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I'm pretty much a typist for the Holy Spirit. I try to put those things into words in a blog called Jane's Journey. I have another blog for recipes called My Life in Food. Also Really Cool Stuff features Labyrinths and other things like how to fry an egg on the sidewalk.(first step: don't do it on the sidewalk, use a skillet) Come along with me as I careen through life.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Patience and Percerverance, Part Two

 Here is a a blog I first posted in 2011 and I thought I would update it for 2023.  

The reason I need to update it is because 12 years have passed yet very little has little has changed and I take that as a good sign and I want to thank God for a few things.  

Three days ago, on November 12th, we attended another wedding much like the one I mention here.  Again, it was a wedding of two kids we feel really good about: I knew the bride years ago as a counselor at Camp Gilmont where she has now returned to be the Program Director, Beaven works with the groom at camp on the staff. So both of us know both bride and groom.  I like these kinds of weddings.  I'm starting to think November is a good month to get married.

Yesterday we had a great dinner at our favorite restaurant but instead of an evening meal we had one of those mid-day meals old people have at around 3:30 or 4 o'clock.  It's a small place where the owner knows us and will stop by to talk.  He makes the Creme Brulee' himself and if we go early enough I can have coffee with dessert and it won't keep me awake.  We have officially gotten old. 

Just to give you a flavor of how time has passed here's what I wrote 11 years ago about our anniversary. It's kind of interesting to rummage through our little time capsule once in a while. 

Forty-three years ago I married a man I thought was a dead ringer for Superman, albeit a shorter version of him. Last night I ate dinner with a balding, overweight version of that guy and we spent most of the meal talking about how all the people at our wedding are dead now.

The best man died ten years ago. My bridesmaid became schizophrenic and the maid of honor became a Tea Party Republican. All of the uncles and most of our aunts are gone as well as a good chunk of the guests. About the only ones left from our wedding are the younger cousins and one or two friends.

We spent most of our day apart yesterday and met for dinner at our favorite restaurant in separate cars. We left the restaurant and went to see a movie at the only theatre in town where the popcorn was better than the movie then came home and argued about what we would watch on TV.

In years since I first met Beaven Els we’ve watched about four or five wars play out, depending on what you call a war. As we matured our politics have done an about-turn.  We watched the first man step on the moon together. On November 15, 1969 personal computers didn’t exist and you could walk right onto a commercial plane with no questions asked.

We raised two decent kids and weathered alcoholism, cancer and menopause together. We’ve buried four parents and taken some awesome vacations. We’ve accomplished things we never even thought to dream of and we’ve visited countries we never thought we would find exciting. We’ve remodeled houses with our own hands and learned that we don’t know a damned thing about carpentry but we keep doing it ourselves anyway. About the only technique we’ve really mastered is running wires through walls.

We survived two teenagers and they survived us and we will eat Thanksgiving together without much dread.

I vividly remember my thoughts as we left on our honeymoon: “I know nothing about this guy.” And, compared to what I know now, I didn’t. We quite frankly lucked out. Probably the greatest thing we’ve learned in 42 years of marriage is to have patience and to endure.

This coming Saturday we’ll attend the wedding of a girl we watched grow up in our church. She’s marrying a guy she met on a mission trip who reminds me a lot of a younger Beaven. Forty-two years from now most of the guests at this week's wedding, including Beaven and I, will assuredly be gone. Things Elizabeth and John have never dreamed of will have been invented. They will go places and do things they can’t imagine now.

Life always surprises us. Here’s to Happy Surprises. Here’s to Patience and Endurance. The future is uncertain at its very best but it is never boring. He may not look much like Superman to other people but he still does to me.
What do I thank God for in 2023? For sticking with us when we were busy raising kids and didn't put much thought into our relationship with our Creator.  I thank God for it all, every last minute of it, every single iota from each cloud and ray of sunshine, each smile on my daughters' faces, each tiny victory in our lives, each tiny step in the right direction, for holding my hand when things got overwhelming, for those bursts of inspiration and confidence when it all seemed so improbable.  

Monday, November 13, 2023

You've Got Mail


I sat down to write a note to a friend this morning and the project soon grew.  Now I realized I have much more to say than one small greeting card would hold.

The friend recently moved and the house came with a rotted and dying mailbox.  So when she and her son built a new one it seemed fitting to send her mail.  I didn’t want the mailbox to sit empty and feel lonesome and cold.  Nobody sends mail anymore.  You don’t even get bills by mail anymore.  Everything is electronic.  About the only thing we’ve gotten lately have been ads from guys running for political office out here in the woods.  I think they are the only ones who still believe in mail.

But last night Beaven and I went to a wedding of two young people we both have grown to love through working with them at Camp Gilmont. I have known the bride since she was a counselor at the camp.  At the reception each guest found an envelope at our seat with a note hand written by both the bride and groom.  Guests spent the first few minutes of the reception practically in tears as we read the touching notes that captured our relationship with the couple in a very moving way.  For Beaven and I, the notes touched on what they had learned from us as a married couple on what marriage would be like based on what they had seen in our own marriage.  Given that the wedding was three days before our 54th anniversary it was like receiving an anniversary gift.  We decided our gift to ourselves this year would be to re-read them on our anniversary.

These two coinciding writing events reminds me what a lost art writing anything by hand has become.  I have no idea how many iterations our notes from the bride and groom went through but there were no mistakes in them; nothing struck through or second-guessed, yet they were eloquent while simple.  And this couple wrote probably 100 of these notes. 

I have heard that there were only three or four versions of the Declaration of Independence.  Paper was scarce in 1776.  You didn’t just wad it up and toss it in the trash if you made a mistake or didn't like what you had written.  Once you sat down to write you needed to know what you were going to say.  The changes to the Declaration of Independence were mostly difference of political opinion between Thomas Jefferson,  John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.

I've been de-cluttering our storage spaces.  I ran across the letters my parents wrote each other during their courtship and also the ones they wrote during the war.  I guess Mother packed them.  They are organized by date with a string tying them in packets.  Once in a while I'll pick one out to read and it really captures their personality.  The gift is especially poignant since my mother died when I was young and I never really knew her.  The details are astonishing:  prices they paid for things, slang terms, movies they watched, places they went and relatives they spent time with.  I feel like I'm reading a special kind of history story: my own history.  

Facebook has replaced journaling.  Our lives are lived in paragraphs instead of pages. Because we have the ability to backspace and fix anything we want, sometimes there is far less thought put into what we say before we say it.  Three sentences later we forget an insensitive thought and it is sent to the world for display.

However, because of this same ability, I am now able to easily compose exactly what I want to say to my friend with the new mailbox, then print it in whatever font I choose and size the font as large as I want (the older the friend, the larger the print—my friends are increasingly graduating from 12 point to 14 and sometimes even 16 point print)

I’ve also started stealing graphics from the internet and saving them to use for cards—the same cards that I never actually send since I usually just communicate via Facebook.  The only exception being the friend with the new mailbox.  I think I’m going to need to alert her on Facebook to check her mailbox now. As soon as I mail it.

I know this sounds like a lot of trouble.  Eventually, the paper greeting card will get thrown into the trash or recycled. There is simply not enough room on the planet. Electronic communications really is the wave of the future.  But, for now, for me, sometimes Old School is the Best School.  

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Kin*dom Camp

I had one more camp left in me for the Great Summer of 2022 and it was the best one of all.  It was held at my favorite camp of all, "my" camp, the one I am most proud of, where I spend so much of my time; where my passion lies.  

It would be easy to reel you in by starting off saying that we had drag queens at summer camp.  And I could even post an eye-popping photo that would get your attention.  I might do that later but it would be a cheap trick to get your attention when the camp was so much more than that.  

In fact, when I think of it, in the thirty years I've been hanging around youth ministry there was far less drama or deep anxiety at this camp than any I've seen.  And I really do think it was because the focus of the whole camp was on honesty and acceptance and the kids were more at peace.  And I'll get to that in a minute. But, when all is said and done, this was just summer camp.  That's all it was-- just camp.  Except it happened to be a camp designed for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning kids from the ages of 12 to 17.

One of the most amazing things I've seen in my life was one time years ago I saw a teenager run down the hall and when he got to the end of the hall he jumped up and just flung his body up in the air against the wall.  For no reason.  For the sheer joy of being alive. And that's what camp is for, folks: to celebrate life. 

Kids should have fun. At the end of the day we should all celebrate the joy of being alive.  

I love watching kids have fun.  

There was one camp missing from the universe until this summer.  And then my good friends fixed it.  And I am honored to call these folks my friends:  

Andy, Pepa and Garrett

I knew Rev. Pepa Paniaugua before she was ordained as a minister of the word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).  She was an intern and the Youth Director at our church in Garland. I met Garrett deGaffenreid at one of those youth camps where they have shaving cream fights and kids fling themselves against the wall just for fun.  I met Andy Hackett about three years ago but he's been coming to Gilmont for the Great Gluten Escape longer than that. I think Andy was the one who came up with the idea.  He talked to Garrett, who was a counselor at Gilmont, who talked to Pepa who was busy founding a dynamic new ministry called the Kindom Community.  And here we are.

The whole camp was alive with rainbow flags. They were over door frames.  Ribbons on nametags.  Stickers on t-shirts.  Necklaces.  The kids were allowed to express themselves and be proud in ways they couldn't at school or sometimes even with their family.  Barriers fell almost immediately.  What was interesting to me is that I expected to see romances blossom but it was the same atmosphere of siblings that I saw at every other camp I've been to. We became a family.

It took only a few minutes for me to give up on trying to figure out whether a kid was gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or whatever. It sounds silly to say the obvious: you can't tell by looking and it's a waste of time to worry about it.  The bottom line is that it's just really none of my business. 

There were a few adjustments to make for this camp:

Nametags.  Every morning we made a new nametag as a means of providing the space for campers and staff to explore facets of their identity.  I had to think this one over a bit.  I was used to getting a sturdy name tag when I checked in and using that same name tag all week long.  However, at this camp every morning, everybody made a new nametag. And if it was the same one every day, fine.  If it was the name you were born with, fine.  But if you wanted people to call you something different, they could look at your name tag and know what that name would be. I decided I like this idea.  Camp is the perfect place to test the water for a new identity:  you are somewhere that nobody knows you from your school or hometown, not even your family. You can be whoever you want to be. 

I found comfort that, upon reflection, I realized I really like my name.  I always have. I can't think what I would change it to. But when parents name a baby they have no idea, actually, who they will end up with.  They make a ballpark guess based on anatomy and sometimes, things work out.  However, we are learning this isn't a black and white world and sometimes Dick and Jane names just don't work. And it's not just about anatomy.  Someone soft and gentle could end up with a really loud and boisterous name.  It really is the respectful thing to let a person decide what to call themselves based on who THEY decide they are. Maybe this should be a rite of passage at adolescence, a naming ceremony--kind of like a bar mitzvah. 

Pronouns were the subject of conversation with the staff one meal.  We realized pronouns really have no use in society and will probably fall from use someday.  Pronouns only get in the way.  The older staff, gave up on trying to figure out who was straight and who was gay or trans and even with the pronouns on nametags we found it easier to use "they" and "them". I can't always read nametags without my glasses. Pronouns are really kind of Boomer.

Then we had the bathrooms.  That part was the easiest:

Bathrooms were a lot more relaxed, too.  And a lot simplier.  Every single bathroom was gender neutral. You were expected to go into a stall to do your business in private.  Just like you were instructed to change clothes in private. We only had to tell them this once.  It was pretty obvious. Easy.

Security was tight for this camp. We couldn't take photos of the kids' faces.  This is a standard rule when working with children.  I was used to this rule.  They even have this rule for Alzheimer's patients; I know not to photograph anyone who is not able to consent on their own behalf for permission to publish their picture.   But, in this case, the camp added the request to not geo-tag the location of where we were.  You are seeing this blog only after the camp is over when the rule has been lifted. To my knowledge nobody had made any threats to disrupt the camp but we were in a small town in a red state in a weird time and sometimes the devil just gets bored and goes looking for mischief.  We were the first LGBT camp for kids in the state of Texas.  Nobody had any idea what to expect. 

And, thanks be to God, nothing did happen.  Not so much as a raindrop nor an out-of-sorts honeybee showed up at the camp. I'm not even sure the nurse had to open up a box of Band-Aids.  The raindrop would have been welcomed.  It was hot as blue blazes.

We had about 60 kids and 35 staff.  The staff consisted of counselors, a nurse, a media guy, a mental health specialist, a sensory processing specialist (more on that later), two wise elders, and several pastors sprinkled into the mix by virtue of being parents to the kids or youth sponsors. 

Wise elders?  That's a job title?  That's what they decided to call me and my buddy, Armel, for lack of any actual skills we possessed.  It's certainly better than "Old Farts."  

Armel Crocker is my brother in Christ who used to go to church with me, who went through the commissioned pastor program with me, my study partner and now co-pastor at two different churches in North Texas. When I say that we co-pastor churches together I need to explain a little.  

Most co-pastors are married to each other. And that makes things easy.  However, Armel and I don't even live in the same town anymore. This makes co-pastoring a lot harder. We can't call across the room, "which page was that quote on?"  And the two churches we pastor have two different orders of worship on Sundays thirty minutes apart. In preaching circles this is called a "double-header." We alternate weeks because each of us has another church on the other Sundays as well.  So, we consult each other almost daily during the week to keep up with what scriptures and hymns we're using as well as which congregant has what ailment. Fortunately, Armel has a master's degree in Gerontology to go with his big heart. 

However, Armel is anything but an old fart.  He is a survivor of the San Francisco AIDS Epidemic of the 1980's. I am forever in awe that he is alive. He owned a gay bar and witnessed the worst the disease brought to gay men.  When I asked him how many friends he lost he told me it was too many to count. He has a unique story to tell. He had a front road seat to LGBT history.  So, Garrett invited him to talk to the kids about his time in San Francisco and a little bit about history and the AIDS outbreak.   

Possessing no special talents other than a big heart, I ended up declaring myself in charge of hugs and announced to the kids that if anybody needed a hug I gave really good hugs and would be happy to oblige them.  A little while later a kid came up to me and asked me for a "Non-Homophobic Grandma Hug."  It took me a while to think through what she had asked me because the phrase is a real mouthful.  We had a great hug.  Then the next kid behind her said the same thing.  And by this time it had sunk in.  A Non-Homophobic Grandma Hug.  These kids weren't getting hugs from their very own grandmothers??!!  Their Grandmothers!!  There are More Than One Grandmother out there (actually three because there was a third kid) who are not hugging their granddaughters because the kid is gay.  I have no words. 

But I have hugs. 

Now:  The Actual "Free Mom Hugs" woman; the woman who started the Free Mom Hugs movement is Sara Cunningham and she came to talk to the kids.   She started in 2015 by going to an LGBT pride festival wearing a homemade button that read "Free Mom Hugs."   She just stood around and held out her arms just like I was doing.  It's so simple.  And she got the same reaction I did.  Her first hug was from a woman whose mother hadn't hugged her in the four years since she had come out as gay.  

Sara passed out all sorts of bling to the kids.  And hugs. 

If you want to join her movement, here's the website:  Free Mom Hugs   Visit them later.  Stay here for now.  I have lots more to say. 

Pepa was very clear that she would be treading a fine line with faith.  She made it clear that she understood that some of the kids came from families where faith in a divine being was not part of the family life.  And she addressed it with respect.  But she was also plain that we would be talking a little bit about the bible because she was a pastor and that was her background.  The first day she used the story of Abram and Sarai as examples of people who changed their names.  Kindom Community has a new intern with a Methodist background and the next day she   told the kids one of the best adaptations of the Joseph story that I've ever heard where Joseph has the cool rainbow coat that his brothers are jealous of and his brother Reuben is his ally who takes up for him and prevents the other brothers from killing him. 

There was no escaping the cross, however.  It was everywhere we looked at camp.

They had all sorts of resources for the kids that camp doesn't usually have:  haircuts.  Billed as "gender affirming" haircuts, I found out that they did check with the parents to make sure we wouldn't have any upset parents if someone had their long locks turned into a buzz cut at camp.  And I was actually expecting that to happen but it didn't.  Nobody really changed their appearance too much.  But the two hairdressers who came to cut hair did a really good job. 

They are from the Abstra(kt) Studio in Frisco where they have a Gender Free Haircut Club.

The Gender Free Haircut Club is part of The Dress Code Project, an initiative to provide spaces for lbgtqia+ to find places in their context where they can shop and be safe.... and Abstra(kt) Studio was the first salon in Texas to be part of that program. 

Their stylists, Sarah and Brian, visited us at kin•dom camp 2022. 

Sarah Mendoza (who was one of our stylists at camp) is an official ambassador for the Gender Free Haircut Club. 

To learn more, visit https://www.abstrakt.studio/genderfreehaircutclub

They have my eternal respect for a couple of reasons:  they worked outside in the heat all day so they didn't have to worry about leaving hair on the floor inside the building and because the couple of times I walked past while they worked and overheard snippets of conversations I was reminded of the two great confidants of culture everywhere:  bartenders and hairdressers.  

They had a room set up for kids with sensory processing difficulties. And, now that I've seen it and how successful it's been I have a feeling the camp might make this kind of room a permanent feature.  It added just the right touch and was indispensable for the kids who used it.  My granddaughter has been telling me for the last five years or so that she has a sensory processing disorder that she diagnosed herself during college taking elementary ed classes. We knew she had problems with loud noises and crowds all her life.  The coming attractions for movies were hard for her because they are loud.  We went to a big youth event once and we ended up in the girls' restroom in a stall trying to find a quiet spot where she could find relief from the noise and crowd. So, in that respect, I did have some experience with kids with sensory processing problems.  I wasn't an expert but I had respect for their difficulties.  


And it never clicked until I saw the room. To explain it in simple terms, the sensory room is set up to be a calm place when the world gets too loud and too busy.  And doesn't everybody feel this way once in a while?  For some kids this happens more often than for others.  ...the lights were turned off and it was lit by small LED twinkle lights. They had things of varied texture to touch, each in a separate box: beans, sand, beads..... green plants in the window.  pillows to sit on on the floor.  ....paper to draw on... 

I volunteered to help out in the room and sometimes there could be as many as six kids in the room or sometimes only one.  They seldom talked to each other, whispering if they did; preferring to stay quiet. 

And I'm convinced the room helped.  Because when it came time to get loud, just knowing the room was there, those kids were able to be in the thick of the loud.  And, boy did it get loud on the last night.

Yeah.  OK, Now, I'll tell you about the drag queens. 

 Yes, they really did a drag show.  At church camp.  And nobody died.  And it was the most tasteful, sweet...gentle....loving.......two drag queens and one drag king I've ever seen.

The kids loved it.  Especially when they had a Question and Answer session and gave their questions serious answers:  What is their preferred pronouns?  She and Her when in drag and He and His out of drag.  Is drag their main living or do they have other jobs?  One works as an airline attendant and the other one supports herself in entertainment.  She does voice work in video games.  So the kids asked her which games and which characters, then they asked her to voice the character, and then they went nuts.  Apparently that character is well-known in video games.  We had a Rock Star Drag Queen here.

AND the show ended with one of them telling the kids a bedtime story.  The book was "My Shadow is Pink"  by Scott Stuart. I am not kidding. 

And the message was:  don't let anybody else tell you who you are.  Be yourself. Be who God created you to be. 

Because who are we to doubt the Creator of the Universe, who made the moon and flung the stars into the heavens? 

As I was walking to my room on the last night with my hands still burning from all the clapping, I looked up into the pines and could see the waning quarter moon shining through the trees.  It startled me to hold the two opposites of the artificial world of drag queens with their glitter and sequins and thick makeup in stark contrast to the pine needles and deep sky of the unknown.  How does God hold both at the same time? I was more convinced than ever of God's amazing power and love because I had seen it shine through the rainbow colors of the banners with the promise of God's love.  

God has promised not to destroy the world ever again and gave us a rainbow to remind us of that promise.  We are worth salvaging even when a small minority of us are cruel and hateful.  God came down in person and now I've seen the rainbow banner hanging on an empty cross.  God is here.  Here to stay.  I've seen the Holy Spirit moving all over Camp Gilmont hugging and holding.  

Also, I can't leave without a plug for the group responsible for all of this:  Kindom Community.  Pepa is their founding pastor.  It's a multi-denominational, queer-led, spiritual community that is fully affirming.  Led by the Holy Spirit, the vision of kin.dom community is to be an example of what is possible when

  • all people in the margins are seen, heard and nurtured
  • all people are safe bring their whole selves
  • all questions are celebrated as much as answers
  • inclusion, integration and love are the norm
You can find out more at their website:  www.kindomcommunity

They usually have an invigorating discussion once a month online as well as a treasure trove of recorded videos of past conversations. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

I am a Stuart

.........a continuation of my Scotland stories.  The last one before I resume life in the colonies.

So, it turns out I have a castle.  This would not have been as big of a deal except that Crysta Brantley, (nee Gillespie),  had been dropping stories that when she has visited Scotland in the past she likes to go to the castle of HER ancestors, the Gillespies.  She will make a day out of it and walk through the grounds and talk to the current owners of the Gillespie castle.  They even have a cat on the premises, and she takes a picture of the cat and enjoys feeling at home.  The faint old family ties are really something, however tenuous.  

As we drove to St Andrews I spotted this door with a carving over it that said "Gillespie" so took a picture for Crysta.  So, maybe her people were all over Scotland.  I didn't see any Stuart doors.  But, then we had a whole castle. So, there's that.....

When the group extended our Scotland trip to Edinburgh and then added a trip to see the Stirling Castle I didn't think too much of it.  I wasn't up on my history at that point.  But then they told us this had been the home of the Royal Stuart kings and I came to attention.  These were MY people!  During the long walk up the hill to the entrance I kept poking people in the ribs and nodding my head toward our destination:  "This is MY castle we're headed to."  I was quite puffed with pride.  

It was a cool castle, too.  I especially enjoyed the big room where they still have events. It has two huge fireplaces facing each other with room for five-foot logs.  Santa Claus has a choice of which chiminey he wants to use at this place. I bought a ton of Stuart souvenirs. Our plaid is the classic Royal Stuart. Some may choose to spell it Stewart but not my family.  

This is what a fireplace big enough for five-foot logs looks like.  It had a twin on the opposite wall.

And here I am with my new Stuart stole/scarf......

My own genetic roots have never been proven beyond my grandfather's boasts that were usually followed by an uncle or two taking me aside to remind me that I shouldn't believe a thing Granddaddy said.  However, if you look at a photo of JEB Stuart in Civil War history he bears a startling resemblance to all the men in our family.  I'm just saying that I would be willing to take a DNA test.

But being part of a family goes beyond DNA as the world will discover soon enough if we haven't already. Between sperm donations and adoptions and divorces, people are increasingly raised by parents who are not biologically kin to them and we are discovering how totally cool that is. Being a good parent has nothing to do with biology.  Being part of a family is a whole mindset.  However, I was brought into the mindset of being a Stuart early and clearly as a child. In my case it's in my DNA, whether I wanted it or not. We can discuss the tiny little schizophrenia gene later. 

I think I was around 10 years old or so when being a Stuart was first impressed upon me at a family gathering.   I must have been driving everyone nuts, which is saying a lot because whenever my father and his two brothers got the families together it was very gentile and controlled chaos.  I learned at an early age how to engage in two conversations at once, sometimes three.  Everyone all talks at once to everyone else when the Stuarts get together.  All the time. We are not shy people. Raging extroverts might be the best term.

But on this one occasion, Uncle John handed me a piece of paper and a pencil and told me to go write down this sentence 25 times:  "I am a Stuart."  To this day I'm not sure why he did this.  Maybe it was busy work to get me focused and out of the way.  Or maybe I had said something that caused him to think I needed reminding of who I am. But it made enough of an impression on me that I still remember it.

I am a Stuart.

Castles are built on hills, not down in hollows.  Walking up the hill that day in Scotland I felt a feeling of real pride, thinking, "I am a Stuart."  But more than the five-foot fireplace I remembered the reputation my own father had, and my Grandfather, the relatives I knew.  I knew they were men of integrity, who kept their word and who treated people fairly.  That is what goes into my understanding of what it means to be a Stuart.

I received word on my way home from the trip that my oldest cousin died while I was in Scotland, possibly while I was visiting our castle.  John Thomas Stuart III was one of those guys that people looked up to, not because he lived on a hill but because he had good values. He kept his word.  He rose to the top of his profession not just because he was smart but because he was dependable and he cared about people. The last note he wrote to me before I left on my trip was to encourage me and to remind me that I was special.

The world needs more men like Cousin Johnny.  There is a huge vacancy in that department right now. 

Maybe you will fill the void. Of all the things we get to choose in our lives, one of them is to choose who we are and how we act.  You get to set your own values and live them out.  You get to decide who you are.  Maybe you are a Stuart, too.    

Monday, June 20, 2022


One night near the end of our stay on Iona I met three angels.  

I had already met one of them a couple of nights before.  He was a tall very dark black man who reminded me of someone who might be a soccer player.  He had closely cut hair around his neckline and ears until the crown of his head where it was short dreadlocks that stood up.  He had an athletic build.  When I found out he was from Nigeria I asked if he was married.  And when he said he was I asked if it was true what I had heard that Nigerian women are very strong-willed women.  His response was immediate and animated that Yes! indeed they are strong women!  We had a pleasant conversation but I really don't remember much more about it.  He was here to study for a while. 

Then the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas happened.  And then the shooting at the hospital in Oklahoma happened.  And our group was far from home. So we just did what you do.  We went to church that night.

And after worship I saw my Nigerian angel.  He was standing with a very elegant dark- skinned woman so I asked him if this was his wife.  They both looked a little embarrassed and quickly told me no, that she is another student there like he is.  She is from London.  Then they were joined by another woman, a freckled faced redhead who is from Scotland.  And the three of us talked. They all appeared to be in their thirties. There was an earnestness and a humility about them that made them fun to talk to. But I love talking to young people, anyway. 

And I poured out all of my frustrations over the shootings in the United States and our inability to stop them.  I told them that my granddaughter teaches second grade.  I told them my daughter works in a hospital at the registration desk and she is the first person anyone entering the building sees.  I was feeling so vulnerable. 

They just listened to me.  

In the bible angels do all the talking but here on earth they listen a lot more.

I don't remember what they said to me. I just remember being able to get a lot of my concerns expressed. I know we talked for a while. And I think I finally think I said something to the effect that I guessed it would be alright in the end.  

I remember leaving with the understanding that everything would eventually be alright.  I might not live to see a solution.  It's highly likely that I won't live to see solutions to these problems.  But I left the Abbey that night with the assurance in my heart that it will come.

I remembered the Celtic liturgy performed every evening before worship when the children brought in the world globe, a tea towel, a candle and some stones.  The stones are to remind us of the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem in the last week of his life when everyone was shouting Hosannah and the authorities admonished him to make them stop.  His answer was "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

I realized the stones in the Iona Abbey building had heard every single hymn sung in that place, every prayer uttered, every word of scripture read aloud.  It had soaked in every laugh burst out, every cry stiffled, every whisper muffled and the floor had soaked up tears that no one else saw.  For years they have sat in place and waited.  

They sit and wait, these stones. They can be patient.  They have no place to go. And now I wonder if the stones might speak for us all. I take comfort thinking the stones might speak for us if we fail.

Martin Luther King, Jr  put these sentiments into memorable words in a speech in a cathedral similar to the Abbey, instead it was the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968.         

"...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

St. Columba landed on the island of Iona in 563 to bring Christ to a place who had never heard of him. And the changes in the world since that time are countless. If we can't grasp the spiritual growth we can look at the practical growth.  The Abbey started with candles.  Now they have not only electric lighting but a sound system that has a control board that runs off an iPad, none of which would have occurred to Columba.  Indeed, I couldn't have imagined the wireless technology of the iPad myself 10 years ago.   

The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better.  Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on.  When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it.  Sometimes we actually take action.  

All I had to do was consider the people I was spending my time with.  Twenty-seven people who intentionally had come to slow their lives down for a week to listen to God in the sounds and sights of Scotland, to listen for what God had to say to them personally that they could incorporate into their own lives and share with others, to "take the good news of Christ to the world."  Colomba's work was still going on. 

We weren't on a coracle, the rudderless boat that Colomba sailed from Ireland to Iona on through rough seas that had drowned countless men before him but we didn't have luxurious accommodations, either.  We were a jolly group that was willing to cram themselves elbow to elbow on a bus to get where we needed to go.  It was an energetic group who loved hiking for the most part but who loved God even more.  Who were considerate of each other and prayed for each other. Most were church professionals for whom prayer comes easily, who can default to including God in any conversation.

My own travel was a hodge-podge of time spent with a group in Scotland and the week before spent alone in London. I had worried about the time alone for a couple of reasons: as I've mentioned, I get lost easily and I'm such an extrovert I worried that I would get lonely.  Both worries were needless.  I was fine on both counts.  

While I was in London I spent a lot of time walking around and saw a lot of people.  London is one of the most racially mixed cities I've ever seen.  I saw Muslim women in traditional hijabs.  I saw Asians, Africans, Dutch and Eastern Indians.  

And they had a couple of posters up in the Underground promoting Anti-hate and Diversity.  

There was one poster on the tube that I still haven't figured out why it was up there.  A long poem. In case you can't read the last stanza, I'll type it out here for you:

There is power in our difference,
We are ready and we are strong,
The future is ours to shape, but....
Which side of history will you be on?

Here's a sign they had set up as you walked to the next train in the station.

Then.....I ran across this poster outside on a fence.

In addition to being diverse, London seems to be comfortable in its diversity.

The church Beaven and I belonged to for over thirty years recently installed a new pastor on Pentecost Sunday and I watched a recording of the service.  This congregation is one of the most racially diverse in America.  The rough breakdown would be a third Anglo, a third African (Cameroon and Nigerian mix) and a third Pakistani. There are really more Anglo and a lot less Pakistani but I'm not sure of the actual statistics.  The service used about five languages because they are trying to draw in a Spanish crowd from the free breakfast they serve on Saturdays and they are building some friendships there.  

And here's the deal:  it works.  Everybody is having fun.  There may be some tension--One of my friends complained that she can't understand the Pakistani pastor when he prays. And I say she doesn't need to.  "It's a prayer.  He's not talking to you.  He's talking to God and God speaks Urdu."   But the good outweighs the bad and people want it to succeed so it works.  

The Presbyterian Church started meeting for their bi-annual General Assembly this week.  I watched the opening worship service and noticed that all of the leaders were black.  ALL of them.  The co-moderator.  The preacher. The Stated Clerk.  I'm not sure anybody planned it.  It just worked out that way. Other leaders are white.  The majority of the Presbyterian church as a whole is white.  But, yeah, today we were led by a minority that historically has not been allowed to have a leadership role in America. 

Once you understand that our Creator God created the entire world and all the people who live on it and loves each one of us equally you will get it. Everyone on the planet, equally.   Take a minute to dwell on this part.  It's important.  No rush.  Take your time.

Here I'll even put up a picture of the earth for you to look at while you think. 

All of us.  The large and tall.  Small and quiet.  Pale and dark skinned.  Brilliant and dull.  Even the people we disagree with. And that is the hard one so take a little extra time on that one.  The people we can't understand because they speak a different language than we do. God understands what they are saying. And God loves us all. 

A lot of people get into the habit of thinking that the whole world is only what they experience because that's all they see.  Sometimes that's all they ever see because they can't get outside their neighborhood.  Maybe they live in a remote location and it takes a long time to physically leave town.  Or sometimes because they choose not to because they have everything they need within reach.   I feel sorry for people who don't have the resources to travel but I'm mystified by people who could get out and explore the world but for some reason chose not to. The only reasons I can come up with is that they aren't curious or they are afraid or  they have a physical reason they can't travel well.  And for any of those reasons I feel bad for them.  They are missing something so enriching. 

There are ways to work around the inability to escape your neighborhood:  reading is a really good one for enlarging your world. And, now with the internet, it is actually easier to embrace the larger world than it is to escape it.  You just have to be deliberate about what you are choosing. I would encourage you to avoid fearmongers.

The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better.  Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. And we notice anomalies.  The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on.  When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it.  

The bottom line is that you get to pick your community.  I was recently in a worship service at a conservative church.  It was packed.  I'll bet there were 600 people there.  But I looked around and saw that there wasn't a person of color in the room.  And all the men wore white shirts and ties.  Not even a blue shirt.  All were dressed exactly the same.  It occurred to me that this church would probably die within a generation without some sort of radical change. 

Governor Ann Richards is famous for saying that she wanted a government that looked like the people she governed.  So she appointed a diverse group of well-qualified people to important positions.  I went to Ann Richard's funeral and what I saw was people of every skin tone and manner of dress you could imagine. 

My advice to anyone who wants to live a well-rounded life is to look around you and pick a community who does not look like you.  Get an assortment pack.  This is the future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Abbey

This picture was taken on our first day there when it was windy and cloudy but that was our only cloudy day.  The rest of our time on Iona was absolutely glorious.  We couldn't have asked for better weather.  Scotland is far enough north that when the year turned to summer the days had almost no night.  I never saw a dark sky nor stars.  I reallly missed stars because we were so remote I can only imagine how many we would have been able to see.  But we did have glorious wind!  In the evening it got quite cold from the wind.  I usually had to wear my coat and a couple of time resorted to a wool hat and gloves.  Yes, gloves.

We stayed in the Columba Hotel which had the perfect location.  If we turned right out of the front it was only a short walk up the hill to the Abbey and by turning left and going downhill we passed the Nunnery, a lot of gift shops, the Community Center where we met every evening and eventually the sea where the ferries docked.  

The view out of the hotel was magnificent. Every view on the island was almost the same:  blue sky, green grass, tranquil livestock: either sheep or Highland cows ("Hairy Coos")

This Highland Cow hung around outside the hotel window enough we ended up giving him a name although I'm afraid I've already forgotten it.  Lauren went out to pet it at one point and it ran away, scaring up a flock of geese in the process.

The Abbey was the dominant building on the island of Iona.  We worshipped in it twice a day and I have to say it was one of the highlights of my life to have this opportunity. 

It was built over a period of time.  St Columba landed on the island in 563 so that's how old the Christian presence is here.  The first Abbey was built in wood, then a stone building from the 1200-1400's, then abandoned, then enlarged, abandoned for a while then rebuilt, and restored and upgraded as needed even as recently as a couple of years ago when it got a new sound system. Anytime I tried to pin down exact dates my head started to spin.  Suffice to say that it is old. It is older than St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.  It is more simple in design but still a very sturdy building made of huge stones.  

The Iona experience begins well before entering the building.  Most days are windy and the Holy Spirit of God whips up the hill to greet you as you walk.  The Abbey stands alone and you have time to prepare yourself if you are walking alone in thought with the wind as your companion.  We were a group of 27 people who had all come to experience God in this place.  We attended both morning and evening services the Iona community provided. Our schedule was busy enough and the attendees were used to a busy schedule so that when we transitioned it was a fast transition.   

Now, with two weeks at home and time to reflect I realize what a great opportunity we missed by not taking at least one of these walks to insist each person walk to the Abbey in silence and alone.  Preparation for worship in this Abbey should really begin with the glorious walk up the hill, bathing in the wind, washing your eyes with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky.

I walk slow naturally.  But my nature is to walk slowly.  Even if I had longer legs and were a younger person I think I would be a slow walker.  Henry Thoreau adapted this walk as he went through his woods and called it "sauntering."  It's not a new word and I think comes from French meaning "sans terre" ..........something about the earth.  I really don't know.  I could have just made the whole thing up.  

But you certainly notice more when you take it slow and look around.  I noticed the birds who had built nests in the brick walls we passed on the way to our community talks in the evening.  The stones were arranged with wide gaps and the birds had built their nests and the babies had hatched so mothers were flying in and out the wide gaps.  I spotted one mother flying up to the wall and stopping to look me over and see if I was a safe human before she entered her access hole with a fat worm in her mouth.  Once she took too long and I saw a hungry mouth emerge from the hole too impatient to wait any longer for its worm.

There were flowers everywhere. and the grass was green. And the sky was always so blue.  We may have been the only visitors to get a full week of perfect weather because I've heard stories of the exact opposite:  a week of solid rain.

When you get to the grounds there are three massive Celtic crosses.  These are the original crosses that all the Celtic crosses are based on.  I never noticed the different designs but St Martin's is from the 8th century.  Only the base of St. Matthew's cross survives. And my favorite, St John's, is a concrete replica of the original which is only fragments pieced together and kept in a museum.  I learned that the circle of a Celtic cross, usually thought to represent the Roman sun god or Christ's halo, also has a practical use:  it reinforces the cross arms and keeps them from breaking off.  Those Celts were the practical sort.  My kind of people. I'm guess they had a lot of experience with crosses.  

The building is mostly stone.  The first thing you encounter inside is a huge baptismal font about three or four feet square made of stove.  I always used it to steady myself as I dealt with the few steps down into the Sanctuary.  there was a narrow center aisle leading to a choir section with wooden seats like the ones I've seen in Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral.  This must have been a standard feature of churches built in that time.  I've only seen this section as a tourist but now I had the chance to actually sit in them.  I never counted how many times we worshipped in the Abbey but there were rows of wooden chairs in rows all over the room and the choir was my favorite place to sit.  The Chancel had a massive stone table.  

Stone, stone, stone...........this made for awesome sound.  Deep sound bouncing all around me. The liturgy of the Iona community was on another level and most in our group bought a copy of their worship book.  I wish I had brought home a copy of their hymnal, as well.  It's possible it wasn't sold in the book store because I think I would have bought a copy.  Their music was a mixture of classic as well as simple children's tunes ("Who put the colors in the rainbow?") but made majestic sung in this place. Their hymnal had a collection of classic and new hymns and a lot of John Bell's songs.  When I looked up www.iona.org.uk  I noticed that he is one of the primary leaders.  Suffice to say the music was great.  

Here is my treat for you:  I took a video before worship.  Each service started out the same:  with an announcement that we could take pictures before and after but not during worship (when all the great music was sung) but I get did this one clip of a flute.  The sounds bouncing off the stone was just awesome.  This video was taken when I was positioned in the choir about half-way.  You can see the front door as the camera moves to the left.  The Chancel is to the right.  

If you look closely you will see the ferns growing in the stones of the wall.  Built in floral arrangements.  In this picture they are preparing for communion that evening.  It was the only time they used the table.  We took communion twice.  This first time they had so many people they ran out of wine.  Well, yeah, they ran out of wine and folks had to drink the non-alcoholic clear juice.  So, technically they didn't run out. 

The worship was so much more than words and music.  What you can't see is the community.  There were children in worship who I assume were the children of people who have come to live and work for a year or so to study.  Each service started by lighting all the candles in the Sanctuary (the Abbey was, after all, built before electric lighting even though it has it now) but also the children have their own part in the liturgy by bringing in:

a globe to signify the earth
a tea towel to signify the community that works together
a bible to signify where love and justice come together
some stones to remind us that if we keep silent they will shout aloud
a lit candle to show that we are glad to be in God's house

Now, of course, I didn't remember all of this.  But it's in the worship book that everybody in our group bought copies of to take home.  

The important part for you to remember here is how vital the children are to this community.  They had speaking roles in worship.  This is a vibrant community.  

I went behind one of the panels forming a wall of sorts to find a display of some of their work.  

Here is one of about six or seven bowls--they had them for AIDS, Breast Cancer, Peace, LGBT, Trans and I think there was another one that I can't remember.  Each bowl had a jar collecting coins (remembering the pound comes in a coin) for each cause.

Community.  Iona was more than an old collection of stone.  It was alive and loving.  And that's what I will talk about next.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Facing Down the Devil

I've been back from my trip to Iona a little over a week now and I haven't posted anything.  I keep telling myself that I'm still processing the trip.  There is a lot bouncing around in my soul, nothing serious, part being tired from the drudge of travel and part trying to organize my thoughts.  And I suspect part may be a little bit of the devil in there trying to keep me from doing what I need to do to send out the good news of the Kingdom of God. 

Because I got a great picture of the Kingdom of God in Iona. 

I still can't get over my great fortune to see this magnificent abbey and Celtic cross in person.  Our group of 27 worshipped God inside the 12th century abbey twice a day.  There were not just this one but four of the classic Celtic crosses in front of the abbey, each one different.  I was able to see them and compare and now have a preference:  the St John's cross seen here. In my next post I'll show you the inside of the abbey because I know that's what you've come to see.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful from the start, let me just confess that I did not have the dramatic thunderbolt God experience I was hoping for.  I guess after all the buildup I shouldn't be surprised to have a bit of a let-down at a merely ordinary fantastic trip.  And I wonder if the devil was behind it.  

I know she was all up in my face from the beginning of the trip. Now I know we usually refer to the devil in the male gender but in one instance it was female. This is the age of gender equality, after all.  

I left my house with my one overhead suitcase and small backpack for under the seat, satisfied that I had packed perfectly. There would be no lost luggage. It was just me in the car and I was going to leave the car at the airport.  Traveling solo, I felt free as a bird immediately.  I knew just exactly what this trip was for: I was headed out to go have a personal experience with the Holy Spirit, and I was focused as all get out and feeling my Jesus.

I got about two hundred yards from the house and had reached full driving speed, which is around 60 miles an hour on these roads when the German Shepherd from the neighbor's house ran directly in front of the car.  She came so fast there was no way I could have avoided her except that at the last possible instant she pivoted and veered off maybe one inch from my bumper. I never even had time to react or slam on my brakes.

In that instant a thousand thoughts flew through my mind:  If I had hit her, it would have been a hard impact because I had already picked up enough speed to do a lot of damage, if not kill the dog.  I would have to stop and go to the neighbor's door to talk to them.  I knew this was the family dog and they had three little girls and they would have been heart broken. I knew these neighbors just enough to know they aren't friendly and in the two years since they had moved in have rebuffed every effort I have made to welcome them to the neighborhood.  They barely answer when I greet them on the road. So, killing their dog would have been a whole new classification of  awkward, not to mention leaving a dented and bloody mess all over the car I intended to leave in the Texas sun for two weeks at the airport parking lot. I'm pretty sure the cops would have tagged my bumper, "We want to talk to this lady as soon as she lands."  And, just as bad, the whole thing would make me late for my flight.  I could only imagine the complications.   

It's amazing how many individual thoughts can fly through your mind so quickly. 

And here's the thing that has stayed with me for the past two week's since it happened:  I swear that dog grinned at me.  I could see her muscles move along her front legs as she changed direction to pivot away from my car but she looked straight into my eyes and laughed.  It was a game to her.  I felt a connection with her and she was telling me that the game was on: I should prepare myself.  This would be only the first of many obstacles on my trip and I should get used to them.  

Yeah.  Thanks for the warning, dog. I could see the devil in her laugh. A challenge.

She was right.  The trip threw obstacles my way.  The obstacles were mostly physical, although some were mental. One flight was cancelled and the airline graciously put me in a car to drive me clear across London to a different airport to catch the only other flight available with only 15 minutes to spare.  On foot, I enjoyed the intellectual exercises of traveling alone without the tiniest sense of direction.  I used the Google map feature on my phone a lot then once when my phone died I realized the bus stops usually had a rudimentary map on them that would suffice. But I think this was also stressful enough that added to my chronic foot pain.  My feet don't generally hurt unless I'm under stress. 

 I'm home in one piece, which is more than I can say for Joanna whose foot came home broken and for the two guys who came home late due to an unfortunate case of Covid. 

Travel ain't for sissies.

But I did have a few insights.  Come with me as I explore what God had to say.