Over the Same Ground

Once a month, I cross Marion Road and enter Town Hall. Up a few steps and down the hall I go, arriving at the Clerk’s office to post the agenda for the library board meeting. If I need to file paperwork for a new member, I go up another set of stairs to the Selectmen’s office. Paperwork properly filed, I head back out the front doors and skip down the impressive but rarely used front steps. A right takes me back to town, a left toward Shaw’s market, an about face to the middle and high schools – at least three options every time I have business at Town Hall.

Sometimes, Town Hall comes to me – announcements, notifications, and emails. Last week, it was an email that marched into my computer, bringing with it an undeserved slap on the wrist delivered in words that were a slap in the face – a selectman complaining about the actions of the board I chair. In this case, the complaint as well as the insults were based on faulty information or his misreading of partial information. The three paragraph finger shaking was undeserved and certainly inappropriate as a means of communication between a selectman and a municipal board. It’s not the first combative communication and it’s not likely to be the last. This is well worn ground here in Wareham.

After a few minutes, I sent a reply asking to meet to discuss the issues. After several hours, I drafted a response, correcting misunderstanding and setting the record straight. It wasn’t quite as abrasive as what I had received, but there were a few sentences that weren’t exactly complimentary. With the help of other board members, I chose other words. If the selectman who sent the email doesn’t agree to a meeting, I will send it.

There are three possibilities every time I leave Town Hall. I don’t have to go the way I came. Regardless of what I encounter in Town Hall, I can choose another direction when I leave. I don’t have to go down the same road, trading confrontational and insulting language back and forth. I can choose neutral words, correcting misunderstanding and false information without bitterness. I don’t have to return like for like.

It’s not easy for me to return respect and patience for insult and accusation. But with the help of others, I’ll go in a different direction. With luck, patience, and prayer, perhaps the selectman who sent the email may just find it possible to do the same…

O Sing to the Lord a new song. Psalm 96:1

Storm Walk

A few years back, some misguided souls saw in the devastation of Katrina the judgement of God. Such storms are not the punishment meted out to the wicked: they are natural disasters that cost the health and lives of God’s beloved children. The difference between the acts of God and devastating storms: what God sends shakes us to our core so that we and our neighbors might live deeper, holier lives. It’s the difference between what gives life and what brings only death. Only our prayers and help should be visited upon anyone caught in any hurricane.

The wind rattles the windows as I write, as it has for the past two days. Rain and fog clothe even the most familiar fences and shrubs in mystery. This old familiar world is a stranger at such times – a storm gift that comes with flickering lights and downed tree limbs.

My son and I went for a storm walk Tuesday- something we’ve done for most of his life when the chance presents itself. This time, we ended up on the pier at Besse Park. High winds and high tide had the water dancing. Stoplights and street lights threw paths of moving light across the water to where we stood. Wind tugged at my clothes. Other than a couple walking their dog, we had the streets of town to ourselves. Even in the middle of this old town, on the edge of a storm no longer a hurricane, the power of wind and rain cannot be denied. Wild beyond any human control or understanding, even with Doppler radar technology.

The storm shakes everything, revealing what sits on a firm foundation and what does not. Dry branches fall, lightweight objects skitter across the yard, and plants without deep roots are upended. What is firmly rooted, what has a solid foundation, holds firm.

I’m not surprised that the Spirit comes like the wind. It shakes my complacent faith and forces me to see what is solid and what is not. It is a wild rushing, something I can’t control. The best I can do: take a walk of faith through it.

Suddenly, a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2

 

 

For the Living

The white colonial on the corner of Park and Main has changed hands two or three times since I moved to Wareham. With successive owners, the clapboard has been repaired and repainted. The parking area is resurfaced and apartment doors replaced. The old stone wall remains the same, but the weeds are pulled out of it regularly. It’s a nice old house, but the really amazing thing is the yard.

Grass grows in the front, and lovely plantings welcome visitors up the walk. There’s an antique bicycle with petunias growing from its basket, bright flowering vines, birdbaths and feeders. From the sidewalk I can see a child’s climbing set, vegetable beds, and an arched walkway that must look amazing from many of the windows. There’s room in the yard to play croquet or badminton; there are also places to read, cook out, or grow pumpkins. Whoever planned and created this outdoor space made a place that serves everyone living there or visiting – and it’s beautiful to boot.

I’m sure if I took a close enough look I could find flaws – weeds, bare patches, damp corners. But that’s true of everything that lives and breathes. Beauty isn’t the same thing as perfection, especially where people and animals live, work, and play. The beauty of this yard is intended for the living of life, not for observation. I say a prayer of thanks when I walk by, for the creator of this place and the Creator of all places.

Stony the Path

There’s a turn-of-the-century Cape on the corner of Gibbs and Bodfish. New people moved in a couple of years back, writing the latest chapter of the house’s biography. They’ve cleared out the scrubby bushes, repainted the trim, and laid new garden beds to the left of the driveway. It’s one of my favorite homes in town, and I enjoy seeing how it changes with the seasons – Spring crocuses, Summer hydrangea and tomatoes, Autumn pumpkins and trick-or-treat candy, Winter wreath and twinkling lights. But today, something I’d never seen before lay before me: a stone walkway connecting the front steps to the sidewalk.

The stones in the path are old, irregular in shape, varied in color and kind. They are large, well worn, and have been submerged in grass for at least as long as I’ve been living here. Someone stripped away the grass and dirt to reveal what was hidden underneath – an old path that was lost has been reborn, restoring a way for neighbors to reach the house and owners to visit neighbors.

I wonder how the owners found it. Did they see a stone or two in the grass and realize they were visible parts of a much larger but hidden design? Did they have old photos of the house that showed the walkway? Short of knocking on the door and asking, I’ll never know. I do know that it took a lot of work to restore that walkway, and an appreciation of the work that went in to laying it in the first place.

I’m writing curriculum this week for a Sunday morning high school class, delving into sacred stories, creeds, and prayers. Seeing that beautiful, old walkway rediscovered and restored gave me a new way of seeing my own work. The history, theology, prayer practices, and stories of faith provide a solid path from our faith home to the faith homes of our neighbors. It’s an ancient road, and I had no hand in its creation. But it is my privilege to do my part to uncover it, clearing the path that connects neighbor to neighbor.

For more in this series, check out “Retracing My Steps.”

Blazing a Trail

I was out the door before 8 this morning, heading down the street in my sweats and sneakers. It’s only my second morning walk since the school buses started picking up kids. As much as I love my summer days, I love this return to the rhythm and pattern of my daily activities. Walking is one of my favorite constants – it keeps me healthy, it lifts my spirits, and it connects me with the town I call home.

This morning, I walked past trash bins on High street and counted more than a dozen cars in the downtown Dunkin’ Donuts’ drive-through line. Engines rumbled, birds chirped, and snatches of songs snuck out of car windows. Then, across the street, I saw the river. Between the old shingled Victorian and the fire station, a dazzling sun made it a fiery yellow path, turning eddies and waves into liquid gold. Even the surrounding marshes caught the light, making reeds sparkle and rocks glow. I never thought I’d walk into something like this.

Stunning. And something I would have missed if I hadn’t been out and about this morning. I am so glad I didn’t miss it. I understand why people describe holy encounters as blazing, blinding light. I just hope I am equally stunned when I happen upon God’s illuminating presence – and that I have enough sense to look for it among the houses and byways of this place I call home.

(Walk of Life, Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms, Warner Brothers,1985)

Yes

Raise your right hand.

Will you faithfully execute the duties of your office to the best of your abilities and in accordance with the laws of this municipality, the state of Massachusetts, and the laws of the land?

If so, say yes.

I’ve said yes three times now. It’s the swearing in part of joining a municipal board – in my case, the Library Board of Trustees. Everyone who takes a public office makes the same promise, even if the words vary from place to place. At reappointment or reelection, these words are said again, and the promise to serve with honesty and integrity renewed.

Some people think it’s a little silly to stand at the town clerk’s counter, right hand raised, and make a vow of service. What could possibly tempt unethical behavior or criminal activity in a three year stint on a public library board? There’s no way to take over the world from such a place, and there’s no one offering big bucks for voting a particular way on library policy. I’m not one of those people.

I know the power of words and I respect the power of promises made. Saying something out loud in front of witnesses has an effect. Will it stop someone bent on personal gain at any cost? Probably not. But it will help the average well-meaning citizen let go of personal opinions and preferred activities if better ways are offered. It’s an ego check – a promise to uphold the good of the many over getting one’s own way.

Vows like this one are plumb lines, keeping the foundations of town departments solid and strong. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who swore the oath kept the oath…

Lord, help me keep the promises I’ve made. Guide me in my actions, that good many come of them. Amen.