Monday, July 25, 2011

Finally Crossing Paths in PDX

You would think that when you live with three other people, that you would see them all on a regular basis, but that has not been our case. After 140 days the Portland BVS house was finally reunited!  Since February 28th, there hadn’t been one single day that we have all been in the house together until this past Tuesday. – Crazy!  Ben has returned from working in California, Heather hasn’t left on her crazy backpacking trip yet, Jon was in town before traveling to Arizona for a workcamp, and I had just got back after a 2 month stint on the East Coast.  But unfortunately, this one full day of reuniting – was also our last full day that we all had in the house together-ever!  : /  To celebrate all our paths crossing in Portland – we spent a lovely evening downtown and went out to eat. The four of us did all manage to make it to Family Camp at the beautiful Camp Myrtlewood  - which was a very restful weekend – with time to run, read, nap, and play ping pong.   We also learned what to do if disaster strikes - for example; what is the proper way to jump off a moving train, and what do you do if you are attacked by a mountain lion. It's not going to quite be the same without everyone here again - and I think it's hitting us all that we are getting close to that time of year when we all go our separate ways - and have to figure out what the next steps are on each of our paths. But no worries because we still have a couple months to fill you in on all our house adventures, thoughts, and shenanigans. 

Our last full day as a house

Side notes –                                                                                          

Our house has a 24 hour policy on desserts  - if we have desserts (cookies, cake, pie etc) it will be gone in 24 hours or less . Today we successfully demolished 12 donuts in about 10 min.

Jon likes to use words that the rest of the house wouldn’t use in our daily vocabulary  and we have started making a list of these -  flummoxed, posit, avocation, er, egregious, esoteric, and hyperbolic

A great surprise when I got back to the house – was that we actually had plants in our garden!!!! Lots of plants! Whooo hooo!!!

It has been nice to finally be back in Portland and to get to reconnect with the housemates and church, but it's only one more week until the next traveling adventure begins. So until next time. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tales from transit

I've been working my summer gig for a little over three weeks now.  The work has been good and I've enjoyed getting to know the kids that show up for the drop-in program.  It certainly is a program that I feel is a major asset for that community.  One of the slight drawbacks has been the commute four days each week to Vancouver.

No, not British Columbia - Vancouver, Washington.  Just like Covington was the little sister city to Cincinnati across the Ohio River, Vancouver is the equivalent for Portland.  While is doesn't have quite the feel and quirk of Portland it's still a nice town.  Unfortunately, it takes more than an hour just to get across the Columbia River into "The Couve".  All in all, the commute each way generally takes close to, if not more than, two hours.  This includes four transfers to five different vehicles - one Tri-Met bus, two MAX lines, and two more C-TRAN buses.

When I tell someone how long it takes for me to get to work there's generally some sort of sympathetic grimace involved.  Truth be told, I actually don't mind it that much.  It would be nice if I could get a few more things done in the morning before heading out or if I could be home an hour or two earlier for the sake of supper, but the time transporting myself on public transit isn't really all that bad.  I don't think I spend more than half an hour on any one segment of the trip so it's not like I'm sitting there getting bored.  I enjoy the people watching.  If you've ever ridden public transit you probably know that some of the best people watching ever exists on buses and light rail trains.

Woefully, getting to and from work isn't always that simple.  With so many transfers it only takes one late or missed bus or train to put you back 20 minutes on your schedule.  Here are a few stories from what I've encountered in the first few weeks:

-  It's my first day of work and I'm going in to meet with Human Resources to fill out paperwork and that kind of fun stuff.  I leave with more than two hours for getting there.  On the very first bus, though, there's a detour right before the MAX station.  We can't get to the station because someone was decapitated by the train earlier that morning.  It turns out that some guy strung out on meth leaned back into the tracks while the train was coming up to the platform.  The train was still sitting at the boarding area.  A few people said they guy's head was still under there.  I had to walk a mile to the next MAX stop so I could take a bus to the closest transit center where the trains were still running.  I'm very glad Human Resources was so understanding.

-  The first week continued to impress later when I was waiting for the C-TRAN bus to take me into Vancouver from the MAX station.  The bus was late.  The bus, I have learned, is often late.  This time the bus was late because there had been a fight in the entry way of the bus.  We had to board through the back door because there was too much blood in the front.  Then we had to switch out buses so the first one could be cleaned.

-  I think it was the same day that on the way home I got another show while boarding my final bus.  The entire bus got to watch someone actively trying to run over another person.  In the gas station parking lot.  IN REVERSE.  I mean, we're talking pedal-to-the-metal, run-for-your-life kind of attempted run over.  Insane.

-  The second week one of the C-TRAN buses was delayed because of a fire.  No, it wasn't on the bus.  Someone hadn't put out their cigarette before leaving it on the ground and the mulch at the bus stop was beginning to smolder.  So, our 60-something year old bus driver narrated for us while she figured out how to use the fire extinguisher and doused the poo out of that itty bitty fire hazard.  I felt pretty sure that she got it put out.

-  This past week the first bus was a little bit late one day.  The reason: the Special Olympics Torch Run was going down good ol' 122nd Street.  Of COURSE it was.

There have been plenty of other fun/interesting/legally questionable stories I've encountered in the first three weeks but this will have to do for now.  So, next time you're frustrated with a long drive somewhere, count your blessings if your route doesn't include a draw bridge (guess whose does...).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Honest Thoughts

While the weather has been gorgeous here in Portland during the last week, there was a bit of a figurative cloud that hung over the first part of the week, and still lingers somewhat.   Most of you reading this will know that the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference was this past week, and that one of the issues being discussed was whether the language in the 1983 paper on Human Sexuality would continue to guide the church’s journey together (specifically the language that states that same-sex covenantal relationships are not acceptable).  I wasn’t at Conference, so I can’t speak to most things that transpired there, but it's my understanding that the delegates voted to reaffirm the 1983 paper on Human Sexuality in its entirety.  I guess I can’t say that I’m surprised…but I will say that I’m really disappointed. 

Disappointed for every person I know who is gay or lesbian who may not feel welcome in the Church of the Brethren because the larger church says that their “relationships are not acceptable”, disappointed that more people don’t see this as an issue of human justice and equality, and disappointed that there aren’t more churches in the denomination that follow the example of Peace Church, an open and affirming congregation that “celebrates and affirms the image of God in all people…every age, gender, race, ability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.”

I have good friends who are gay, I have had teachers who are gay, and I know quite a few people that I greatly admire and respect who are gay, and I am a better person for having each one of these people in my life.  I don’t believe that being gay or lesbian is a sin, but rather just the way a person is made. And I don't see how being in a loving committed relationship with another person is a bad thing.  My God is greater and more dynamic than some verses that were written 2000 years ago that are often taken out of context.  The God that inspired men of long ago, may work in me in different ways, and that is ok.  I can’t ignore what God inspires in me, and that is that we are all created equal in the eyes of God, black and white, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual.  

I will close by saying that I am grateful for all of those people, although they may have been in the minority, who spoke as a more progressive voice in the Church of the Brethren calling for change.  I am grateful to be a part of a church congregation here at Peace Church where people are affirmed and welcomed just as they are.  And I am hopeful that the voices speaking out for justice and fairness don’t fade, but only grow stronger. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Here is the sermon that I gave in church today.

Daniel 2 20-23

How do we know what we believe? Where do our beliefs come from? What is God like? Does God look like one of us? Does God take an active role with our lives? Where did we come from? Where did God come from? Why did God make us? Why are we here? Are we God’s ant farm, that God made so God could watch us grow and now we are relegated to the forgotten attic, because how could God sit idly by as the Holocaust happened? As we systematically destroy the planet, GOD’s Planet?

These are questions that I’ve found myself pondering for as long as I can remember. I’ve searched through various faith paradigms and been dissatisfied with their explanations for one reason or another.

When I spent my year and a half at Camp Myrtlewood I got involved with the local native american community. They followed, and I was fortunate enough to share in, traditional Lakota ceremonies. The Lakota refer to the divine as Wakan Tanka, The Great Mystery. The Great Mystery. I like that a lot. To me referring to God that way really resonates. We can’t possibly begin to fathom God. So instead of trying to make God fit inside our feeble heads, we stand in awe.

Actually thats what God is to me: Standing in awe. Feeling completely and utterly incapable of describing; completely away from rationality, logic, and thinking and being entirely present. Listening with my heart, instead of thinking about God. Feeling that ever present Great Mystery. This is what the divine is for me.

I also like the Quaker belief that we all have that still small voice of God deep within us. The Lakota take that belief one step further: They believe that everything has that divine spark in it. Everything has that essence of the divine in it; the soul and essence that is in me is no different from that which is in you, that’s in the trees, the birds, the streams, and the rocks. Therefore everything is my brother, my sister. Mitakuye oyasin: All of my relations. Our hope is to recognize that and to walk in balance with everything.

The Lakota beliefs that I’ve learned of resonate profoundly with me. But that’s me, we’re all different. There’s an analogy that describes different religions trying to make sense of God. Imagine each religion as a blind person feeling a different part of an elephant. One grabs a tusk and says, “God is strong, firm, beautiful, yet potentially dangerous.” Another holds on to the tail and says, “I know God. God is like a rope: practical, yet pliable.” A third has the a leg, “Ahh God is strong and steadfast,” she says. Maybe this is not just applicable to religions but to each of us. We all cling steadfastly to the God that we’ve come to know; with whom we’ve cultivated a relationship; and that relationship is based on Truth. And all of our experiences are equally as valid, though potentially extremely different.

One of the biggest gifts that being at Peace church has offered me is a church that welcomes difficult questions. Furthermore, it’s accepting of answers that differ from the norm. Answers that may be uncomfortable for some. Peace Church not only encourages questions but gives you the permission to find that answer that resonates most with you.

I haven’t had a close relationship with a church for a long time. For me faith is an extremely intimate and personal interaction. I have found and cultivated a relationship with my God that works for me and nurtures my soul. I’ve found other churches pretty stifling. My relationship with God comes from within. Not from someone telling me what I SHOULD believe. Yet I really have found value in having this faith community. Faith communities help to keep us accountable. They give us feedback as to how we’re living our lives. They help us to continue to grow in our relationships with God, because we all are always growing, learning and changing and so should our relationship with God.

Our opening words came from Thich Nhat Hanh, a vietnamese Buddist monk who has worked to bridge ecumenical understandings between east and west. I’m going to read them again: “To have a good [spiritual community], the members must live in a way that helps them generate more understanding and more love. If a [spiritual community] is having difficulties, the way to transform it is to begin by transforming yourself, to go back to your island of self and become more refreshed and more understanding. You will be like the first candle that lights the second that lights the third, fourth, and fifth.”

I hope that we all can continue to give ourselves permission to seek and find God on our own terms. I hope that we can trust the answers that we find. I hope that we all can have the courage to transform ourselves, to return to our island of self and become more refreshed and more understanding. I hope that we can be willing to share that light and understanding with people we encounter daily.

I’m going to close with a story about an encounter I had in the woods with the divine that inspired awe. Our frequent blog followers might remember this story. Last month, I took Heather to a half marathon trail run at Timothy Lake near Mt. Hood. While she was running I went for a solo hike in the woods. For me, time in the woods usually turns into a sacred time.

This has been an extremely long winter, as y’all know. As recently as two weeks before I hiked this trail it got 2 feet of snow. Within 10 minutes of hiking I had to ford a snow melt stream that was 3 feet deep. I was extremely grateful for this, because it would hopefully deter other would be hikers and I relish my alone time in the woods. As I crossed the stream I ran into 2-3 day old elk sign. Then I noticed some cougar sign with about the same age. I imagined a cougar quietly stalking the noisy elk herd as it forged along it's way. The cougar watching for the right moment to strike a calf elk. I continued to walk along the trail trying to be observant and present to the great outdoors.

I came to a part of the forest that closed in. Instead of the open woods with tall older trees and a few rhododendron bushes with a good view, it became younger denser forest with a hallway cut out through it. With my visibility reduced, I focused on my other senses. I got the feeling of being watched. No sooner did I feel this, I walked around a corner and in the middle of the trail was fresh cougar scat, not just kinda fresh, but still glistening in a sunbeam fresh. The hairs raised on the back of my neck and I had a strong surge of adrenaline. My instinct was to get out of there, fast yet calm like.

Instead I took it as a lesson the forest was trying to show me: It was a good reminder that this not my forest. I was a merely a visitor in the cougar's woods -- and not just their woods, but the trees', the elk's, the rhody bush's. I said an audible prayer -- "Brother cougar, I mean you no harm. I humbly ask for safe passage as a visitor through your forest. I come in good will. I respect and honor you."

As soon as I said this I felt deeply at ease with the rest of my hike. It hit me that this is how I should always view the world. This is not my world, or humanities'. We share this small blue sphere with every creature, tree, stream, rock, and spring. This is a shared planet. This is not mine. I wish humanity could collectively say a similar prayer: "Dear grandfather fish, brother bird, sister forest, and mother creek, We ask humbly for your blessing as we tread softly through your land. We mean you no harm. We will leave only footprints and take only what we need." I hope that we can find this humility as a race, and quickly. I hope that we can see God in every creature, every tree, and every stream, and sit in wondrous respectful awe.