Word for 2016: Resilience


We had an apocalyptic storm on Christmas Eve—for more than five hours, a fierce thunder and rainstorm raged around us and over 24 hours we had 5 inches of rain. There has been extensive flooding in the area and though the worst we got was water in our garage and Sherod’s shop, it is sobering to think that these are the kinds of storms that come with climate change. Even if I chalk this up to El Niño, I am convinced we’re moving into a new normal.

Services went on as scheduled, our sweet girl Maria had a place in the early Christmas Eve service, helping to ring bells with joy and gusto during the Sanctus. She did well on this longer visit and I miss her desperately, now that she is back in Ft. Lauderdale. We continue to gather the information to look at a move for my dad with some setbacks and some surprises, but overall, with a growing sense of clarity. All of this is woven into the regular patterns of work and worship at Ascension.

Somehow, it made for an absolutely wonderful Christmas even if one far less jolly and festive than in years past. I think probably, that’s the way it should be, given such heartache in the world.

In a while, cousins I haven’t seen for over a decade will arrive from North Carolina to spend New Years Eve with us. There’s a shrimp boil in the offing, Sherod will watch is Alabama game, at some point we will toast the New Year and then, some sleep. It feels like a life-time was crammed into a single year, when I consider where we were on January 1st of 2015. The word for 2016 is resilience—you take a few steps back to gain momentum and then jump again. So here goes…

The Hay Smells Sweet


I am almost finished doing the Christmas pastoral care visits for our church. My dad got here last Thursday and Maria came in last night. My most serious foray into Christmas shopping happened night before last, on my way home, when I stopped at the Dollar store on one of the back roads I use sometimes. I needed to pick up a couple of decorations because it was time for Olaf the pesky elf to get Maria’s room ready for her visit.   What Christmas means keeps changing for me and I find myself moving further out to the edges of the celebration.

My dad is more fragile and his situation more precarious. We are making some hard, serious decisions, consulting with immigration lawyers and thanking our lucky stars that if our big rambling farm has anything, it has space.

I am pondering the truth that from the very beginning of our marriage, Sherod and I have found ourselves called to offer hospitality that is not about putting on a lovely gracious dinner with all the finery on display and a delicious meal waiting to be served, and then closing the door and breathing a sigh of relief that our guests have gone home. I retraced our steps in my mind this morning: 6 weeks after we married, we received Sherod’s 14-year-old daughter into our home. There were hard parenting lessons to learn with her. When she moved out after high school, I remember cleaning out her room in Memphis and unexpectedly finding a dress she had left. I slumped down the closet wall and wept. No matter how hard, it was good love.

A few years later, it was time to make room for Maria. We are still making room. There’s the wonder of Christmas through eyes that have not and will probably never stop seeing magic and silly elves who make mischief. There’s the need to match our pace to the effects of so many medications she’s on. We calibrate day to day, and in the first days after she arrives for a visit, hour by hour.

Now my dad. Who does not like hearing aids though he needs them so it feels loud in my house a lot. With him too, there will be much to learn. Unlike with my mom, whose decline I saw only in fits and starts, and then those last two intense weeks before her death, it looks like I, and Sherod, will walk alongside him for the rest of the way, whatever that way may be. I am both thankful and scared. We are up to 14 funerals at Ascension since September 1, and I had two funerals in the past 72 hours. Dying and death, filled with grace as they can be, nonetheless hurt.

I go back to my old standbys, including Eliot’s The Magi, and how in these middle years, where death ends and birth begins is almost indecipherable. I love a good party and some of the parties that we have had in our home through the years have been epic. There was one involving the moon and the Jungle Queen that can still make me grin. But the hospitality I have learned as an adult asks me to open room in the inn for a tired person, or two, or three, who need care, do not bring distraction and don’t want to be impressed but simply loved.

And so out in our farm, we start anew making room for one more. I thank God for knowing now, that hay does smell sweet. That the animals will provide comfort and warmth, especially to an old man whose hands are always cold now. I am grateful for fresh eggs and a husband who reaches out early on a winter morning and holds my hand in the dark as we prepare to tend to our guests.


I did not go to church today. Instead, I keep slowly—frustratingly slowly—finishing the editing part of the translation project. And I have been taking breaks to start putting up some of the Christmas decorations. It has struck me today that an enormous part of the decorations for Christmas in Sweden is about putting out candles. When I was growing up, my mom had a small, antique trunk where she stored candles—especially red ones, and small Swedish ones called Prima Julgränsljus. My brothers and I risked death if we dared to open her candle trunk and even as an adult, I stayed out of it.

Last year, I went to Panama to help my dad prepare to move into a much smaller house than the one he had lived in with my mom. During a long week of sorting and finding new homes for stuff, my dad and I shook our heads at my mom’s habit of stocking up–seriously stocking up–on things like candles. But when I went through her candle trunk, all I found were a few half-used Julgränsljus—another small and pointed reminder that my mom is dead; she would never have let herself run out of such an important part of Christmas.

This morning, I went to my candle drawer almost as soon as I got started with the decorating. It was only this morning that I realized how I had followed right behind my mama in having my own stash. In the front of the drawer were two boxes of the Julgränsljus. When I was in Sweden a couple of years ago, I bought several boxes and just opening and smelling them evokes a thousand thousand memories.

Today is Lucia Afton—the traditional Swedish celebration of Sweden’s patron saint and the promise that after long, long nights of bitter cold and darkness, light will come again. It is lovely that decorating for Christmas means I will put out all kinds of candles all around the house. I was also reminded of my absolute favorite piece of Christmas music. With a healthy dose of nostalgia, of genuine grief and sorrow, of thankfulness and anticipation as I prepare for my father and my daughter to come for Christmas, I listened to Nu tändas tusen juleljus. A simpler version of church…

Too Much

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A New Dawn At La Finquita On 5 Dec 2015

This evening, I was sorely tempted to jump into a push and pull of outrage related to a picture circulating on Facebook. Because of the comments associated with the picture, I reported it to FB as fostering hate and intolerance. After that, I turned my attention to other pressing work I am trying to wrap up. The fear, anger, sadness, in some ways, the despair, continued to churn in me long enough to call me to attention.

The echo chambers of social media like Facebook are especially insidious, I think, in times of great spiritual challenge, like our country is facing. They amplify our worst fears and at least for me, push on buttons that have very little to do with my nobler angels. I am declaring a Facebook moratorium for myself until after Christmas. I will continue, as time permits, to blog at www.revrosa.org and welcome comments and conversations there, or directly with me via phone or email. The joy of Facebook is the connections with people who I rarely see and who I love. To all of you, may this be a season of new hope and rediscovered laughter and joy. Keep peace alive…


Today I was invited to lead a devotional with the staff at the Agriculture Department for the State of Alabama. A group of about 20 people gathered and we talked about Joseph, and how things often don’t turn out like we wanted them to. We talked about improbabilities and what can grow in a place easy to dismiss, like Alabama. I found the conversation deeply moving. I was in a roomful of folks who, mostly, are of a very different theological/denominational starting point than mine, that still does not ordain women. Our political and social views are probably miles apart too. I was a guest and I was standing on the edges of their world. It is equally true, though, that we also have our being on the very same ground.

Almost all of them are active in farming in their private life away from the Ag Dep’t so we share knowledge about the color, and texture and smell, and richness of the earth, the red dirt we work. People, including me, so easily dismiss government workers as bureaucrats. Taking their work seriously—simply getting to spend time with people who work in a big, somewhat dreary and profoundly functional building—turned out to be a grace-filled way to start my day, even as I have and continue to prickle and push against the blurring of lines between state and religion.

My work has changed quite radically from anything I did before. These days, there’s some disjointedness: I pick up pieces where necessary, tie up loose ends, pinch hit. I am not responsible for providing high-level, ‘strategic leadership’ (though I am grateful for the times I am invited to provide advice and counsel), try to stay flexible to respond to the unexpected. My work doesn’t have the kind of glamour of travel or the prominence that comes with projects at the national/church-wide level like I was involved in last year. I know now that truly, I am a journeyman (person) of the church.

I looked up the etymology for assist and help—which is what the bulk of my work is about now. To assist comes from words that mean to stand by, to attend, to stretch towards. Help derives from words meaning to succor, benefit, cure, amend. I love that much of what I do is stand by or walk with others. To stretch towards others is not something that comes easily for me. My best friend and I had a conversation recently that helped me understand that for much of my life, I worked hard to define my identity—who I was—and I did a lot of that by defining who I was not. There’s such a tiny space between clarifying boundaries and slipping into outrage about the Other—whoever the Other might be.   I know a lot more about who I am now and that allows me to hear others and be with others in ways I couldn’t before

I believe the carnage in endless replay of these days is shaped, at least in part, by gun laws that do not do enough to protect the innocent. I take that position in a state where gun rights are an enormously big deal and we have discussions about open carry policies for our churches. I live in a state Donald Trump has visited regularly and I know and love people who are swayed by at least some of his arguments. It is easy to be outraged (and I am) by the hateful rhetoric Trump uses, by the hideous violence that comes when companies profit so much from selling death through guns. It is easy to speak words from the place outrage. There is work of justice to do and a place to question insistently who, in the end, truly profits from so many guns and assault weapons.

My work ,though, is both related and different. I’m a priest and during this time of the year, I end up preaching quite a bit and am asked to do a fair amount of ‘splainin’ about the mystery we call the Incarnation. I don’t for a minute believe I understand that mystery enough to talk about it much. What I do have is a new heart for learning more about hard love across so many tears and fractures in our country, and how to stretch towards the community I am a part of that sees the world and the challenges of our time in ways so fundamentally different from mine.

I believe this is where I am called to live right now because you see, it isn’t enough to know who I am, or even Whose I am. “Those people” and I? We are brothers and sisters. The future of our children depends on finding a way forward other than the endless fractures and divisions we have surrendered to. We are brothers and sisters and we are each other’s keepers.