Sometimes I am just not very mindful. I am particularly awful about the gas tank. My coupe is in some ways lacking bells and whistles, which I like; but it doesn’t nag you about the gas, which can be dicey. Sure, there’s a light if you want to look at it, but if you wanted to look at that, you would see the gauge, now wouldn’t you? And as I said, mindful – not always so much. I often end up with a quart or so of juice and a big-thirst engine.
So the other day I was out on the freeway when something made me look, and then look for the nearest exit. I pulled into the very first opportunity – pert near dry.
Here in Oregon we don’t pump our own gas – it’s the law, which makes for regular conversations with strangers. The boomer getting ready to quench my thirst seemed a wee bit distracted. When he had to ask twice about my octane preference, he apologized. “We’re having a little problem with the customers behind you. – sorry”
I looked. Two young black men in a beater. A red-headed pump boy waving his hands at them and calling into the store on his radio. I set the parking brake and got out of the coupe.
I asked my guy. “They having trouble paying for their gas?”
“I don’t know – they said something racial to the kid, and he’s pissed.”
I looked deeper. The two men in the car were agitated and yelling at each other. I stepped over the hose going into my tank and walked to my trunk. A managerial woman came out of the mini-mart and waved off the young pumper, who asked her if he should call the police. “Not yet.” She gets down by their window and is saying that 10 bucks won’t cover the 30-dollar tab. Ginger pumper is writing down their plate and getting out his cell. I walk up with my card out and said to the manager, “I’d be happy to pay their tab.” She stares at me – “Seriously?” I look at, and listen to, the guys in the car who are still yelling at each other - in KISWAHILI. "Um, yes, be my pleasure."
“Jambo, Somali, then?”
“What? Yes.” I have their attention.
“The prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, would like to buy your gas today, is that ok?”
While the relieved manager ran my card, we chatted; the driver had said “Fill it with ten dollars" , and pump guy had only been mindful of the first words. The Somalis now had a full tank and exactly ten bucks between them. The fellow riding shotgun was advising that they drive off having paid what they had promised. The driver thought this might be a bad idea. I told them I would go their bail, but that a better tactic in the future would be to give the money they had to the pumper up front. And not use the word ‘fill’. Shotgun thought that paying first was not a good idea, as then there would be no reason for the pumper not to pocket the bill and give them no gas. Good African sense. We settled on show the money for clarity, and give it over when you got the gas. We discussed the inadvisability of driving off, as they could be chased or found.
I got my receipt for their gas and mine, and wished them well.
They thanked me in both languages and faiths. We shook hands”
“Please, I must know you name” said the driver. I leaned in.
“I am Madame Moto-Muzungu de Bujumbura. Amani. Go with God.”
And two laughing Somalis drove off shaking their heads.
The manager said – “That was the best mom talk I have heard in a long time.”
And maybe it was, because the Mother’s Union is an international organization. Or maybe it was white savior complex, ‘cause I can come down with that on occasion, Or just burning some cheap privilege. Or maybe I invented Gas-Splaining. I don’t know. What it felt like was Luck – my unbelievably consistent luck. Why should I be so privileged, to get to be useful, so often? If I was any good at taking care of my car, I would not have been there.
The red-headed kid looked at me and looked at my pretty red sportscar and said “Must be nice to be rich and able to throw money away.” Oh, son. I don’t actually have much money to throw away, but I am rich – when I remember how rich I am.
Boomer pumper opened my car door and said “Have a good evening, ma'am.”
I said “I always do.” Whenever I pay attention.
I was a protestant kid in a Catholic/Jewish neighborhood. I am not sure how I got my opinions of nuns, but my opinions were all second hand stereotypes. Mostly fearful - rulers were mentioned.
As an adult Quaker in Oregon, I became a pastoral counselor in a clinical setting. I had a seminary degree, but I was not completely satisfied with how I had been trained to walk in the liminal land where mental health and spirituality crossed.
I heard that the Sisters at the Queen of Angels monastery in Mt Angel had a two year Spiritual Direction program. I decided to investigate. I rode a 2 year old Rocinante out to be interviewed by the head of the program. A previous prioress of the Benedictine Sisters, Antoinette Traeger. I did not know what to expect. Apparently neither did she, because she enjoyed - for years - the telling of the morning that I rode up and she looked out her window and watched me shake my hair out, peel my leathers and try to look presentable. She said she didn't think that this was her apointment until I actually walked into her office.
What I remember was the very famous twinkle in her blue eyes. The easy smile. The ready welcome.
We became friends. She blew all my preconceived notions of the vocational religious.She delighted in blasting stereotypes - it was a habit we shared.
P: Antoinette, do you ever regret the celibate life? Do you ever wish you could have fallen in love?
A: Oh, Peggy, If you don't marry any of them. You call fall in love with so many more of them!
A: (in SD class) And of course, every has immediate access to God at all times.
P: No intermediary required?
A: Of course not.
P: Then can you please explain why you have one of the priests come down from the hill to do the bread and wine thing every day?
A: (Sigh) Well, If we didn't let him do that, he wouldn't feel very special, now would he?
I was staying over for a retreat - I went to Mass
A: Peggy, you know you are welcome at the Table, don't you?
P: Antoinette, you know I don't believe what you do about what's on that table.
A: Still welcome, dear.
P: If Father knew, he might not welcome me.
A: What Father doesn't know won't hurt him. The Host... might do you some good...
P: Sr. the restaurant in town has a beer called Ale Mary! What do you think of that?
A: My nephews own that restaurant. I am sure the Blessed Mother enjoys the wit! I do.
I disappointed her. I think I have disappointed all my mentors at some point or another. After Spiritual direction training, I started the discipline of a monthly overnight retreat with a spiritual director. I didn't choose Sr. Antoinette. I chose Sr. Jo Morton. I think I hurt her feelings. But I knew I could not work with her because I knew that I thought so much of her, and so craved her good opinion of me, that I knew I would lie to her, or at least spin.
She left the planet this week. I cannot imagine how many lives she changed. She walked around with so much wisdom and joy, that it did not take much time or effort for her to alter your path for the better. For me it was a permanent course correction.
Till we meet again.
Do Something - Do anything!
It is just all so blasted heartbreaking - infuriating - overwhelming.
Human caused disaster and mayhem. Injustice - systemic and particular. Worse following bad.
Words do fail. But we cannot be inactive. We cannot afford inaction.
If every appalled human takes a single daily action towards kindness, towards justice, the sea will change, it has to. This I believe.
Here is one thing I saw humans do this week.
This was a local gathering called coffee with a cop. It felt intrusive to take more than one picture, so this doesn't show even a quarter of the space, or the people of color, or the old biker gang guys, of the little children. There were probably 30 citizens and 20 cops. The cops were buying. They do this here in Salem once a month, always in a different neighborhood. They did an extra one this month after, Baton Rouge (the first time - save us!), Minneapolis and Dallas. Two hours of ask anything, say anything, but let's just be people for a little bit. I went because I wanted to see someone in particular, and just because it was the only thing I could think of to do. I saw a black, female pastor there. She said they members of the dept meet monthly with the pastors of the three black churches in Salem. I said I was glad of that. While I was waiting to get a chance to greet the man I was looking for, I talked with an officer. He did a lot of listening. I told him about my position working with marginalized students. How worried I was about them this summer. We agreed that it was not right that young people, especially boys of color, could not exercise their God-given right to be stupid and adolescent without very high risk. We both acknowledged that we had been stupid and adolescent and gotten away with it because of our age and privilege. I wanted to talk to him about my neuro-atypical kids, and how they don't react the way we think they should, and how they do not read people right. I worry about them a lot. God help my neuro-atypical kids of color. The Cop asked some really good questions and seemed genuinely interested. I called him to a high standard of human behavior in his work. Mostly though, we were just human together. Then I cut him loose to go talk to some actual adolescents.
Then I found this guy.
I just wanted to see Dave because he is presently my favorite cop. He is a pragmatic optimist. He has a sense of humor. He wears integrity like he wears the uniform. I believe in him. We commiserated a bit. We enjoyed the surrounding event. We hoped it would help. We both knew it might not be anywhere close to enough, but it was what we could do today. I told him that I pray for him, he thanked me for that.
Tomorrow I will have to think of something else to do.
Do something to humanize your potential enemy today. Do Justice. Do kindness. Do Mercy. Walk humbly. Speak up. Support the people on the front-lines of Peace and Justice. Reject fear. Examine your own thoughts and feelings. Call yourself to a higher standard of humanity. Do something, do anything. It is our only hope.
My mother, the gay man, and the Nation of Islam
My mother was a Christian.
She was a conservative Christian. Evangelical.
She believed that everyone needed a relationship with Jesus Christ due to a fallen state precipitated by Adam's sin. She worried about my salvation and prayed for me in good times and bad.
She loved me.
My mother worked at a big teaching hospital. She was the administrative secretary for the head of pediatric cardiology when that was a new discipline. They did heart catheritization on neonates. She prayed for the babies and the doctors. Most of them were saved.
She had a friend named Richard who was a secretary to the chief of medical staff. She and Richard shared an interest in Daytime Soaps (my mother was a little ashamed of this habit) They met at the student union every day to watch and talk about "As the World Turns." Richard was gay.
I worked at the hospital one summer during college. Richard got me the job, as a favor to his friend Bernice. On the ride home after my first day. I pointed out to my mother that her best friend was gay. Like she didn't know. She said "Of course. Richard was raised Church of the Nazarene, when his parents found out - they disowned him. I have never heard of such unchristian behavior! I figure the only thing I can do about that is be Richard's friend, and love him if his own mother can't." I am sure she prayed for Richard.
When my mother got cancer, she needed to work to keep her insurance, but she was taking chemo and didn't feel so good. Her boss, Dr Hastriter, decided to hire an under-secretary to help her. She interviewed and hired a young black woman who was a member of the Nation of Islam. She was smart and good, and my mother loved her. She was a single mother, and lived in a very dangerous neighborhood not too far from the hospital. It was just before New Year's, and the young mother was worried about the celebratory gunfire that was becoming more common, and had killed a child the year before. She was thinking about making a bed between her kitchen appliances to try and be safe. My mother was appalled, and thought about her New Year's plans to be in a very Christian watch-night service in the very safe village of Oak Park. She thought about inviting her young protege, and keeping her and her boy overnight. But she didn't. She didn't think the young muslim mother would be interested in the service. So instead she gave her a gift of a motel room, outside of the 'hood, where they would be safe. I am sure she prayed for her co-worker that watch-night.
My mother's beliefs informed her words and behavior. She believed that it was her job to love people and pray for people. She accepted people, just as they were, because if you love them, you just do.
My mother was a Christian.
Deja Vu All Over Again
I do love me some remix.
In 2014 I re-mixed my 1998 motorcycle story, Extreme Unction, with some select parts of my UPI column/2009 book, So There I was… , added in a healthy dose of fresh, wrapped it in a Buerkle cover, and called it Miracle Motors: A pert Near True story.
This left me with a partially gutted STIW, an out-of- print STIW in Africa, and a bunch of worthy blog posts from 2010-1015. I have taken these things, written another healthy dose of fresh, and wrapped it in another beautiful Buerkle cover.
But the new thing is not just a conglom.
Remix is a dynamic thinking process. It helps me to find the threads of truth and beauty in divergent sources. During the last two years of work on this project, I have named my charism, found the threads of that theme in my extant writing and then fleshed it out.
If Miracles Motors describes my faith and how I came to it. This new book describes my practice, and how I think it can be replicated.
I give to you…
O, Happy Fault!
O Happy Fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer! (O Felix Culpa - from the Exultet)
The busy bee in the above picture is a correction bee. He is drawn into The Saint John's Bible - a modern, completely illuminated copy of scripture. The illuminators made mistakes - of course they did. because everyone does. Their genius is in their delight of correction - redemption. This bee is drawn hauling up, by elaborate pulley, a bit of corrected text. He is a part of the work. A very important part. And they made that work beautiful and complex, because it is.
Computers and software are a great blessing. But they allow us to hide our corrections, at least superficially. I wonder if they also increase shame. They allow us to fix so quickly, and yet my frustration seems to increase when I find them. I find that I am tempted to be smug when I find errors in the text of others. There errors make me feel better about my own. (their, they're there, now!)
What if our religion offers us another way, a way which we ignore (what's new?) A way in which errors are greeted with delight because they offer chance of a beautiful and creative redemption. What if our sins are not proof of our depravity but delightful opportunity for grace? What if the open and beautiful work of repair was highlighted, celebrated.
Would you call the rest of this illuminated text depraved and fallen because it has errors? Could you frame that correction bee as punishment or penance? Or would you praise their honesty and creativity? Do not the errors and their redemptions make the text better than perfect?
You may keep your Adam in his unfallen state. I will take Peter and Paul, fools and failures redeemed. I will stand with Magdalen, her demon-scars still visible.
The Saint John's Bible is housed at St. John's University, Collegeville MN. I hope to see it in July.
The Slaughter of the Innocents - A Christmas Reflection
I was at Kwibuka Friends Church, up country, Burundi. My friend David was showing me his home church, the church of his childhood. We came in the back door - like family.
They have a bell. I have an affinity for church bells and gave it a tug. It sang easily. David whirled and said “Don’t ring the bell! Everyone in the neighborhood will think we want them and drop what they are doing and come!” oopps. He went outside to find the nearest group of children to send out the word of my false alarm.
While he was out, I explored. The room behind the pulpit is like that in any church, full of family heirlooms and trash. There were miniature shepherd’s crooks and a tiny rough manger. Burundians largely still live by truck patch and small flocks – close to the Gospel. I caught sight of something in the manger and reached for it. Up came a small wooden cut-out of an AK-47. I was more than a bit appalled.
“What is this? I demanded of my friend as he walked back in.”
He chuckled, “That is what soldiers carry in Burundi.”
“You are kidding me, they use this is the Christmas play?”
“Sure – how else are you going to do the part where Herod goes after the babies?”
Now I was stunned, staring at the tiny weapon in my hands. Holding back tears, I asked “You re-enact the Slaughter of the Innocents in your Christmas pageant?”
“Of course, how else would you explain why Mary and Joseph must become refugees? Don’t your Christmas plays have that?”
“No, we usually stop after the angels and the wise men.”
“Hmm, our children don’t see many angels or kings – but they do understand killing and running. They feel close to Jesus when they see these things in His story.”
Well, America, nobody ever said it was going to be all Angels and Kings. We have joined our Burundian brethren in their sorrow. Perhaps we need to join them more deeply in the Story.
It is important to remember that Herod the Great was not a Roman. He was a terror, but he was not some external terrorist. He was the same religion as Mary and Joseph and their babe. He was the same ethnicity as the infants he commanded to be slaughtered. He was a Roman collaborator; he was a narcissist and a blowhard. And he had too much power. But he was Us, not Them.
God could have sent an angelic host (army) to Herod. God could have shaken his house with an earthquake. God could have sent Pharaoh’s plagues. But that would not be Emmanuel – that would not be God with us. With us in our pain, our flight, our despair. How would we feel close to Jesus if God only dealt with Kings?
It is good to remember that the Nativity is the first wave of a Divine insurrection. Christmas is subversive, and what is a subversion without a wicked dominant paradigm? The incarnation is an infusion of infinite love into the very middle of finite human suffering and sin. It is important to remember which of those things are temporal and which is not.
It is right to remember the words and actions of the survivors. Did Mary’s Magnificat die in Egypt? It did not. She returns from exile, and calls for his first miracle, because she knows who He is. At Cana she calls for a miracle of celebration – water into wine. A wedding celebrated under occupation. Because survivors know that when we raise a glass to Life in the very face of death we remind death, and hell, and sin, and sorrow, that their days are numbered. There will come another wedding feast, the guests will be the poor and the oppressed, and the joy will be unmingled.
Until that day we will defiantly celebrate Love. We will treasure what breath we are given. We will light lights in the darkness. And when we are not celebrating we work – work for love and justice and peace. Because we breathe today and can, and for those who cannot.
In October of 1993, exactly ten years before I stood in Kwibuka church, my friend David Niyonzima survived a school shooting just down the road. He was teaching his pastoral students when the rebels came. They were also Christians, also Burundians, and they slaughtered the innocent. All the students died as they fled, only David escaped. He feels very close to Jesus in that. He also celebrates, and laughs, and enjoys his physical comforts, because he can. And when he is not playing, he works – hard. Because he knows that his work is never in vain. He knows this because he is close to Jesus.