Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just Walk on By

"My Comedy Channel? Fox News
My News Source? Comedy Central"

Now there’s a bumper sticker you can hang your hat on!

On a Sunday morning walk under sunny skies, taking in the light air of a New Mexico January day, I was particularly pleased to be out in the weather. Earlier I had watched CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, while I worked at finishing a spreadsheet for getting my 2011 taxes done. A feeling of accomplishment, indeed. Like on most Sundays, the primary aim of CBS’s morning offering is to inform and to entertain, today being no exception—a segment on a Chinese factory workers who produce Apple products, a report on a relatively new but very successful American fashion designer, a review of Martin Scorsese's latest film, along with an interview with him and a companion piece on automatons, an interview with Bradd Pitt, and so on. My favorite part of this program, going back to the days of Charles Kuralt, is the nature video that closes the program. Today it was the winter coast of Cape Cod.

So when I started my morning walk, the groundwork for the special spring in my step had been laid. I felt good about my progress toward finishing my part of getting taxes done, and I had a good taste in my mouth from a couple of cups of satisfying morning coffee and from delightful and informative television programming. What a welcome break from the daily news and the political drama of the 2012 presidential election. Anyone looking for a hearty dose of mean spiritedness has to go no farther than a computer keyboard or a television.

I make no secret of my political persuasion, but frankly, I generally avoid conversations with folks from the other side of the aisle. I’ll leave it to the politicians, and when the time comes, I will vote my conscience. As my mother used to attribute to her father, “only a fool argues about religion and politics.” Maybe someone well known said that first. Over the years I’ve wasted some of my own time arguing such things, but could it be that in my late 60s I’ve actually understood the merits of just letting it pass by?

I don’t invite attention and possible vandalism to my automobile by plastering it with announcements of one preference or another, although I love seeing bumper stickers that cause me to chuckle, laugh out loud, nod my head in agreement, or even say to a traveling companion, “I like that”. I like that, indeed. If I care enough about something, someone’s going to hear from me. In the past, when I was a bit more vocal about things, a friend might say, “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel about [fill in the blank]. These days, not so much. At times, that feels somehow incomplete, but more times, it simply feels like peace. And so it is.

Just Walk on By--Albuquerque, NM (January 28, 2012)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, January 28, 2012

" cannot grow in the great art form, the integration of action and contemplation, without 1) a strong tolerance for ambiguity; 2) an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety; and 3) a willingness to not know and not even need to know. This is how you allow and encounter mystery. All else is mere religion."

From Fr. Richard Rohr, A Lever And a Place to Stand:
The Contemplative Stance, the Active Prayer, p. x (foreword)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“We have a wisdom to offer to those who have reached maturity . . . a hidden wisdom that the masters of this age did not know, or they would never have crucified!” (from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2:6-8)

“...when we come to enlightened consciousness...we have learned to include, accept, and forgive the negatives, the problems, and the contradictions that were revealed in the middle of life to be much more complex than we first imagined. As Paul says, we learn to stop “crucifying”—ourselves and others, which is precisely “resurrection”!

(Borrowed from the meditation of Fr. Richard Rohr, the Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico, January 25, 2012)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8 NIV)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Forces Bearing on Our Lives

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19, NIV)

Recently our neighborhood was offered to watch as the home and property of someone described as a hoarder was emptied over a several-day period. I’m unclear on the truth of the circumstances. A relative newcomer to the neighborhood, I had walked by this property many times on walks both with and without purpose, and I had puzzled over the mounds that had taken ownership of the front porch and what could be seen of the backyard through a slatted wooden gate, and for awhile a wreck of a vehicle that sat derelict-looking and filled with stuff in front of the house. The yard was simply a dirt blanket of dried up sprigs of grass and a few scruffy trees.

I speculated on who must live in such circumstances, imagining that it might be some old person who couldn’t take care of the property and who had apparently had a long life of keeping everything, including the trash, which had spilled out onto the front porch. The story I’ve now heard is that the woman was probably in her 50s, perhaps 60s. She had lived in the house with her sister, who had died within the last year. Supposedly the parents had lived in this house as well until their deaths. I don’t know whether the family owned, or had at one time owned, the house. Toward the end of the year, my friend Tom was told by a man who seemed to be in a position of authority relating to the property that the woman living there had been evicted and that she had been given 48 hours to remove whatever she wanted. Several weeks prior to that, Tom had encountered the woman outside the house removing what appeared to be trash from her stalled van to the front porch. He asked about buying an old garden glider visible through the gate of the back yard fence sitting in the midst of the debris and chaos. She wasn’t interested in selling the glider—”nothing is for sale,” she said emphatically.

So ensued the emptying, allegedly with the help of people from the woman’s church, again hearsay. Furniture spanning a period of 60 years was hauled to the front yard, along with dishes and plastic tubs of fabric and shoes and 1950s-vintage Samsonite luggage and more, oh so much more. I watched as women wearing masks to avoid breathing in the matter let loose from disturbing all of this accumulation worked, bagging some of the discards into large black plastic bags and packing things that were apparently to be kept. Mounds and mounds filled the front yard, and dumpster after dumpster was filled and hauled away. That’s what came out the front door.

On d-day, trailers hitched to pickup trucks were loaded with the furniture and with many tools from the garage, supposedly being carried to a Christian resale shop. Late on the day of the deadline, Tom and I encountered a couple of the men working. I asked what was happening, and then I asked if the woman who had been evicted was going to benefit from the sale of the things that were being salvaged from her home. The reply seemed a little vague and left me a little puzzled and concerned—as if any of this were my business. Shortly before, and again hearsay, a woman from the neighborhood who had been “helping” told me that the evicted resident had returned late in the day and that she had been upset and crying. She added that after 5 p.m. the stuff in the front yard was available for the picking. Misguided information, I’m thinking. Nonetheless, Tom and I went to look. It was dusk and things were barely distinguishable. While we scanned the piles of debris, the neighborhood woman who had been “helping” and her husband backed up to the front porch to load up old firewood into a small pickup. “They told us we could have the wood,” she offered to the two of us, as if either of us had any rights concerning the property. We were scavenging, just like she and her husband. It seemed a little pathetic at the time, and even more so as I thought about it over the next few days.

The backyard of the property remains cluttered with stuff, and from the sidewalk you can see into a small outbuilding filled to overflowing. Apparently, the garage is laden, waiting to be emptied. Meanwhile, plumbers and heating and cooling workers have been at work. All the scrub growth in front and along the side of the house has been removed. Yet much remains to be done, as the property is readied for whatever comes next.

The lives lived in this house over the last several decades most likely will remain a mystery to me. I suppose I will get to see a property brought back to where it surely must have been early in its existence. What I’ll never know is the what and the why that led to this seemingly sad end. Who knows. Hopefully the woman is somewhere safe and much happier, having finally escaped the clutches of habit, even if not by her choice. Though she might not have chosen to get there, the forces that bear on our lives met her and life changed dramatically for her. Perhaps this is what it takes for any of us, regardless of how and what we accumulate and hold close to us, regardless of the presence or absence of some pathology.

Forces Bearing on Our Lives— Albuquerque, New Mexico (January 22, 2012)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Day in Paradise

Albuquerque Zoo, January 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Orange Truck

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-20 (NIV)

In my neighborhood here in Albuquerque an old faded-orange Ford pickup parked in front of a brick 1960s city ranch house sits decorated with bumper stickers— many intended to convey the sense of humor of someone, presumably the person who has driven this truck in recent years. “I closed Wolski’s” a lower east side tavern in Milwaukee, “No Sniveling” from a different tavern in Aspen, and many more that provoke a chuckle and a smile. For the holidays this truck was strung with lights. It's a delightful sight, that faded orange truck.

A couple of the bumper stickers that catch my attention shift focus to social matters. “Against abortion? Don’t have one.” “The new Right is fundamentally wrong.” Now there’s a couple of bumper stickers you can hang your hat on. As we witness all of the moralizing and posturing that has characterized the political landscape as the GOP lays its groundwork for the 2012 election, we are reminded once again of the role of fear and hate in our lives. The rhetoric—debates, grand standing from the stump, ads funded by the super PACs—gets meaner at each bend in the road.

We seem to find pleasure and strength in gaining advantage while our foot is firmly planted on the necks of those we target—the disenfranchised of one stripe or another, or those who are simply different than us. How bewildering it is to see grown men in their 60s pandering to the meanness that inhabits the hearts of those whose votes they seek. Differences in fiscal ideology aside, that which fills the hearts of many so-called conservative Christians surely leaves the man called Jesus heart sickened. “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Mark 7:7 (NIV) Here’s a mantra for you—“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”. Not found in scripture. How accommodating—this sentiment can be purchased on the Internet as a bumper sticker, decal or t-shirt—how scary.

Not one for calling attention to myself by the logo I might sport on a t-shirt or bumper sticker I might plaster to my automobile, here’s one that always gets my nod. “God Bless the Whole World No Exceptions.” It’s available on for $1.25. What a bargain. What a way to set an intention, warm the hearts of others, and even bring a smile to someone’s face. It might even forestall someone who otherwise would choose to key your car for the offensive, hate-filled thinking you choose to wrap your heart and arms around and display on your automobile for all the world to see.

Orange Truck— Albuquerque, New Mexico (January 11, 2012)
R. Harold Hollis

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Turn Around

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Routinely the CNN website polls readers for their opinions on one thing or another. Sometimes I look at the poll topic and think, who cares. Other times I vote without questioning my own opinion about the topic. And then, there are the times I just want to see what others think because I’m not sure what I think. Now think about that. It’s an opinion poll—anonymous and not scientific. Odd that I would sit at my laptop and give even a second thought to expressing my gut level response to the question. The current poll asks, “How do you feel about 2011 ending?” Choices: I’ll miss it and Good riddance. No surprise— my response fell with the majority. Eight-five percent of the current vote of 111,837 voiced “good riddance”. I don’t recall having thought in the past at year's end that I was just thankful to be moving on—to have the opportunity to move on. No doubt, I have.

What occurs to me on this, the first day of the year 2012, is that I could be seizing the day like it matters. Reflecting on the last several years, ones that I’ve spent most of my time in the so-called land of enchantment, I’m marking time too much of the time. I’ve gotten a little complacent, which has expressed itself as disengagement that is frankly unsatisfying. As the saying goes, there’s no time like the present time—to make a change—and I was reminded of that this morning as I read the daily meditation from a site I started subscribing to back in the summer. For today, the first day of a new year, Richard Rohr (a Franciscan and ordained Roman Catholic priest) titles his meditation, “Resolve to Live Authentically in 2012”. He goes on to describe this authentic living as “turning around”. “As the old Shakers used to sing and dance, ‘Turn, turn wherever you may be, and the turning never stops.’ To be authentically human is to be willing to turn—and to be a saint is to have turned/changed many times.”

A few years ago, the priest leading the Bible study group in a small Episcopal mission I attended in rural east Texas defined repentance as turning around. Odd that I didn’t recall having heard that definition before. Turn around, change directions, change your heart, do good, do better. For some time now I have turned away from the notion of original sin and the baggage of sin and repentance that characterize traditional religious teachings and practice. This has nothing to do with understanding at the deepest level that humans do bad things. We make selfish, self-serving choices. Sometimes these choices are expressed violently and destructively. Look around, and then turn around. Pick up a newspaper or news magazine, turn on cable television, open the web browser on your computer. Our ugly choices are on display. Unfortunately, our goodness doesn’t get nearly as much press as we deserve. Look around, and then turn around.

I’m in a bit of a slump when it comes to religion these days. If I hadn’t realized and understood that my slump places me in the majority of those who have determined that church is somehow sadly irrelevant and that it is not meeting our spiritual needs, I would be more worried. If I hadn’t realized and understood that acts of compassion and generosity happen routinely and bountifully outside the confines of the church, and that church can sometimes be a place where compassion and generosity are hard to recognize, I would be more worried. For the season of giving and sharing just ended, the modest acts of generosity that called me had little to do with sensing that I had fallen short of my responsibility to others. They were very much about remembering the blessings I have and wanting, indeed needing, to shine even the tiniest light on the way for others. Give thanks for the blessing of blessing someone else. Look around, and then turn around.

The image at the top of Fr. Richard’s meditation this morning was the labyrinth at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. I was reminded of the sense of well being and healing I have felt many times when I have walked the labyrinth in one place or another. I was reminded that I haven’t sought this particular source of healing in a long time. As on all days, today I feel a need to heal and a need to grow. In some ways 2011 was a tough year for me, but the challenges I faced pale in comparison to what I see around me. Today, I get the opportunity to turn around, turn around.

January 1, 2012— Albuquerque, New Mexico
R. Harold Hollis