Easter….in the Shadow

On a quest to discover my calling in life, I enrolled in a clinical pastoral education program to learn something about the world, but more importantly about myself. I had no clue what I was in for.

I had graduated early from college, still living in the fraternity house as I played soccer and worked as a bouncer at night at a hot club in Atlanta. Trying to weigh my options for grad school, I enrolled in the Spring for CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, an intensive praxis education experience for those training for ministry. I still don’t know how I got in, but I’m betting it had something to do with tuition dollars.

The setting was Gerogia Baptist Hospital, the very hospital where I was born twenty years earlier. I was assigned to the Five East, a neurological floor, and Four North, a floor for gerontology. Perfect. Just what a twenty year old needs.

The program consisted of serving as a chaplain to the patients and staff in the hospital. You would meet every day with a peer group of other chaplains in training and present a written account of your encounters on the floors of the hospital. Those verbatims were intended to give you insight into how you interact with others, as well as giving you the opportunity to look inside yourself at what’s going on with you. What is driving you, what are you hoping to accomplish, what are you afraid of?

My group were all pretty seasoned folks. A Navy chaplain who had seen war, a Baptist middle aged woman who wanted to be a chaplain, a young Methodist woman who was completing her seminary training at Candler, and a freshly minted Southern Baptist minister who served a church in Zebulon, Georgia who was most interested in putting notches on his Bible with the folks he saved while in extremis. Take a moment to guess who I got along best with and who I did not. I was so predictable.

The time as a CPE student meant you were on the floor every day, along with educational seminars, interpersonal groups, and clinical reviews. You also were”on call” once every two weeks, spending the night there in the hospital, responding to any critical need, and particular, any death that occurred during the evening hours. Just for the record, I led the league for the number of deaths covered in that quarter. The Henry Aaron of Hospitals.

Let me pause the story to just reflect on the fact that I was completely inexperienced, unprepared to meet the spiritual needs of these poor souls facing life and death in this place called Georgia Baptist. But there I was. So much happened to me in those compressed three months, but I want to focus on one story surrounding Easter.

I had been on-call when I was paged to get my young self to the Emergency Room. There had been an accident as a young pregnant woman drove into the back of a large truck on the highway. The front of her car went under the back end of the truck, basically taking off the top of her car. In the process of this massive accident, the in utero fetus did not survive while the young woman suffered severe brain injuries. She had been initially tended to at a rural hospital but then transported to Baptist for the more complicated care she required.

When I got to the Emergency Room, I met her husband, a guy who was a couple of years older than me. They had been married for three years, had gotten pregnant recently, as they were planning for a family.. He worked construction but had his life turned upside down that afternoon. He was in a daze, literally in shock. So, I didn’t know much, but I did know to stay close to him and not offer any glib comments in the face of this tragedy. I’m good at that, that is, not being glib….my mama taught me that.

She was moved to the Intensive Care Unit where she received state-of-the-art care but there was really nothing to do. I continued to go by and spend time with him in the waiting room for the next few days as he hoped for a miracle. I remember going with him into the ICU, looking at her with her face basically scooped off, with tubes coming from every where, a constant bubbling of oxygen, along with the gurgling sound from her throat, I tried to employ my perspective-taking skills, imagining what was going on with this young man, with his young wife at death’s door,

All this was happening in the week prior to Easter, Holy Week, which had little meaning to be at the time. As the low man on the organizational totem pole, I had been assigned Easter Sunday duty so that the other chaplains could be with their families. This meant I would be called on to preach the first sermon of my life on Easter Sunday in the small chapel at the hospital. It was sparsely attended on Sundays, so folks told me, sensing my anxiety. I could just follow the order of service, make a few remarks of about ten minutes, and then dismiss the service. No problem, I thought. One hundred percent for the team.

I went on call Saturday prior to Easter and would conclude my shift after lunch on Easter, When I got to the hospital, I went to check in on the woman in ICU and her husband. As usual, he was sitting by himself in the ICU waiting room. He informed me that the doctors had run repeated tests and determined there was no brain activity. She was on life-support, keeping her alive physically, but with no possibility of recovery. They had given him their recommendation to take his wife off life-support and allow her to die. I remember him, bent over, clasping his hands looking down at the floor, as he told me the news. I just sat, putting my hand on his shoulder instinctively, but fighting back my deep need to say something helpful. If this training had taught me anything it was that PRESENCE is the most important thing i could bring. We did talk about his feelings of helplessness, of being out of control, and yet now the doctors needed his signature, a decision, to allow them to stop extraordinary means to keep his wife alive.

To make a long afternoon short, I stayed with him as he made this decision, something I had wrestled with in a philosophy class in an ivy covered building. But here, it is in flesh, blood, bone, and heart. He eventually made the decision to let her go, arguing with himself, back and forth as I listened and tried to clarity.

The doctors turned off the ventilator and left us. He and I stood there together by her side, watching her shallow breathing subside until it was no more. I remember offering a prayer, with no idea what the hell I prayed. And then, after the obligatory papers were signed, I walked with him to his truck, parked in the towers beside the hospital. I hugged him and somehow felt a mirror was being held up to me and my Self.

As I walked back to the hospital, the overwhelming pathos of the moment seemed to hang over me. There was a depth of sadness I had never known. While I had experienced the up-close death of my grandfather, it sort of felt like it was his time to die, and he did it fishing….I knew that he loved that.

But this. Out of season, a young woman, fresh to her life, her marriage, about to begin her life as a mother, And this poor bastard, who was off doing what he was supposed to do, working to support his family, and his life is destroyed in seconds. His pain, his helplessness, his suffering was overwhelming to me. Particularly at this moment of optimism in my life, ready to embark on a great adventure, the world just waiting for me…and then this. What the hell.

What happened next, I can’t explain. I do not remember consciously thinking about what to do next, I just knew the next morning I was going to have to lead an Easter worship experience. How in the world would I be able to do this in the wake of this tragedy?

Now, I am not one for spooky stuff. I am a scientist by training, and a poet at heart, But something, a spirit or the Spirit, prompted me to get my young ass to Labor and Delivery. I stood outside for a while, watching the new babies in their plastic containers. Kicking,.Screaming. Sleeping. Smiling, at what? The joke just beginning.

And then, I went into the nurse, and asked if I could hold a few babies. She smiled at me in a way that seemed to be knowing. And I spent the next hour or so in a rocking chair, cradling those babies in my arms, talking to each one, calling them by name if they had one at that point.

That existential moment got me ready to do the Easter service, my first sermon. Caught between death and life, the ultimate polarity. Only in the shadow of death does Easter offer any real shred of hope. It was an early lesson for me, one I have had to learn again and again, because, as I have told you, I suffer from spiritual amnesia. The Cross casts a shadow over the morning of Easter. If not, it’s simply a day invented by Hallmark to sell chocolate, bunnies, and cards.

Easter came this year in an odd way. Like the revolution that was to be televised, this Easter was on the air from my favorite parish on this planet. It dared to proclaim hope in the face of overwhelming suffering and death. It whispered hope in the face of anxiety and fear. It was probably closer in resembling the original Easter morning than any other time, other than the one I just told you about.

How did Easter go for you this year? Were you more aware at what’s at stake when we proclaim Alleluia on Easter? Did Easter feel more real to you in the shadows?

Need A Break…..PAUSE

In a effort to respond to the stress being experienced in the healthcare arena, my colleagues and I crafted a memo to executives, physicians, and caregivers to assist in assessing, planning, and responding to the new time in our lives.

I specifically focused on the technique I have developed to bring some centering calmness to the crazy situation and pace of our lives. While the memo is fashioned with the fast paced world of the healthcare provider in mind, those of us in the world of quarantine have our own reality to cope with, most of it unfamiliar, either with added presence of kids and spouse, without the normal breaks provided by work, or the new reality of isolation. Either way, most of us are having to adjust our days to fit the new reality.

This can be a good time to dive into some new things, like launching a study on a topic you might have been interested in but just did not have time to pursue.

It may be a good time to begin a new hobby such as painting, writing, or practicing that musical instrument that has been staring at you from the corner of the room.

As one old friend told me, she is using the time to do the cleaning she has been promising to do, but just simply never got around to due to lack of time. She’s pretty excited from the initial efforts on the landscape of her living space.

Another friend is doing what I always do this time of year: preparing a garden. There’s nothing like breaking the hard crust on the soil, making the proper amendments. I love the smell. It feels real, and has always served as an antidote to my urban blues. I always plant tomatoes, various varieties, and then another bed of herbs and peppers that I use in my cooking. By the way, I learned about pepper properly from a man on Hwy 155 out of Tyler,Texas who is known as The Pepper King. Screw the Tiger King, I’m loving my Texas gold. It’s a joyful labor, which should be the model for all of work. I love the sweat, and the coolness of a Spring breeze.

This week, Holy Week, I am carving out some special time to dive a bit more deeply into the biblical narrative of Jesus’ last week. My old Oxford Bible is my refuge as I read the story, once again, of Jesus coming to Jerusalem for a showdown. He was pressing a full tilt version of the Kingdom of God over and against the religious and political structures of his day. It cost him his life.

I am back to hanging out in my old friend, the Gospels. It is the place Albert Schweitzer first pointed out the crumbs on the ground to guide my search for Jesus. Jesus Christ Superstar cast the story and drama for me in Broadway lights, and Godspell filled out the radical teachings cast in the context of community. And while I am remembering, Clarence Jordan, an old Baptist preacher, transposed the story into a Southern idiom as the Cotton Patch version of the Gospel, with Harry Chapin painting the picture in music. The Gospel and I go way back.

Mark is the most clean in presenting the history, just the facts, ma’am. Matthew adds his more thoroughly Jewish perspective. and Luke is more of a storyteller, adding side notes. And of course, John, never my favorite because of the lack of historical attention, includes a long, and I mean LONG, section of Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples. Maybe John is an old man’s Gospel because it is grabbing me in a way it never has before this year. The word “Abide” seems to leap off the page. Anyway, I am investing some time and energy in this reading, quiet tending, and prayer.

I trust you are finding creative ways of entering in and using this odd time. If you have found some ways, particularly those that surprise you, drop me a note at drdavidgalloway@msn.com .

So here’s the memo I sent to my healthcare leaders that I work with across the country. I am so grateful for their heroic actions, literally laying down their lives to care for people who need their expertise and compassion. They are telling me this is helpful in the frazzled moments of their lives so I thought I might share it more broadly with you.

Regardless of how you do it, make sure you are taking care of yourself during this odd time. You will be glad you did a few months from now.

So here is the offering on PAUSE.

In the stressful time of tending to patients, family members, fellow staff- take a mindful pause, a mini-retreat, a minute meditation to give you a needed break!
When? Where? How?
When: You can grab a minute pause between patients, procedures, activities. You can plan them by scheduling them into your day, or you can simply make it happen when you think of it. Simply PAUSE.
Where: Anywhere will do in a pinch. Usually, it works better to get a private space, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes, you can take a small walk around the floor, or to another unit. I know one person who loves the stairwell. Simply PAUSE.
How: The simplest form of mindfulness is paying attention to your breathing, inhaling and exhaling. Focus on the feeling of the air flowing through your nostrils, filling your chest, pausing briefly, then exhaling, through your nose or mouth. Tai Chi practitioners suggest exhaling through the lips, like blowing up a balloon. Three, five or seven seems to work best in a short break for a mindful moment. Imagine you are bringing the air deep into the center of your chest, to your heart, for best effect.
We have seen such simple exercises bring about a centeredness that dives beneath the flurry of activity, the buzz of noise, the sense of chaos. In this brief mindful moment, one finds a center of the self which can relieve the press of stress.
Taking care of your self gives you the capacity to care for others.

I pray this is helpful, Simple but effective. This year Passover and Easter have a special significance and meaning, primarily because we are more aware of the reality of what it means to be human. I hope it offers you the opportunity to move more deeply into an intentional life of purpose and meaning.


Better Angels In This Odd Time

Time, We seem to have more of it these days.

Actually, we have exactly the same amount. But our discretion in how we use it MAY have increased in this odd time.

My friend who is an emergency room doctor has less time. My colleague who runs a healthcare system has almost no free time, and no day off. My old friend who works with veterans and first responders and their mental health has little time for himself, constantly responding to the crisis needs of others.

For a lot of us, we have more time than normal. We can dive into that stack of books we’ve been threatening to read. We can study that subject that has fascinated us but was just outside the city limits of our attention. We can watch, or as my friend, Mark, says, binge watch television series that have eluded. Or maybe there’s that movie you missed in the theater and wondered as to what the fuss was all about. Or maybe you can conjure up, through the magic of internet, some Broadway play or Shakespearean classic to revisit. Or, there is the King of Tigers! Jesus…

Or, maybe, you will write. Or journal, even.

How is this time going for you? What are the feelings? How are you spending your time? What fears are found rising for you in the middle of the night, or early as dawn breaks? What creative ideas for possibilities have come to you in the middle of the day?

Writing those thoughts down may be helpful to catch the feelings that you are having in this unique time. I revisited my journal from 9/11 and was surprised to remember the wild and wide array of feelings. I am thankful I wrote those down, almost twenty years ago, in another time in my life. How interesting to see how I have changed, how my interests have shifted as my situation has altered. Play on words here.

So I encourage you to write them down. I would love to see them, as some of you choose to share. But the importance in journaling, particularly at the time of writing, is the non-judgement. No one will see this. No one will evaluate. It’s just for you!

To prompt your journaling, I want to make three suggestions. The first, I have already described. Just write down what’s going on with you right now. My professor, Chuck Gerkin, gave me a magic phrase that I have applied to all of my life: What’s going on?

It begins with the self, what’s going on inside of you. It may be the most difficult question for some in terms of being truly honest with your Self, not trying to hype the image of who you wish to God you were. What’s going on inside you, really? Jot it down. It does not have to be perfect. It can be a word, words, a phrase, a paragraph, a page, a story. Just write. That English teacher from tenth grade that resides in your head is on quarantine as well. No worries. Just write.

As I mentioned, I use this magic question to approach most things. My marriage. My kids, My work. The people that I work with in therapy, coaching, or spiritual direction. A congregation I am working with or a hospital I am assessing. What is going on?

Remember the Iceberg principle. Only a tenth of the iceberg is above the waterline, leaving 90% below, beneath, underwater. Remember that. It true with people, relationships, and organizations as well. Take time to dive beneath and look. And you might start with your Self. There’s lot’s to learn beneath the Persona that you present to the world. Being aware of your motivation, drivers, hopes, fears, bring you to self awareness which is the key to emotional intelligence, a factor that is critical to relationships, and leadership.

A second suggestion is one I use with the people I work with in a variety of modes. I call it Chapters of My Life. I described its origins some time ago as I was working with Jim Fowler, designing a retreat format based on the prior work of our mentor, Carlyle Marney. It started as an ice breaker exercise as we would gather, but it morphed into its beating heart as it evolved….unexpected and unintended fruit\. A typical way my life runs.

Write down 8-12 chapter titles that capture the story of your life and write down the titles. Now, the chapter title should be communicate in an image or phrase what was going on with you at that time.

When I do this exercise, I always caution people to not fall into simple, automatic images. A Methodist minister I was working with in a retreat once offered, Early Childhood, Childhood, Late Childhood. I’m looking for a little more than that. I sometimes prime the pump by giving a few of my own as an example of what I am intending. Abandoned, Yet Loved, Grace by Adoption, Sandlot, Doctor, Lawyer, Tribal Chief? gives you a bit of a hint about what might have been going on beneath the water for me.

To finish the exercise, I ask folks to give a title to their life story. Again, I am looking for an image that captures the feel of the whole narrative. For me, when I first did it, it was South of God. I’ve been unpacking that for years….still at it, obviously.

Give it a shot. The good news is, once you have your chapter titles, you now have a archeological framework that allows you to visit each chapter as you wish, Listing events, thoughts, crises, victories, learnings, and write about it, exploring beneath the water for what is there. Good stuff. Like a lot of stuff in life, the closer you get to the bone, the sweeter the meat.

Finally, the third project would be one that I think is peculiarly promising for this time is our common life. Center yourself, using whatever method you might use, but quietly reflect and recall the one person that made a difference in your life/ Allow the cast of characters that have inhabited your story to come forward and settle on one that made the biggest difference. I am certain that there is more than one, and this is not a contest, but rather an opportunity for you to PAUSE, THINK, and REFLECT.

Who emerges? What did he/she give to you that made a difference? What did they look like, sound like, smell like? How did they do what they did? What was behind, or beneath, their interest in you?

Once you have some clarity, you might journal about your thoughts and reflections. Other persons may emerge when you begin this process. Jot them down to remember, but take the time in this moment to focus on this particular person in that particular time? My hunch is it will bring a smile, as you remember what it felt like to be cared for in a unique way.

And if you’re up to it, the payoff pitch. Who are you that person for in your life right now? How are you returning the gift you were given to someone who needs that care in this moment.? It does not have to be bombastic, or cinematic. In fact, it’s generally quiet, subtle, easy. Who can you use this odd time for by being a person of care in the moment?

Let me hear from you if something juicy, close to the bone, emerges. Would love to hear the heartbeat of life. It’s the antidote to our current malaise, not a mere face mask, though those are trending. The beat of the heart of life. Now, that’s the cure. Listen.

Blessings on you in this odd time.

Good News, Bad News, Who Knows?

My friend and colleague, John Scherer, once told a story to my team that has remained in our operative minds over the years. The story has its origins in China, and given the tendency to blame our current situation on it, I thought I would give it some good credit.

It seems there was a family in a village who had a horse, which in this agrarian culture was a pretty important asset to have. One day, the son left the gate ajar, allowing the horse to escape the confines of the corral. Neighbors gathered around, shook their heads, and said, “Too bad, your horse has escaped and is now gone. You are most unfortunate.” The old grandmother heard their comment and said quietly, “Could be good, could be bad. Who knows.”

A few days later, the horse returned, but brought with him two mares. The boy quickly put them in the corral. Now, this family, with three horses, were considered rich in the village. Again, the neighbors congregated, as neighbors do, and remarked at the good fortune. And again, the grandmother said quietly, “Could be good, could be bad. Who knows?”

With three horses, the young boy was charged with training them to do the work on the farm. One day, while he was breaking on of he new mares, he was thrown from the horse, breaking his leg, leaving him with a limp. The neighbors gathered, commenting on the misfortune that had befallen this young man, forever to live with a disability. And again, the grandmother, standing on the edge of the crowd said quietly, “Could be good, could be bad. Who knows?”

A few months later, a war lord came through on his way to a war. He conscripted all the young men in the community to go with him to fight. But the young man with the limp was excluded because of his limp. He had to remain in his village while his friends went off to war. And as you now have guessed, the neighbors gathered, and all said how fortunate it was for this young man to remain, while their sons had been taken away. And the wise grandmother who had made a few trips around the Sun, said quietly, “Could be good, could be bad. Who knows?”

And of course, the story goes on, a never-ending story of assessment, is this going to be a good thing, or a bad thing. Good things often emerge out of things we initially saw as negative. And, sometimes when we think we have just hit the jackpot of fortune, it turns out to have some unforeseen downsides. Surprise seems to be at the heart of living as a person in this territory of human existence. We don’t like it because we can’t control it, but it is reality, nonetheless. How many times have you experienced the Truth held within the above story? Could be good, could be bad. Who knows?

My friend, John, that I mentioned earlier, gathered together a group of people this week via Zoom, an internet platform that allowed us to see and talk with other people who are across the world, literally in the global city which has no bounds. From India, Scotland, Holland, Germany, South Africa, Canada, we were linked to talk about the effects of this coronavirus on us and our organizations. John convened us from Warsaw, Poland and he connected me, in Atlanta, Georgia, along with my friend, Mike Murray, a little ol’ consultant in Austin, Texas.

So all these folks were joined together because of this threatening virus. What in the world is going to happen? And you guessed it by now: good news, bad news. Who knows?

John posed some questions to the group to get some dialogue going around this current crisis: How might this crisis wind up serving us in unexpected ways? What fears does this crisis trigger in you? How might this crisis stretch you as a person and your way of seeing the world?

Now, these are tough questions that go to the marrow of the bone, or the heart of the matter. No mere rhetorical questions aimed into the ether of space or an inane question barked at celebrities that are walking the red carpet. These are existential and real which require some rare honesty with oneself and some energy that you may be slap out of, given our new reality. But they are worthy questions, worth a moment of consideration, of pondering, if you will allow me, a pause.

The first move was predictable for our group, even though we were over-educated, accomplished, sophisticated, and some might say, enlightened. We went straight to the uncertainty. What the hell is happening, what the hell is going to be the outcome? The initial question hooked our fear, our discomfort at uncertainty.

But then we moved more deeply in our embrace of John’s query. What might we learn from this time? Some folks, like me are hopeful that this human experience of threat might work to bring us more together than before. Perhaps a good can be harvested as we recognize our common being that underlies our real differences. There was a hope that the spirit of unity might bind us together across national identities, our native competitive side of only caring about “us”. And perhaps, even in this country, the lines of alienation along party lines, ethnic borders, and economic concerns could loosen and bring us together in some ontological unity.

A realist among us, after allowing us to play in the waters of optimism, threw some cold water on the party. Perhaps this pandemic will exacerbate the separation and only draw the lines more boldly. Adversarial stances between points of view have been stressed in our social media culture, fueled by blatant and hidden forces meant to divide us. Monitoring the current chatter on social media would certainly confirm that fear. This is only going to make us worse, and with an election in the offing, this crisis may just take us down for the count.

Back to the Chinese, the symbol for crisis contains both the figure for “danger” and “opportunity”. The wisdom of that ancient culture reaches into our arrogant “greatness” to remind us that BOTH are simultaneously present to us in this critical moment. The danger of splitting apart with deeper alienation or the opportunity to use this crisis as leverage, motivation, to do this thing called life on the planet better. Good news, bad news. Who knows?

We concluded out meeting with a solid sense that we don’t know the outcome, but we also came away with the renewed hope that the possibility for good news is clearly in play. One of our number took John’s question to heart overnight and imagined a letter that was written to us by the coronavirus itself. It was crazy creative, the kind of thing I wish I had written and turned into a song. But for her, it was a simple concept, a profound notion, that the virus was actually here as part of Creation, to help us. To assist us by stopping us in our crazy hurry and busyness. To interrupt our incessant noise between one another. To tend to this earthly envelope we call our environment before it’s too late. To remind us of the reality of threat around us that can ruin life in this Garden. To call us to loosen our arrogant pretensions of superiority. To slow us down to look at our skies, our rivers, our lakes, our oceans, our farm lands and see how they are doing. To shock us into a realization of our common bonds.

What a moment for me, to allow myself to think outside of my normal, routine mind and to see afresh. To see the world differently. In the ancient world, it was called metanoia, a conversion, a new birth. Could that be what is going to come out of all this? Good news, bad news. Who knows?

When I was growing up, I would go with my friends to the East Point Theater to see a bunch of pretty bad movies. Once a summer, the feature would be of some Martian spacecraft that would land and threaten the human race. Could it be that this time, it’s no Martian spaceship, or Godzilla coming up dripping out of the sea. This time it’s a virus, making it’s silent way across our species. Good news, bad news. Who knows/

Compassion and Creativity in the Time of Corona

The day was surprising. It was Sunday, but rather than gathering in a space set aside for the worship of God (in my tradition it’s called a “church”), I was sitting in front of this screen at my computer. I was “streaming” the internet feed from St. Simons Island, from my beloved parish of Christ Church.

It was fascinating. The church house was mostly empty of the regular menagerie of “all sorts and conditions”, limited to the priest, a few choir members, and the organist. The camera caught their entrance as they entered the sacred space, accompanied by the organ. It’s a good bet none of the founders of this old Episcopal church would or could have conceived a day like today. They, of course, had moved through a variety of diseases in their day, but never thought of live-streaming from their tiny island home to a satellite circling above, bouncing down to a variety of spots across the globe. Pretty cool.

Because of the pandemic, Christ Church was compassionately practicing this thing we are calling social distancing, that is, not gathering in large groups, keeping a distance of six feet between us. Six Feet…..how can we remember to keep six feet between us? Wait. I got it. Six feet under! That’ll stick, right?

That’s called gallows humor, a humor we resort to when facing dire circumstances. It’s a defense mechanism to help us make it through the night, our fears, our anxieties. The priest at Christ Church, Father Tom, joked at the beginning of the service by reporting that the original hymn chosen for the morning had been, Breathe On Me, Breath of God, which they decided to change given the circumstances. Now, that’s funny. It broke my own serious mood and got me in touch with my deep Self that can see humor in just about any situation, some that my wife would claim are inappropriate. I am thinking about starting a new column, entitled Gallow’s Humor!

I was frankly surprised at the sense of connection I felt through the odd medium of worship. The hymns felt a bit odd, not being there in the middle to feel the communal sense of voice. But I felt connected. The odd piece was being able to respond to what was going on through the “comment” function on the Facebook app. allowing me to send a heart or shed a tear without fear of contamination, or the Episcopal equivalent of sharing human emotion. I noted to my fellow cyber congregants that this was the Episcopal emoji form of saying “Amen”! The sharing of the Peace with one another was strangely moving, seeming less perfunctory that the normal Episcopal way of a wink and a nod.

The part of the service, Communion, was less than satisfactory as you would expect. You could hear the words, watch the actions, but you obviously could not receive the physical sacrament, the heart of the sacramental system of worship with the sensory experience of taking in the bread and wine. It left me feeling like I sometimes do watching Ina Garten on the Food Network, wishing one could taste and smell the wonderful fare she is creating in her kitchen. But that, my friends, is beyond current technology.

All in all, it was a win. I felt a sense of connection to other human beings in my community of faith, rather than feeling a deep sense of isolation. There will be learnings and creative additions that will come and may enhance this remote experience at this time. We did this out of compassion for the larger community, both providing an opportunity for connection while at the same time practicing the pragmatic social distancing. How long will this go on? No one knows, but my sense is that this has been a game changer. Much as 9/11 broke us from the illusion that terrorism is something that happens in the Middle East, over “there”, we now are well aware that we are vulnerable. Our mindset and our practice has altered. In a similar way, my hunch is our mindset on infectious control will shift profoundly. There have always been germaphobes around, like Howie Mandel, and my Southside friend, Julie, but that was just fun. This is not.

I grew up with a biologist for my mother which meant I was aware of lots of stuff normal people are blissfully unaware. My childhood friend, Danny, could tell you about how my Mom thought Ivory Soap could solve most problems, namely my dirty mouth. I found and read a textbook on human reproduction when I was seven, which will be my main defense when I meet my Maker. My mom had me dissecting frogs at an early age, and was unusually sensitive to food safety due to dastardly microbes lurking. Frankly, I am surprised I am not more screwed up than I am. How many mothers introduce their children to Darwin in the crib?

My conversation with my musician son and bride-to-be daughter revealed how inadequately I have prepared them as opposed to the stellar job of my maternal unit. Explaining simple cell biology in the age of corona is more existential than I remember in my education. It turns into an existential exercise, reminding us of life and death.

So we now are living in a new time, more aware of our surrounding microbes and our vulnerability. We are wisely living more cautiously, washing our hands, maintaining a six foot distance, avoiding groups of more than ten. But what other changes CAN happen to maximize the down time it seems is upon us?

One, I am recommending that we CONNECT!. While we are trying to maintain spatial distance, we have the capacity to connect through these things called phones and social media.

I took time today to call a few people from my past that I have been disconnected in my relationship. One was an old priest friend of mine, who is now retired in Rome, Georgia. We shared a house one summer on the ridge in Sewanee, Tennessee, overlooking a glorious valley, with hawks circling in the blue mountain air. I had not seen or talked to Don since seeing him and his wife at the Garrison Keillor show at the Fox over three years ago. Our reconnect was quick, getting back to a sense of linkage, rehearsing stories, telling a few lies about our halcyon days, but sharing that most human dimension that we have for each other: love.

This week, I have put aside an hour each day to reach out to folks I had been missing because of my everyday busyness and business. What a gift to me if I could keep that routine for the next few weeks. I might even live to tell about it. Who might be on your list to make a surprise call? Doesn’t have to be long, doesn’t have to be earth-moving. Just take the time to make that call. Make your list NOW.

Another type of connection might be to people who you may suspect are feeling isolated. There may be people in your family, your church, your former community, people who may be feeling unusually alone at this time. Again, make a list and call.

Connecting using social media is a good way to use the time. My wife teaches dyslexic students and in this wild west time of schools shutting down, she has mastered a Google app to connect her students from their homes each morning. I watch as they come online, thrilled to see each others face appear, to see their friend afresh. Now, remember that these are very young children, they are dyslexic which means they are real smart but easily distracted. You might pray for them, my wife, light a candle for their learning in the time of corona, and offer thanks to God for the “mute” button.

I connect on social media, mostly using Facebook. I have to discipline myself to limit my involvement but I do enjoy exchanging songs and artists with a cadre of friends. I try not to get too involved with politics or religion, reminding myself that I used to get paid real money to put up with rude, ill-tempered people when I was their priest, rather than responding in the way I would like. But social media, namely Facebook, has been how I have reconnected with my high school friends who were dispersed to the four winds. It’s how I keep up with former classmates and fraternity brothers, with former parishioners and colleagues. Used well, it’s a great way of connection and overcoming distance in space and time.

A friend of mine has started an online Facebook group to provide some connection during this odd time of corona. Its purpose is to creatively gather people around how to cope with our disconnection. There have been some fascinating attempts to connect, attempts that renew my confidence and trust in our resilience as a country and as a species. Find a group, or start your own. Smart creative churches will find ways to make this happen in expressions of connection we have never imagined. Bet on it.

Finally, connect through this blog, South of God. Write me a note of reply, tell me what’s going on with you. What’s working well, what are you struggling with, what are your hopes for the next chapter in your life, what are your fears? Whatever, I would love to hear from you. Or if you desire privacy, use my email address at drdavidgalloway@msn.com .

We are all in this time together. Maybe this crisis will bring some clarity as to who we are as a people. Perhaps we will come together like we did at 9/11 and become ONE again like we were. Or maybe not. Maybe, this will drive us apart further as our differences become clearer and the fault lines deepen. We’ll just have to see. But you, YOU, have this time, this time of corona. What will you do with it?


I normally open my morning prayers focusing on gratitude. This season of Lent,, I am spending a bit more time for no good reason but in that it feels good. In the wake of our world health crisis, balancing our right concern with a spirit of gratitude seems like a smart move. Note: balancing a sober view of reality with a deep sense of gratitude is not whistling through the graveyard, a denial, but a human decision to see the whole picture rather than focus on one side of a binary situation which seems to be a human tendency. This poiarity is real, and a creative tension and balance is hard to maintain, but it is my spiritual strategy.

My teacher, Don Saliers introduced me to Jonathan ‘Edwards, an 18th century philosopher and Congregational preacher who thought deeply and spoke clearly about religious affections. The genius of Edwards was to point out that we hew deep channels within our souls by practicing and focusing our emotions through regular times of attention and focus. Thanksgiving is one of those channels I am attempting to carve deeply in my self so that whatever may come my way, it can be channeled through the corridors of my heart called gratitude.

It begins with a profound appreciation for the very gift of life itself. As I breathe deeply, in and out, inhaling and exhaling, I sense the flow of air into my lungs through my nostrils and then out. The sense of breathing reminds me of the gift of life, the sheer gift of being in this world.

While Saliers and Edwards have provided spiritual guidance, science actually confirms the healthy benefits of any form of mindfulness or meditation that you practice regularly. Using functional MRI, scientists have been able to monitor the changes that take place during mediation and mark the changes that occur through time. I confirm the science in my own experience of mindfulness in my life and make a point to PAUSE throughout my day, focusing on two separate intense sessions in the morning and at evening, a habit I learned through Transcendental Meditation in college, and a rhythm that is found in most religious traditions. In my Anglican tradition, it works for me as Morning and Evening Prayer.

For some time now, I begin my morning with a pause for thanksgiving. This Lenten season, as I mentioned, I am devoting a bit more time remembering, something old folks are said to do. The fifty-cent word for this is called reminiscence. In my Southside Atlanta vernacular, it is a fitty cent word!

So here goes.

I am grateful that two human being from disparate backgrounds were attracted to one another, fell in love, and conceived me in the heat of passion. It’s taken me some years and dollars in therapy, but I am good with that, this being in the world for which I was not responsible in the least.

I am grateful for friends, some of over fifty years, that have shared the journey. I can name a handful that have really been there for me, in thick and then, loving me through my growth, my craziness, and my adventures.

I am grateful for scars….retrospectively. One on my left wrist, where I fell as a young child running with a screwdriver, winding up at Georgia Baptist Emergency room. A scar over my left eye from a football collision at Emory as a receiver came across the middle in my linebacker territory. I bled profusely for a half, then stitched up at Emory emergency room by a resident. And a scar in the middle of my chest, where they opened me up for quad bypass surgery at Emory Midtown, done by my former classmate from Jordan, who saved my life…a Muslim doing open-heart/beating heart on an Episcopalian.

I am grateful for teachers who met me in my moment of inquisitiveness. It’s seems that my incessant curiosity was timed well with the arrival of the right teacher, just like the Buddhist proverb says. Jones, Marney, Boozer, Hinson, Fowler, Gerkin, Lancaster, Conley, Roberts, Thurman, Child, Temple, Malone, to name a few. I have been so blessed to find these teachers along the path but grateful for my inner wisdom of seeking them out.

I am grateful for communities of faith I have been gifted to experience. Oakland City Baptist was a church that embraced my mother, a divorced woman at a time when that was not accepted. The Friendship Class there who gave me a host of loving father figures where i got my initial imprint of communion. Lakewood Heights Baptist where I first sensed my emotional pull toward the Holy, and saw my dad cry as he sung Old Rugged Cross. Dogwood Hills Baptist where I first sensed the tension of the cost of following the Gospel in the face of a culture. Decatur First Baptist where I learned the liberty of thinking and being, along with a taste of what community could be. Northside Drive Baptist where I got clear about the difference between form and substance. St. Luke’s Episcopal where I found a church that intended to change a city for God’s Kingdom. The Cathedral of St. Philip where I found out about sacramental leadership and. Christ Church, Tyler where I explored transforming a church society into a body of disciples. Holy Innocents where I learned about the passion for forming children, the holy but not so innocent. I also learned a hard lesson of treachery and ensconced culture. All of these experiences stretched me and formed me.

I am grateful for the day I was talked into going to Decatur First Baptist to hear Furman Professor, L.D. Johnson preach. I spotted a girt across the balcony from my fellow ratty Baptist refugees, chased her down after the service to ask her out that evening for a drink at the Lullwater, married her eight months later. I said I was grateful.

I am grateful for my brother, Mitch, who left a New Year’s Day party to fly with me down to New Orleans to find the aforementioned girl in the French Quarter. I had no idea where she was, who she was with. We made one pass down Bourbon St. following the Georgia-Notre Dame game, with the streets teeming with fans. When I asked my Georgia Tech trained brother as to the precise mathematical chances of us finding her in the masses, he answered, “Slim to none.” So we went. Just the way the Galloway boys roll.

I am grateful for the community of learners I have collected. All of my staff members have added to my sense of leadership. But in particular, I have been blessed by a community of thinkers around organizational design that have raised my game consistently. Starting with Daryl Conner who taught me about the dynamics of change, Charlie Palmgren who brought depth to this in the form of creative interchange, Mike Murray who stretched and filled out my notion of leadership, Ernie Cortes who schooled me in the power of community organizing, Harrison Owen who opened the scope of Spirit in Open Space Technology, and Bob Miles in the process of Transformation, I have been a fortunate person to be smart enough to link up with brilliance.

I am also grateful to those who have been co-learners in the praxis of leadership, some in the public square and some in church. Lee Stephens, Earl and Don Paulk, Fred Smith, Ron Gleason, Nancy Lamar, Kevin Martin, Claude Payne, Gray Temple, are a few of my colleagues in arms.

I find myself often thinking of my gratitude for my friends at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. From early in my life, this Trappist community has been a spiritual magnet for me, providing me a deep connection to the numinous. My spiritual director, Tom, continues to challenge me to reach beyond the norm. My friend and brother, Francis Michael, has been a presence for longer than almost anyone. Joachim, Tony, Paul. Ken, Clarence Pat, and Mark have been present in various moments and ways. The abbot, Augustine, or Gus, gave me wise counsel when I was playing with the notion of becoming a monk. His childlike laughter when I told him that, after six weeks, I would not be able to fade the demands of celibacy, still ring in the liberating way he intended it. The monks laughed, snickered, guffawed, and chortled when the woman I met after leaving the monastery was named Mary. What else could it have been? Emmylou?

I am grateful for the real gift of my life, my children. Thomas almost arrived at a dinner party with my closest friends. After a quick trip to Piedmont, he then took his time arriving, scaring me to death as my good friend, Steve Moreland monitored his birth. Mary Glen was in a bit of a rush, tearing me away from a Sunday afternoon party after church at my favorite family, the Cowarts, in Ansely Park. Again, Steve assisted Mary in her birthing process, and I was exhuberant in the birthing suite as I proclaimed, There’s NO penis! I had the baby girl I wanted.

This is just a start, a beginning of thanks that I am continuing to add to my journal during Lent. As I personally face the specter of this pandemic, I want to balance my meet and right concern with a proper heaping helping of gratitude.

I invite you to join me for the next month or so, journaling, writing down things and people that you are thankful for. In times like this, it’s good to re-mind ourselves of the many gifts that come our way. Use this season to dig some deep channels of gratitude as you make your way through this time.

Blessings on your memories.

Stand Up!

I have always wanted to be a “stand up” guy.

Some people’s heroes have always been cowboys. And I have had a few, particularly from Tombstone. But my “stand up” heroes come mostly from the public square, people who made a stand when the cause was unpopular, because the cause was right.

This past weekend, my long-time hero did it again. John Lewis.

John has served as my Congressman, even when I was not in his district due to the suspicious re-drawing of Congressional lines. Hell, when I lived in Texas with some yahoo representing me, I psychically Dionne Warwicked John Lewis into my Congressman, to keep me sane, you understand.

John was there in the infancy of the Civil Rights movement on that day known infamously as Bloody Sunday, there on Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Like on the bus on a Freedom Ride, once again, John stood up and took the blow from a state trooper’s police baton, and bled his blood for the Cause.

And when I say ”Cause”, it was specifically, that day, for civil rights for blacks who had been denied rights, namely voting rights, but more, rights to be regarded as equal citizens. By “Cause”, I mean a wider and  deeper Cause than any river to cross with a mere bridge. It is the cause of Freedom, a value that we have worked hard to make real in this country since our courageous and quivering declaration of independence, our freedom.

It’s the freedom that makes it possible for White Supremacists to gather and march and spout hate. It allows divisive radio show hosts who gin up excitement to line their pockets. Freedom in the country provides the rights of religious sorts to claim ridiculous things like God punishes homosexuals by sending a virus or that the Almighty is using a narcissistic carnival barker to save the live of unborn babies. That is your freedom, your right in this country some of us think was great at its very founding in freedom.

I have been remembering times that I stood up for things in my life, some not so important but socially costly. And I have been remembering times when standing up, or not, could cost you your soul and/or your life.

One of the latter times happened to me in Texas.

I had been the priest in an Episcopal parish in downtown Tyler. I had chosen to get involved in a race relations initiative that was attempting to address the lack of progress in that area of our common life. I had been given some authority by the community in race matters, not because I was an Episcopal priest, not because I had an earned doctorate, or a beautiful wife, but because I was from Atlanta, a city known for its progressive stance on race. It was said that I knew about the “Atlanta way” which meant blacks and whites working together for common business and community goals. All of this work and street cred combined to give me a bit of a reputation in the area of civil rights.

My phone rang late in the evening and it was Wesley Beard, a man that I did not know. He was calling to ask if I would be willing to speak at a rally in the city park, located near my home. It was to call attention to a recent heinous murder of a young gay man who had been picked up by a gang, and shot nine times in the back of the head with a 9mm. pistol.

Oddly, there had been a rash of gay people being rolled by this gang. The gang was interracial, brought together by a common hate for gays. Homosexuals had used the park for years to rendezvous and the gang saw it as a prime place to troll for people to roll.

Most times, that meant luring the unsuspecting mark in, followed by some beating and robbing them. A close friend of mine had been rolled two weeks prior, having been beaten, knocked out by a heavy beer tankard, and then having his car stolen. My friend called me, groggy, and I arrived just as the police made it to his home. The officers took his report and told me of a rash of such incidents at the park, a park where my children played every day. Fortunately, my friend recovered his car, missing only a few items.

The latest incident did not go so easily. It seems that Nicholas West was looking to connect with someone at the park but was picked up by this gang. During the course of transport, Nicholas became so scared that he defecated in his pants, infuriating his captors. They took him to the city dump, threw him down like refuse, and put nine bullets in the back of his head.

The call from Wesley was to ask me to serve as the keynote speaker at the Stop the Hate Rally scheduled to be held at the park where Nicholas had been abducted. There were to be many political figures, local and statewide, but they wanted me to be the featured speaker, the keynote, as they say in the biz.

I told Wesley that my expertise was in race relations, and though I had a history of speaking out on civil rights, I was not that experienced in speaking to the issue as it pertained to gay rights. I was sure he could find a much more qualified speaker. He pressed me but I continued to demure. I wished him well with his project and hung up the phone.

My wife couldn’t help overhearing our conversation. She got THAT look she gets when she’s not happy with me. I looked away, but her eyes bore a hole in the side of my head. “You’re chicken!” Now, I’m cleaning this up for y’all because she added some color to the last word.

I responded indignantly, pointing out that I was the most courageous clergyperson to ever wear a collar, and that I was only thinking of what was best for the rally and that cause. My wife added more colorful rejoinders to my decision, suggesting that I was trying to avoid the pushback I might get from the parishioners and the people of Tyler. And she was right, the gay issue was a hot button largely unexplored at that time in East Texas.

She played her trump card when she said, “If you won’t stand up for these people, who will?” She knew exactly what she was doing, going for my central nerve, my jugular vein. Game, set, match.

The next morning I called Wesley Beard back and agreed to make the keynote address. I worked so hard on my speech, pointing out the need to extend the same rights of people to folks who were homosexual. I confessed that it would be easier to remain in the comfortable ‘here and now”, but that justice demanded that we call for and work for the rights of all people to be honored, regardless to their sexual orientation

When I am writing this tonight, it feels like pretty tame stuff I was putting out, but this was almost twenty five years ago, and we have come a long way. The context of the moment made my speech subversive, that is, it offered another version of reality than the conventional one, where homosexuals stayed in the closet and kept their mouth shut. Never worry about their rights, just survive by keeping quiet. I knew many people in town who played under those rules, living hidden lives. In the South, it doesn’t count if you just don’t talk about it. That’s the way things go ‘round here.

The speech was a bomb blast, as I  knew it would be. The rally was covered by the local, Dallas, state, and national press. CNN carried a live shot, notifying all my friends across the country that I was in deep. I received threats, took abuse, had several so-called friends refuse to greet me at the grocery store and acknowledge my presence in the neighborhood. This was not a surprise to me as I had gotten resistance to other presses for civil rights that shook the foundations of proper folk. The key moment was my wife’s question, “Who will stand up if you don’t?

I think of that question when I remember talking with Elie Wiesel who survived a Nazi death camp. “Who will stand silent, or who will stand up?”, he asked. Silence is assent. Looking away is abdication.

I think about that often when I pause in my early day Morning Prayer: who needs me to stand up? Who needs me to help them get what they need in terms of rights? Who needs an advocate, a voice?

That’s what John Lewis did way back when, on a bus and on a bridge. And he’s still standing up, bearing the weight of pancreatic cancer. It’s troubling to me when I post some positive mention of my admiration, dare I say, my love of John Lewis’ courage, I get hateful, mean-spirited responses on social media and privately, which tells me there are some pretty screwed  up people out there, which is no newsflash, but there remains a lot of work to do, a lot of standing up to vicious and insidious hate.

What will you stand up for?

I recently was at a lovely gathering with delicious, painstakingly prepared hors d’oeuvres, enjoying a conversation with some delightful folks. The topic turned to church as it often does when I’m around. My companion noted that she just wanted to go to church and not be bothered with controversial issues. I listened carefully and realized she was articulating what most church folks want: comfort. They are not looking for something to stand up for, but rather a comfortable place to sit. Most church folks love the pageantry of Palm Sunday procession but not real sure about all this revolution that was behind that first disruptive, subversive march into Jerusalem. Jesus was offering a subversive vision of a kingdom ruled by God, not king, politicians, or religious hierarchies. Jesus stood up….and it’s time to remember that they knocked him down. Killed him. Dead. No magic act. That was the cost of standing up. For what will you stand up?

As a follower of the Christ way, I believe God affirmed Jesus’ standing up. It was by raising him up among his disciples and followers as they continued in the Way. That’s why I joined that broken line of persons who have tried to be faithful in standing up for his Way. I know John Lewis is a part of that line.

You may not be a part of my specific line of the Way, but if you are reading this, you are a human, unless you happen to be a troll or one of those bots. You have a mind, a conscience, a will. You have a given capacity to decide what you are going to do with the time you have here on Earth. So here it is, the question:

For what will you stand up?

Wading into Lent

Last week, I noted that the season of Lent was beginning on Ash Wednesday. The season is an intentionally reflective time of focusing on one’s current life, hopefully gaining fresh insight into what drives you, areas of needed attention, and noting those things that might hold you back from being the person you want to be.

A number of you have written to me telling me of your past Lents and your hopes for this coming season. If you did not make the Ash Wednesday starting mark, it’s not to late to begin. In fact, it’s never too late or “out of season” to be reflective. It’s generally the starting question I ask those who come to me for therapy or coaching: how are you doing?

In fact, self awareness is the hallmark of what we call Emotional Intelligence. It’s that acute sense of what makes you tick, both the positive motivations and the negative drivers that, some times, get in your way. The key word here is AWARENESS, that is, you know yourself. This allows you to move more mindfully into relationships, both in your personal life and at work. You know, deep down, what you you want, what you need, what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. That self knowledge grants you the ability to make some choices in terms of how you will show up in certain situations and give you some options. Options are good, by the way, in that it frees you to make some choices, some decisions about what you are going to do, or not do. It’s been said that this is the human distinctive: to decide.

Another part of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand the other person, what their needs are and how they are feeling. I have always liked the colloquial term “get”. She “gets’ me, implies that this person miraculously understands, “gets”, my quirky way of being. When I am with a person who truly gets me, it frees me to be more of my self, less guarded in how I present. I am not using up my limited energy to protect myself so I can give my energy to connecting. It is a good thing to be understood.

The other part of Emotional Intelligence that is good thing is perspective taking. It’s the ability of a person to “imagine” their way into the specific perspective of others. It is the ability to transcend our natural self-centered point of view and to extend our consciousness to take the other’s perspective into account. This is critical in the mind of the leader who is tasked with making decisions that affect others and their lives. We have found that people, with practice, can improve this art of perspective taking by intentionally practicing it and checking it out as to how accurate they are in their assessment.

Lent can be a good time to check in on this thing called Emotional Intelligence.

How aware are you of your your own motivations, positive as well as negative? How much time do you you invest in growing this part of your self?

How well are you able to take the perspective of those that are around you, in your personal life, in your work, in your social setting? How often do you go out of your way to think about others? Do you ever check out if your perceptions are accurate? How often do you uncritically assume that the way you feel about things are the way others MUST feel as well?

As I suggested, a good way to invest some time during this Lent is to journal each day.

You can write about your own feelings each day, noting how your moods and feeling fluctuate. Are you able to note connections with certain activities with specific changes in mood? i have noted that my mood and good feelings are elevated when I finish writing each day. I am full of energy, feeling peculiarly productive. With this knowledge, I have begun to schedule certain things immediately following my writing times.

You can also reflect on certain encounters that you have with other people. It may be a close relationship that feels constrained, reflecting on why you think that is,. From your perspective, as well as from the perspective of “the other”, it is often productive to imagine the other’s world view in that moment. And the real moment of insight might come if and when you check out that wondering with this “other”. Am I getting this correctly? is always a good place to start.

Lent provides a good time to focus on our self awareness as well as how we are relating to others. I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, and was drawn into the powerful words of the Book of Common Prayer, which can jump start this time of focus. Here’s how I experience this intentional time.

As one enters into the deep waters of Lent, one confesses, along with the other folks gathered, that you have fallen short, the Greek word “amartia”, It’s the word used in the New Testament as “sin”. When I was young, sin was comprised of a list of things i should NOT be doing….bad things. My South of God Christians gave me a whole list of stuff I shouldn’t do, mostly pleasures of the flesh! Nowadays, as I am South of Sixty, my thought of sin is more like the original sense, falling short of what God wants me to be, and what I want to be.

On Ash Wednesday, the Church offers a Litany of Penitence that helps you review and reflect of how we fall short:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness, the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in our daily life and work.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Well, that pretty well covers the waterfront of my sinfulness….but wait, there’s more!

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.

Damn, that pretty much covers it all for me. I prefer the generic category of sin….yeah, I am not all I want to be. Easy enough for me to admit that and fade my humility. But my throat catches on a few words that seem to come a bit closer to the bone of truth::

Contempt, I don’t give you value if you aren’t like me or agree with me.

Patience. I want it NOW. Right now.

Comfort. Man, comfort is my special sin. Luckily, I found a group, a Church, that is like me!

Blind. It’s just easier to look away, to not see the other in need.

All of this sin stuff is enough to get you down. But that is not the intent of Ash Wednesday or Lent. Rather, It is to turn you around, To turn you around from your self-centeredness to an awareness of others, this creation we share, and our common Creator. This is what was the original concept of human being, that is, essentially connected to God and neighbor. In the Hebrew faith of Jesus and in those who chose to follow his way of being in the world, it’s called being in covenant, in relationship.

The purpose of Lent is to focus us on that relationship. To God, and to neighbor. It is intended to help us to do that better so that we will experience something that our Creator intended for us at the very outset: JOY. This is the overwhelmingly surprise for many folks, the Good News, that God’s intent is for our joy, our happiness in being. God desires us to be happy.

And the existential question that is posed for you when you wade into these waters of Lent is a simple one: How’s that working out for you?

The gift of Lent is a time of focus. a time to look deeply within. And, it is a time to look around at how you relate to others. It is intended to prompt a commitment to do better, to become a better person in the community of other people. To experience that joy.

The classic response to a call to becoming all that God wants you to be is that of an affirmative pronouncement of your decision, your choice, your intent. I WILL, you say, with a firm commitment to do just that.

But then there is a powerful mark, a mere, but profound comma. The comma is followed by the necessary and appropriate humility that acknowledges our limitation, our fallibility, our tendency to not follow through. The comma announces that for us to be truthful in our commitment in this moment. I will, with God’s help.

So, in this moment of decision, I am asking you if you want to enter into this season of Lent, to wade into the waters of self-reflection, to cleanse your soul with clarity, to refresh your spirit of intent, and to emerge as a renewed person of faith?

And my answer, and the answer of generations has been: I will, with God’s help.

Well? How about you? How will you use this wild and precious time of Lent?

Have a Happy Lent?

Lent is a forty day time of preparation in the Christian faith in which one is to prepare for the celebration of Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday in which one remembers one’s brokenness and pledges to do better. Generally, folks have a tendency to “give something up” for Lent. Usually, this involves stopping doing something you shouldn’t be doing anyway, like drinking too much, swearing, or watching too much TV. Or for me recently, arguing with fundamentalists!

Prior to D Day, Ash Wednesday, one is given a last chance, a final fling to get in some good sinning. It’s called Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The time of festival is extended in such exotic places but is intensified on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday, Fat Tuesday, named thus for obvious reasons. Now, down in New Orleans and places I used to travel to in the Caribbean, the time is called Carnival which can be for weeks. Key thought: live in a place that has Carnival, even if you are South of God and don’t observe Lent.

As a South of God, Southern Baptist convert, I love everything about Lent. I love being honest about my sins, even admitting it in confession to a priest, and then intentionally attempting to better my self. I love the season as it is preparing for the central feast day for Christians, Easter. It brilliantly coincides with the new birth of nature after the long winter’s nap of cold. It’s almost as if someone planned it that way. Literally, at the end of Lent, nature is announcing the birth of new life, which renews hope, and God knows, I need it.

Forty days of discipline, leading up to Easter and the Festival of celebration. I came to know Fiesta when I was visiting in San Antonio one year. It was magical with the flowering of the front lawn of the Alamo, by whites, blacks, and Hispanics, all celebrating our common life. It was beautiful. Note to self: live in a place that celebrates Fiesta.

So if you are taking notes, live in a place with an extended Carnival season, enter into Lent with intentionality, and then follow the forty days with an extended Fiesta season! Not a bad way to live. It’s called rhythm, seasons, and joy.

I recently came across a movie, Chocolat, which is set in a small French village. The story centers on the town people who are entering into a time of Lent, and their harsh leader is seen admonishing people to be better people, which in his view mean being more under control. The young priest in this town under the spell and influence of this controlling community leader who orders him to speak tersely from the pulpit to the people in worship, chiding them for their bad behavior and lack of discipline.

Two things happen as the North wind of change blows through the town. First, a woman, who is a chocolatier, opens a shop that produces amazing candies that give pleasure to the people. You can almost taste the luscious chocolate as she stirs her magical mixture, and pours the sweet concoction into molds. The town leader will not go into the place of temptation and presses the priest to preach against such temptations like chocolate.

The second thing is that a band of floating gypsies arrive on a barge, landing on the banks of the town, playing music, dancing, and having entirely way too much fun. The town leader issues a proclamation to stay away from such unclean people that are unlike the upstanding citizens. Such outsiders will corrupt the good people of the town. By the way, the head gypsy is played superbly by Johnny Depp who also plays flamingo guitar as rhapsodically as Django.

Lent is the setting as town people are trying hard to be, as we say in the South, “to be on their best behavior”. The drama is the struggle between the leader’s admonition to be “good” and their desire to enjoy life. Sort of Dirty Dancing gone Provance.

I encourage you to invest the time to watch the movie, and will not spoil the story for you. But the poignant moment that grabbed me came on Easter Sunday when a liberated priest offers these words in his extemporaneous sermon, freed from the strictures of the town leader:

“I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do- by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”

That is the way I look at this season and why I offer you the admonition to have a Happy Lent!

I have enjoyed promoting Lent to folks who never experienced it. Whether or not you are a long time Catholic, experienced in such things, a hardshell South of God Baptist, or a person who is a searcher, I encourage you to consider this time coming up next week called Lent.

It is a time for self-examination and tuning up, or “turning up” your spiritual life. It is something I look forward to rather than dread or fear. I think of it as an internal spring cleaning, as I look around in the corners of my life to see what needs cleaning, a fresh dusting off of cobwebs, or a cleansing wash.

It won’t surprise you that I approach this with some journaling, that is, some thoughtful wrting down on paper what is going inside my soul. I have outlined my method of keeping a journal in past articles, so I won’t rehearse it here. Simply, set aside some time each day to write about what is going on with you. Your hopes, your fears, the things or people that trouble you, the things or people for whom you are grateful. Anything is fair game as long as it matters to you.

I encourage you to begin with a time of silence. My son, who is a musician, shared with me his method of mindfulness, or meditation. Both his and my method is quite simple: focus on breathing, inhale, exhale, allowing the rhythm to settle, to center your self. This can be for a few seconds, five minutes, or twenty. This sets the mood.

Then, record on paper your thoughts, sometimes those things that arise spontaneously from your unconscious, sometimes focused on a particular topic, at times recording an event or describing an experience. I always put a date, time of day, and place so that I can “place” myself when I look back on it next week, or years from now.

I recently reviewed some journaling I did in the late 80s, when I was at the Cathedral, and then some journal entries from the 90s during my Texas sojourn. I was impressed by the presence of some perennial issues that seem to return, again and again. And, I find myself smiling at those very issues, as if they are old friends, returning for a visit, to be dealt with again, in a new setting. My past insights are helpful as I wrestle afresh with these dilemmas that arise. I guess they call that wisdom, or at least I will risk it.

And some of the journaling from the past give me some confidence, may I say “trust”, in my ability to make it through some dark nights of the soul that I once saw as insurmountable. I now see those mountains and valleys in the rear view mirror of my life and can see how it was just part of the journey. This is why I commend keeping a journal with time notations to allow you to look back and to engage in that distinctive human gift of reflecting.

I tend to conclude my journaling by reading a poem, a Psalm like Psalm 139, and close with a few seconds of silence. No big deal. No symphonic display. Simple. And you can and will find your own style that is distinctive to you. Just give it a shot in the Forty Days of Lent.

Lent formally begins on Ash Wednesday, this year, Wednesday, February 26th. But you can start it later if your miss the exact date.

I encourage you to read the Ash Wednesday service if you can’t get to a congregational service near you. There will probably be some online services if you want. You can read it for yourself, beginning on page 264 in the Book of Common Prayer. By the way, you can google the BCP online if you don’t have the hard copy at hand.

I do, however, urge you to go to the real thing, an Ash Wednesday service near you. The actual gathering of other human being, along with the tactile experience of the Ash Wednesday liturgy is powerful. Most churches offer a couple of offerings at various times. Some will be sparse, featuring silence; others will use music to set a mood. The special thing about a formal liturgy is the imposition of ashes.

“Imposition” is the right word, as the ashes remind us of our mortality. The priest will offer daunting words as he/she places ashes in the form of a cross on your forehead: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

That is sort of a rude slap in the face, rather than a platitudinous affirmation. You are going to die, something we work our ass off most of the time denying. It’s a literal re-minder of who we are. Mortal. Destined to die.

And yet, we share the story of the Christ, who lived in a way that is eternal. And we are re-minded to get about that work in the everyday living that we are about. Lent is a time of attending to that intention, that purpose that gives our days and lives a profound meaning, both in our reflective memory, in our present now moment, and as we lean into the unknown future.

In the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, there is a solemn moment when the priest formally invites you to keep a Holy Lent. If you don’t get to a live, flesh and blood, ash on your forehead service on Wednesday, let me be the one who invites you to keep and observe the spiritual discipline of Lent.

It is a time of self examination. Of changing some of your habits by eliminating that which hurts you, holds you back, but also adding some habits that bring you joy and peace. Lent leads you to a celebration of the depth of life that celebrates the hope of new life that is celebrated on Easter.

And so, I invite you to a happy Lent. What do you say?

To Revisit : A Wild and Precious Life

A friend of mine reminded me of a writing from a year ago, this after I had revisited the pregnant phrase: one wild and precious life. I revisited the article as it dovetails with last week’s blog and thought it would make sense to bring it forward to bolster my point.

Some of you might think that such a move is cheating on my commitment to a weekly format. Where’s the new article, the fresh groceries? You are being lazy by merely repeating an old column. Maybe I am. My greater fear is that I am beating the old horse of self awareness to death, although my take is that most of us need a little nudge.

I remember my high school English teacher that I had a crush on, Ms. Hinkle, a Katherine Ross look-a-like. She would enter a word in red on my writing: Redundant! It cut to the quick of my emerging adolescent identity. Did you have to put in the exclamation mark? Did you have to circle it in red?Wasn’t the comment enough in itself? But she was trying to teach me a craft of conveying effectively what I was thinking. Redundant meant I was being repetitive. Avoid this, her red ink suggested. And, in general, I agree and practice a vigilance in my writing.

However, I have found in my work that redundancy turns out to be a virtue in leadership, even it is not in composition. People seem to have a need to be re-minded of basic truths every so often. While I coach leaders to be mindful in casting a vision, there is an additional requirement of re-casting the vision in a redundant way. I suggest that use prompts and strategically placed post its to remind them to push the message.

For me, I need to be reminded as I seem to suffer from spiritual amnesia, and my hunch is I am not the only one, as Sheryl Crow reminds.. It seems that I have to learn lessons over and over, and still may miss the beat on down track. Redundancy can be a good thing, even a virtue. So, I am repeating this article.

As I was finishing this intro, I found myself laughing about the Seinfeldian feel of this concern of mine on redundancy. As Jerry is the master of holding up a comic mirror to our modern existential reality by asking the rhetorical question, “What is it about…..” and then fill in the blank All these close talkers? Shrinkage? Regifting? Funeral hellos?. Yada, yada, yada…..With this comic slant, we are able to laugh at ourselves, which is a rare gift these days.

With that confession offered, I offer you this article from a year ago. I hope you find it helpful.

Word came to me that Mary Oliver had died while I was proofing last week’s post. I found it auspicious as she has been one of my major inspirations during my writing life, charging me with a simple admonition: pay attention to the world around you! Attention is the starting point of devotion, she counseled. That was, in fact, what I was writing about last week, taking a lesson from my young son, Thomas, and his quest to look and see what God is doing in his backyard.

Paying attention to nature has always come easily to me. Perhaps it’s my native nature mysticism that I inherited from my grandfather’s love of God’s Creation. I was struck by his tendency to find his way to the wilderness whenever he could, making me his lucky co-conspirator. He built it into me, hard-wired, to go into nature whenever I can. I have made my way to the lush mountain wilderness of the Chattahoochee, to the pristine Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, to the rocky coastline of Maine, and to the Rocky Mountains of Montana. But it can be in the urban forest of Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, or in the barren wildness of Texas Hill Country. This is where I find my cathedrals, as grand and inspiring as any built by hand. I’m betting you have your holy spaces as well, where the boundary between the ordinary and the sacred becomes thin. Holy spaces, indeed.

One of my earliest mystical experiences occurred just after a thunderstorm in that “in-between” time just after the storm ends and  the tantalizing moment when everything reverts to the normal. The air itself felt electric, charged with possibility. Not in a wilderness,  a suburban neighborhood street in my hometown of East Point was the setting for mystery to break through on that late summer afternoon.  A deep sense of connectivity, of oneness, overwhelmed me, for a fleeting second. There, palpably, then gone. It  is one of many moments that I have been gifted with through the years, coming and going when and where it will,

And I must admit that it’s happened in designated religious space as well, roped off  and consecrated for just that. But Spirit seems to be not limited by schedules  our programming, or convenience.

Mary Oliver captured that kind of sensitivity to nature and I am sure it was what first attracted me to her writing so many years ago. She died this past week as the age of 83, having moved from her beloved Provincetown, Massachusetts to the unfamiliar but warm mangroves of  the west coast of Florida I find it curious that I find myself working these days on the east coast of Florida, at almost exactly the same latitude. Geographical proximity aside, I hit me hard, her death, the end of her life. It was a reminder of finitude, her finitude, the end of her brilliant career of writing. And it served as a reminder of my own finitude specifically;  that it does all end. No getting out of this alive.

Earlier in my life, she had reminded me of the task of living. She wrote powerfully of her observations of life within a poem entitled The Summer Day.  She meticulously described her view of a grasshopper, watching it perch as it methodically chewed on crystals of sugar with its mandible jaws. This very moment brings forth the question of how this world was made, who was the creator of this particular grasshopper?

And as the grasshopper takes wing to fly from her hand, it prompts an existential question as to the purpose of life itself. She writes, almost casually:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I’ve been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Poetically framed, that is indeed the question? What are you planning to do with this time you have been given?

I spend a lot of my time working with folks who are trying to answer that very question. Some use sophisticated productivity planners to get a handle on where they are spending their minutes, hours, and days, what they are investing their time pursuing. Some are at the front end of their lives, trying to clarify a path into their future, even playing with the weighty word of vocation. Others are busy planning the next chapters in the story their lives are writing, looking for a plot or a twist. More and more, I find myself listening to a host of folks who are looking back reflectively, assessing the way they have spent their time and energy. All want to find that magic thread of trajectory that holds together and gives integrity to the lives they are living.

We share that human vocation of living one’s life in a quest for meaning. Some of us have more agency or freedom than others, but ultimately our choosing plays a role in how it is we are spent. To whom do you feel accountable? To whom are you answerable?

This week in which we remember the legacy of my hometown hero, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I find myself reflective as to the way I have been spent and am spending this life. Martin’s prescient statement, on the night before he was shot down in Memphis, seemed to weigh literally the acts of his life in the balance. Longevity has its place, he said, but there are more important things, more critical things to consider. I believe he had assessed how he had spent his wild and precious life on that dark night, and while not happy with his fate on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, he was at peace.

As a white male, born in the United States, in the middle of the twentieth century, I have lived with possibilities and limitations. The privileges  I have had and the limitations imposed have contributed to how I have spent my days. We have  freedom to decide how it is we live, but only within the confines of limits that we have no say in determining. I have exercised the limited freedom afforded me but, at the same time, I have abdicated that very freedom at moments due to “caughtness” within systems. I have squandered that freedom in sheer laziness or seeking to maintain a seductive comfort. I have worked to invest part of my life energy in developing self-awareness in an attempt to be more free in my choices, to increase my agency, my freedom. And yet,  the “caughtness” can trick me into the sleepy belief that I am self-aware, when I am not. Amnesia afflicts me when I forget who I am.

It’s a tough gig, this being human. Caught in the dilemma of freedom and limits. Life is this dilemma to live through, not a problem to be solved. And yet, as Mary Oliver reminded me years ago, and then again last week, it is a wild and precious thing.

Do you dare to face the question, dear Grasshopper? Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?