Closing Down Shop

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There have been some times since I started this blog in 2011, when writing a post has made the difference between utter despair and life for me.  There have been other times when it was just plain fun.  I have treasured the sense of connection and community that blogging made possible with folks literally around the world.  WordPress provides neat statistical information about a blog so as I write this last blog, I know that there were over 18,500 views of my blog during its ‘lifetime’, that people from 101 countries stopped in to ‘visit’ and I posted 354 times including this one.

Now, my life is heading in a very different direction and it is time to stop.  After I settle in Alabama, I have some other writing projects I am looking forward to immensely.  It may be that there will be another time when the call of blogging tugs again.  In the by and by, may all grace, goodness and mercy be with you and yours.  Thank you.

It is Finished

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I have finished preparing the last Easter sermon I will preach at St Ambrose.  It surprised me. This was a week of self-protective detachment for me.  I’ve been systematically working on a to-do list that cycles through tasks for my leave-taking from this ministry, preparations to get our house listed in mid-May, gathering all the documentation for the purchase of the Finquita, and a major project for my ECF job.  Today, I went into a corner of some of the cabinetry in the garage that I’ve ignored probably for 8 or 9 years and had one heck of a cleaning job to do.  One of the rats that we eventually got rid of obviously made a nest there many years ago.  It was not fun cleaning that corner, though strangely reassuring.

This evening, my girl came to me and for the first time wanted to know about her biological father.  We know nothing about him and I tried to explain that to her in the simplest clearest terms I could find.  When it became clear I had no answers, she came over, sat on my lap, put her head on my shoulder and wept.

Somehow, the determination to clean out that corner of my garage, the weight and sorrow of my daughter on my lap, these were Holy Week brought into a single day of intense breaking open.  And so my final sermon on resurrection is printed.  The reality of what I am letting go of and trying to say yes to, all at once, undeniable.  The tomb is empty.

The Dukester’s Back

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Our friends are headed back out on a cruise and the call and response of shared commitment to our canine friends has Duke staying with us for 10 days.  Just last week, when we headed to Alabama, Boo stayed at Duke’s and our first night gone, we received a text that Boo had arrived at her host’s house with intestinal worms, visible intestinal worms.  Dogs and kids–you’d better have a significant capacity for living with mortification if you are going to tend to them in community.

We had geared ourselves up for a long night when we brought him home yesterday evening.  Last time he came, he paced and wailed all through the first night, made us crazy.  This year we knew what to expect–we thought.  No, there was no pacing and when Sherod and I crawled in bed, Daisy took to her robin’s egg blue, Martha Stewart bedding, Boo to her new, much deeper dog bed that is more comfortable for our girl who is getting old and arthritic.  Duke got on his own bed right next to hers–all five of us in the bedroom, Sherod and I giggling at our menagerie.

We turned the lights out, and still: all was quiet and peaceful.  Then, five minutes later–a most ominous sound.  The sound of liquid hitting floor.  A lot of it. Quite gushing, pardon the detail.  The Mallowman, who has been moving slowly for a long while now, was out of bed like greased lightning.  Lights went on. Investigation ensued. It could have been far worse.  Actually, Duke was quite civilized.  He chose to take a leak in our bathroom, on the tile floor which mercifully, is easy to clean up.  Some mild cursing and fussing later, lights back out, everyone back in bed and good night.

This morning Duke and I went out for our morning game of catch.  Daisy and Boo have their times of fun  but nothing quite like the pure, joyful playfulness I get caught up in, at 5 in the morning, throwing the ball with the Dukester, who is still all gangly, all dopey and floppy eared—and remarkably graceful–silliness.  He’s been following me around everywhere this morning and now that most of my work is at home, I suspect he will be stuck on me like white on rice for the next ten days.  Boo and Daisy look at all this askance, but with some resignation, and stay out of his way.  Damn it Duke–I still like you…

Time Present and Time Past

 

A week before our wedding

A week before our wedding

Two months from today

Two months from today

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
T
.S Eliot Burnt Norton

We knew for the past couple of years that we did not want to stay in Florida after Sherod’s retirement.  Back in 2012, when we went to Alabama for a wedding and started to consider the possibility of a move back to the area around Selma, over and over we slammed into the realities of our daughter’s needs.  Maria has come a long way and she is also still as vulnerable as ever.  She needs the safety net of an Intermediate Care Facility and Alabama has none.  How could we leave her and move so far away?  It haunted us.

Last time we went to Selma, suddenly it occurred to me as we were driving back home that it would be worth looking into ICF’s in the northwest part of Florida where she would be a lot closer to us and still within the umbrella of care provided to Florida residents.  I googled and found a small network run by a private, non-profit organization.  They even listed beds available right now in the Tallahassee ICF they run.  We got back here, went to work researching that possibility, stopped in for a meeting and tour at the Tallahassee on the way back up last week and have begun the transfer process for the girl that should culminate with me driving her up there on June 15 or 16th.

TDC is much like BARC. Another ‘branch’ of the private non-profit that runs TDC has an amazing performing arts program for folks like my girl and she will get to sing and be in plays and do all sorts of performance marvels to her hearts content, starting immediately after she arrives in Tallahassee.  Sherod and I expect we will get to see her every month or so and have her up with us for a few days at a time all through the year.  And without abusing of their generosity, we have asked her stepbrother, Charlie, and his family to help us keep an eye on her. It is reassuring that in a true emergency a member of the family could be there in under an hour to help make decisions.

With the contract now executed, this evening instead of walking I started tackling my part of the garage.  It’s surely time travel time for me.  As I sorted through my shelves, I found boxes and boxes of old, cancelled checks going back to right before Sherod and I got married.  It is only very rarely that I write checks any longer and I had forgotten how it’s a trip to rifle through them, how many memories waft up with the dust.  And because we have started talking about all these moves and changes with our girl Maria, there was a call in the midst of my work–her eagerness for the 16th of June to arrive is enormous–and we played “imagine” over the phone.

Everything here and now is layered on as well–my leave-taking is changing just about every relationship I have valued here and the to-do list gets longer and longer so I have to concentrate intensely on the things I have right in front of me.  Time all smooshed up, all wibbly-wobbly in me.

In My End Is My Beginning

Pecan Grove at the Farm

Pecan Grove at the Farm

Last Saturday, a group of some 60 people gathered at the church I have been so privileged to pastor in these past 4 years.  The work that needed to be done was not easy.  Sherod and I, with little else than a whole lot of passion and a capacity to tolerate risk, had launched St. Ambrose, El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos and All Saints on an experiment in church transformation for the 21st Century late in 2009.  No one really knew where we were going and it turns out we were going out to the desert, to wander. Now, some major decisions needed to be made.

There have been moments of exquisite joy–of finding ourselves dancing with the Holy Spirit in an absolutely, marvelously improvised, moment by moment response to abundance that was simply breath-taking.  I still remember the New Year’s Eve at Starbucks when a generous and brilliant literacy teacher and champion offered to start a literacy camp as part of our ministry.  Today, that literacy camp has grown and morphed enough to become a United Way agency.  There are too many moments like that to enumerate.

Alongside the goodness, buried deep in the light, weaving through everything we did, there was also all the reality of a humanity that even in its best moments has brokeness–sin–in the warp and woof of its existence.  More than ever, I have to recognize that there is harm and alienation and separation as brutal as the kind Dietrich Bohnhoeffer named and responded to, as we will remember over the next week, in our own midst. I am not interested in demonizing, blaming or judging, but I am more radically committed than ever to accepting the “both/and” nature of the human condition.  To paraphrase Johann Metz, the Gospel shines a bright and steady light on the costs of brokenness, including mine.  Such glory, such devastating capacity for death-dealing denial, so intertwined in each of us.

On Saturday it was just that kind of humanity that was on display as the joint vestries of the New River Regional Ministry engaged a conversation to discern if and how, the communities that have defined this ministry would go forward together.  Until that day, the possibility still remained, though at best half-alive, that a way could be found for me to stay on until a new rector was called for All Saints, even if in a part-time capacity.  That my staying on would provide continuity of vision and provide some stability in the midst of the turbulence of Sherod’s transition.

I listened carefully and it was obvious that the leadership I had to offer, even in that limited capacity, was simply too distant from what the lay leadership chooses for itself.  There is no animosity in that recognition. There is simply a realization that to stay would be to compromise too much of my vocational integrity and so I took that option off the table.

In the meantime, all last week, I had walked with the Latino part of our community on the path of death, mourning Marion, tending to her children.  I was reminded that my ministry began on May 15, 2006, two days after my ordination to the priesthood, when I was asked to bury Yovi, a young woman born in Cali, like me, who died when an alligator came out of one of the canals in our county while she was running next to and dragged her into the water where she drowned.  That day in 2006, in the funeral home that was gracious and also impersonal, I saw people bewildered by the senselessness of that death, people who had no community of faith, almost no language to find consolation.  That was the day I realized my call was to go out to the edges of the church to minister amongst immigrants like me.

Last Saturday, it did not seem mere coincidence that I was entering that meeting mindful that I would receive an equally battered body the very next day. All that I had hoped might be possible–that people could mourn where they also rejoice, and work, and serve–had actually come to some fruition. I had to accept that the arc of my ministry in this place is complete.

As we drove up to Lowndesboro and back again, I looked out the window and wept frequently.  I grieve that I was unable to help the NRRM community develop a more viable financial model when ministry  goes far out past the edges of the privilege that has always defined the Episcopal Church.  I grieve even more that I was not able to provide the leadership that opened space for NRRM to take a hard, courageous, honest look at  the insidiousness of getting stuck in a model that is frankly colonial in its distribution of power, in the ease with which we can classify those who are out on the margins as a charity project and those on the inside as benefactors who know what’s best. The limits of my ability, the failures I am well aware of, make this a time of grief as well as expectation.

This afternoon, we have gotten word that we are about to go to contract for the farm in Lowndesboro.  Sherod asked me what that was like for me.  As we walked around the farm on Wednesday, I was keenly aware of the deep silence — a silence reminiscent of my 30 day retreat in Tahoe.  I was equally mindful of the smell of loam.  The Eucharistic prayer I use for the Spanish service on Sundays recounts God’s gifts and says, “you gave us the earth to be our cradle, our home and our grave”.  I am glad to go to a place where I will be one of the am ha’aretz–in the most literal translation of Hebrew, one of the people of the land.

There is much to bury.  There is much to cradle and care for as Sherod and I tend to our marriage more intentionally after long years drawing from the reservoirs of good will and love between us to do the work of ministry.  The land will be my home in a way I have not allowed it to be my home since the days my brothers and parents and I roamed wide open pastures in Cali on Sunday mornings, under the shadows of the Farallones de Cali.

All of that tumbles around in me this afternoon, in this liminal space before the to-do lists of selling this house and buying that one, closing out my time with the ministries here and continuing to move forward with my ECF job, become overwhelming, in this in-between where my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning…

 

 

 

Ghosts & An Offer

We got to Lowndesboro about an hour before we were supposed to meet the realtor and general contractor.  That gave us time to drive around and get a feel for the neighborhood–the old, lovely churches, four of them, that were started sometime around the 1840’s.  Today, their congregations are so small that there’s a single congregation and four pastors.  The first Sunday of the month, everyone worships at the Episcopal Church, the second with the Methodists, the third with the Presbyterians, the fourth, with the Baptists. There’s a big farm with rolling hills and lots of sheep.  Lots of old houses and any number of ranch-style, newer ones in what can only loosely be described as a township–mainly farmland.

Towards the river, the pavement gives way to roads of Alabama red dirt.  One of the things that fascinates me about this particular part of the country is how you see the ghosts all around if you look closely.  As we bounced along the road behind the small farm we are looking at, this is what we came upon:

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A cluster of buildings long since abandoned, going gracefully down to the dust.

After several hours poking and prodding and going through everything with a fine-toothed comb yesterday afternoon, this morning we made an offer on the very small farmstead we’d been looking at. Four acres, a house, a shop, a shed for hay, and an open barn where Sherod can hold revivals.  What appealed more to him is a second-floor balcony and the thought of sitting up there in his underwear, shooting when the fancy hits–one of those eccentric neighbors everyone says you’d better watch out for.

Headed to Ocala on the first leg of the trip back home this afternoon, had me look up how to buy a donkey and some goats on my iPad. After I had given him all the facts (a donkey costs about $400.00), I found my old friends at the Antique Rose Emporium–there are two trellises one out front, one in the back and just like that, I could be back growing the antique rose species I love so much.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

Lowndesboro House

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