtful, more fully developed, less shallow way of sharing ideas and questions  that interest me.  Let’s make our ways together!

Some of you know that Judith and I have also recently returned from a 6-week pilgrimage of sorts– a 70th year journey with very few goals other than to enjoy some new places and events, to have time with each other, and to discover what there is now to discover.  I’ll be sharing some of that in blogs to come.  It was a very good, unhurried and peaceful trip, without any email, cell phones, television, or regular news.  We had time to meet some people, to talk with one another, to have cream teas, visit with beech trees and walk in the procession celebrating Sainte Foy.

Here we are.  Caught up with ourselves. Doing our best to inhabit our true locations.

I hope you are all well. Let’s stay connected!

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It was non-stop work.

Once they woke up, as it got light, they began to wrestle and scrum with one another, trying out their growls and barks, and pushing the food dish around the kitchen.  So, I was up to feed them, and let them out into the courtyard, where they were learning important skills such as how to tear apart ferns (fun!), how to dig holes (more fun!!), and how to chase each other around and weave in an out among the various obstacles (!!!).Puppies etc 013Puppies etc 010

I made myself a pot of tea each of those puppy mornings, and sat out with them as they learned and grew.  Then cleaned and mopped the kitchen/puppy den, and put them back in for their morning naps, after which I cleaned up the courtyard.  Etc.  etc.  All to be repeated multiple times throughout the days.

The local Humane Society needed foster parents for half a litter of puppies not yet old enough to get their inoculations or to be spayed and made available for adoption.  And so these three pups were with us for 10 days.  Now they all have permanent homes.

We fell in love with them, of course, especially with one of them (of course).  Wasn’t it wonderful, we sobbed to each other, that they now had homes!Puppies etc 008Puppies etc 004

We watched them register birdsong as a relevant sound for the first time; discover grass, and a pond; gather around our feet at the sound of the voices of other “packs” passing near.  A great highlight took place one morning, when they figured out how to climb over my make-shift fence, and I chased them around the neighborhood as they delighted in all of the new sights and smells enveloping them.

It has taken us days to recover from the aches and pains and assorted little wounds of the adventure.  We’ve restored the courtyard plants.  And now we are planning to do it all again!

Here is a discipline that requires a good deal of re-adjustment for many of us:  not being special, or set apart, but just being one person in a gathering, or a community.

We spend so much of our time trying to distinguish ourselves.  Often, we need to draw attention to ourselves, or to what we have created, in order to keep our business going, to market what we have to share, to let the bosses and shareholders know that we are doing our jobs.   It also becomes a habit – we want to stand out and be special.  Shine that spot light right on me, please!

Any of us can get stuck, sometimes.   We all know those who do workshops or write books, or preach sermons, and come to think of themselves as the ones with the answers.  We may even fall into this sort of pattern ourselves.  Friends initiate a conversation, and, instead of joining in, we give advice, or answer the question we have decided they are asking.

In the realm of inter-religious and inter-cultural relations, I can put myself forward as the one who brings people who are different together, rather than simply be another one of those people who is different, one who happens to want to connect with the others.

There are in fact many ways to maintain the distance between ourselves and the “others” — even when we are ostensibly working to bring groups or communities together!

Often what is needed in a situation of alientation or disconnection is not a better approach or a different program, but the practice of being one among the many.  This includes the discipline of coming along-side others, dropping (at least for this time) all the pretended and actual things that might divide us from them.  It involves the practice of listening, with its intricate blend of humility, active and respectful questioning, and safeguarding of boundaries.   And it calls for participating without the aim of always controlling, capturing or directing the conversation or activity.

When practising being one among many, it is easy to be run over by those who have other agendas.  But the integrity of this kind of presence is felt by others; it is a tangiblly different way of being with the others.   It cannot be faked–the fake version is readily detected.   And because it has integrity, being one among many can slowly change the equation, and make possible connections and events that would not otherwise have happened.  It is also so important for me  — to breathe and just be present.

During the Ash Wednesday liturgy, our pastor characterized the proceedings as both “bizarre” and “intensely practical.”  Bizarre, because on this day the church reminds all of us that we are going to die, while doing its best, during the rest of the year, to ignore or minimize this reality.  Practical, because we are invited into a holy Lent, that is, to step into a more intentional practice of our religion–whether it be regular prayer, more giving, fasting, doing justice or living in loving-kindness with our neighbors.

While it may be bizarre to tell people “Remember that from dust you come, and to dust you will return,”  I think it is most salutary and necessary to receive this message.  It is, after all, in the realm of real life and death in which we are, or are not, faithful; it is for living abundantly and joyfully in reality that our traditions prepare us, or fail to prepare us.

But reality is, for many of us human beings, not an easy place in which to stay and live.  We are happy to visit it a number of times each year, perhaps, but to remain for sustained periods in our own reality, and the realities of this world??  Even though we know (if we are not politicians!) that it is only in the realm of the realities of our lives that possibility and change is to be found, we all too often avoid reality.  It is, after all, a place of suffering, confusion, challenges, obstacles, violence, loneliness, etc., etc.

Rather than stay out in this harsh, but real, wilderness, very many of us turn, or turn back, to the fleshpots of Egpyt.  The Kingdoms of Distraction and their purveyors and servants are right there to welcome us.

Some turn to the Kingdom of addictions of various kinds, including working without limits.  Others tend to less harmful distractions, for example, to the Kingdom of buying stuff, or to the Realm of all-consuming engagement in certain activities or sports.

The Kingdom of Distraction that distresses me the most is that of non-stop television, radio and internet “information”, opinion and story.  How many of us allow ourselves to be swept into mass distraction of this kind?  Some stay tuned in to this stream of distraction all the time!  Personally, I most easily fall into the distractions of games –crosswords, sudoko, Free Cell, solitaire– and the distraction of the web, particularly the vortex of Facebook.

I worry about a country like the USA, in which so many citizens, including myself, spend so much time in the Kingdoms of Distraction.  For centuries, after all, decisions affecting public life have been made by a few, while the public has been distracted with bread and circuses.  Now the bread and circus routines, the Kingdoms of Distraction are so much more invasve and pervasive and effective.  Carving out times and places for people to spend time in contact with each other and with the realities of life is more necessary than ever.

I’ll be taking a break from Facebook and from computer games during this Lenten season, to try to see what I’ve been distracting myself from.  How are you dealing with distractions in your own practice?

At midnight yesterday morning, Samoa switched time zones, moving from one side of the International Dateline to the other.  They went from 23:59 on Thursday, December 29, to 0:00 on Saturday, December 31st.  (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16351377 )  They did this in order to make it more possible to interact with, and travel to and from, Australia and New Zealand.  As a community, they adoped a new marker of time to maximize possibilities.

In the greater scheme of things, this is a very small story.  But it helps me think about what I need–and perhaps what we humans need–to actually embrace and live out new possibilities as individuals and as communities.

During this Advent and Christmas season, I have been thinking a lot about possibilities.  That is, I’ve been looking for new paths for myself, and new social configurations that might lead us beyond the damaging, unjust, and inhuman structures that are presently constricting our lives as societies.

But Advent is about the coming of a particular possibility – God with us; the expectation of Advent is the longing and waiting for incarnation.  And Christmas, though it has been descibed by some modern theologian or preacher (whose name I forget) as “the birth of possibility itself,” is again about God entering into our world, and only secondarily about us.  It is a sign–the vision that Mary sings can become reality.  I embrace the incarnation as a revelation of God and God’s nature at the heart of my life and my faith.  And I do look for how I am called to incarnate God as a member of Christ’s body.

This year, though, I also want the celebration of a New Year –the communal moving from one set of numbers to the next–in order to welcome new possibilities.  The year we are entering might not be better than this last one was, though you and I probably hope that it will be so.  All we know for certain is that, at least in some small ways, or through unexpected events, it will be different.  Even though we know that so many things will remain dreadfully,  or routinely, or with any luck,  the same, somehow, the new numbers suggest that things can also be new.

While New Year’s resolutions are almost sure to prove un-helpful, maybe marking a time as a time for new possibilities might help us move toward them.  The New Year is celebrated by so many all around the world — might it be a global and pan-cultural, pan-religious ritual to mark a time for all of us to find some new possibilities for our selves, our religious communities, our countries and our planet?

Like you, I’ve been involved in relationships all of my life.  I wouldn’t be here without them, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without the relationships that I have had

… including the relationship with the red-hot translucent grandfather rock in a sweat lodge in Minnesota;  and the relationships with so many significant people of many different religious traditions and cultures, who have laughed and cried with me and taught me what it means to them to be alive and faithful.

In this blog I hope to explore some of what I have learned, and to engage with others (you?) in thinking about the building and significance of our relatedness and our relationships. 

Relationships seem to be at the heart of most everything – the cohesion of matter, the uses and abuses of politics, the running of economies, and the health of our communities and ourselves.  I am primarily interested in this latter issue of relationships and wholeness, but am open to –well, to all that is related!

Hope you will join me!