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Clouds of Despair, Relentless Hope

On my drive back to church this evening, the news on the radio was full of december 009despair. Deaths of unarmed African American men.  Other Grand Jury decisions like this one highlighted below.

Many faith traditions, including my own in the Christian Church, call us all to be “light”. Lights of hope. Lights for justice and peace. Light held amidst the despair. Oftentimes I don’t know how to be such a light in challenging times. Wondering, pondering, what is helpful, what is not. Listening for the new way that might open to true transformative change. The kind of change that needs to begin in me.

december 2014 028It reminds me all the more in seasons like this how much I depend on a community I can pray with, listen with, share my truth with, struggle with together. Communities that can help me discern a way. How grateful I am for church and community leaders who speak to us in challenging, clear ways.  Who help me pay attention, listen, discern and respond.

We are called to be Light. And as we approach the second week of Advent, may the lights of Hope and Peace shine especially bright in our lives, our country, our broken communities this very night. May we be part of sharing, being, bearing the Light that shines out on this dark night, the light that the darkness cannot overcome.

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate,
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome,
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn.
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet Earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn –
Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

december 2014 024

UCC leaders condemn New York grand jury decision, call for examination of judicial system

UCC leaders condemn New York grand jury decision, call for examination of judicial system

December 4, 2014

A Staten Island grand jury has decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute a white New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man led to the man’s death, a ruling issued Wednesday, Dec. 4, that drew widespread condemnation and sparked a wave of protests.

The group deliberated for less than a day before deciding not to press charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

In a joint statement, the United Church of Christ National Officers and the Conference Minister of the New York Conference of the UCC express outrage over the grand jury decision and call for a national examination of our judicial system and other institutions “spiritually perverted by racism.” Here is the text of that statement.

december 015

It is an inexplicable travesty that the same words used to express our dismay and anger over last week’s Ferguson verdict are now applicable, verbatim, in New York.

We affirm the anger and grief of all people of good conscience who are committed to justice and peace. We stand in solidarity with all African Americans who continue to live in fear of the ignorant, innate, institutional racism that threatens the lives of young black men, women and children every day. These are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our precious children — our family in Christ.

We pray for nonviolent demonstration and official response to the outrage that is now being experienced and conveyed. Violence is not the path to justice — it is the root of all injustice. Silence in the face of injustice is not an option. We therefore cry out with a loud voice for justice in our land plagued with racism.

We are in agreement with Mayor de Blasio’s statement: “Anyone who believes in the values of this country should feel called to action right now.” As leaders of the United Church of Christ in New York and throughout the nation, we stand in solidarity with those bearing witness through prayer, protest, and vigil. We call for a national examination of our judicial system and other institutions spiritually perverted by racism.

Even under clouds of despair, we affirm the relentless hope that is ours as a people of faith. May this hope empower us to speak boldly and loudly to shed light on the systematic racism that daily threatens our Beloved Community.

We cannot move forward faithfully until there is honest reform to systems that institutionalize and legitimize racist practices.

The Rev. David Gaewski
New York UCC Conference Minister

The Rev. Geoffrey Black
UCC General Minister and President

The Rev. Linda Jaramillo
UCC Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
UCC Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries

The Rev. James Moos
UCC Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries

december 2014 044

Requiem

9:00, Monday morning.  I’d just thought through my schedule for theoctober 2014 107 day ahead, when my cell phone rang.

I didn’t understand.  It was Vicky, Sandy’s niece… Bob had died unexpectedly…last night…a heart attack.  They wanted to let me know….

Who?…My mind running through my roller deck of all the Bob’s I knew.

“Yes, of course, of course…but, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch all this.  Who died?”

“Bob.  Bob Scandrett…..”

No…. No….

“Yes, I’m here…I’ll be right over.”

december 2014 063On my drive to Bob and Sandy’s house I do what pastors do – or at least this pastor does to comfort himself, and contained my grief by composing the words I wanted to say at Bob’s memorial service.

But all the details – all the specifics of his life, all of our conversations and connections these past 20 years faded to memory.  I couldn’t’ remember anything.  All I could remember, all I knew, was “Bob was my friend.”

We’d met 20 years ago when Bob was serving as the Music Director here at University Congregational United Church of Christ.  He’d recently retired from a distinguished career in music, teaching and conducting in colleges and choirs in Bellingham and Seattle.  He’d been at University Church for the past 5 years when I arrived in 1994.  Choir members who’d been singing with Bob for years, had followed him here to our church Chancel Choir in order to continue to sing with him.  Bob had that kind of gift.

Bob would serve another 13 years here at our church before he retired. dec 2014 010 He and Sandy led something like 5 overseas choir trips, and together they helped knit together a close choir community. Bob and I worked together closely and got to know each other well, especially during the last years here, when I became the staff liaison to our worship and music ministries.

Over the years, Bob taught me a lot of things they never teach you – or at least didn’t teach me – in seminary.

Opened to me the gifts of music in our denomination’s new hymnal – “You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn”.  Bob showed me that indeed there was more to sing than “O God Our Help in Ages Past”, week after week, as I might have otherwise chosen.

december 2014 064Taught me about how liturgy works.  The ebb and flow of liturgy and how a worship service at its best flows like a grand piece of music – gathering, swelling, falling, rising, descending, leading us forth.

Taught me about words and texts and their importance.  About how music at its best brings texts to life.

Yes, I learned a lot from Bob over the years.  But more than anything, Bob taught me about living with transitions and change.  The possibility of change and the grief that is change.  The potential and mystery of change.

During the 18 years of his ministry here, our worship life, grew and december 2014 059changed.  Bob was a classical musician and most at home in the grand forms of the best of Western music.  The world of violins and violas, organs and chamber orchestras.  His choirs performed all those great works by German and other composers with long names I didn’t know how to spell.  And it was with Bob that our styles of Sunday morning music began to expand beyond “traditional” church music.  I will always remember that Easter Sunday, when the processional didn’t begin with the traditional trumpet’s call but with a roll on a drum set and an electric guitar wailing the opening refrain of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  Bob taught me that indeed you can teach an “old dog” new tricks.  And sometimes, I felt much more like the “old dog” who had a lot to learn about the possibility of change from Bob.

december 2014 068I walked with Bob through the time of his retirement.   A season that taught me about the grief that is change in a way that I’d never fully appreciated.  It was a challenging time and how could it not be?  For how do you put down a beloved profession and all the connections that have come with it, a career in music that has been your lifeblood since you were a teenager playing the organ each Sunday morning?

How does a choir let go of a beloved music director that has sung you through some of major transitions in your life and the lives of your friends?  Opened through his particular gifts and skills a connection to the mystery and possibility of music that you never experienced before? These impossibly difficult transitions that do not come easily.

But the putting down of one way of life, over time, led to the picking up 1769of another.  In his mid-80’s now, Bob returned to his original love of the piano and in hour upon hour of practice, reached a new level of proficiency.  He went out on the “performance circle” again – playing piano duets with a former student in retirement homes throughout the city.  Bob showed me that through the challenge that is change and transition, a new way of life can indeed open – a way to continue to use, perfect, and share his gifts.

And a surprising gift of this new season in Bob and Sandy’s life was the gift of friendship.   Over the past 7 years since Bob and Sandy left University Church, we’d stayed in touch.  Staying in touch became an opening to making new connections.  Bob’s and my relationship grew from that particular relationship of colleagues into a treasured friendship.

boats and birthday 002Bob and Sandy and I shared many meals together over the past years.    We’d found something in our connection that was a gift to us all.  We’d had lunch together a few weeks ago and I was to have lunch with them both this coming Friday.  I had a “book report” I needed to share with Bob about the young adult novel, The Golden Compass which he had so enjoyed – and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of.

Sandy always prepared a beautiful lunch.  We all talked together a september 2014 006while, sipping sparkling cider.  And then Sandy often left to visit a friend or take a walk, and made a space for Bob and I to talk some more.  We found together an ease of talking about things that are important.  A trusted space to ask questions, and to listen.  To talk together through the changes and transitions of life, the beauty, challenge and mystery of it all.  To talk of that final transition which we all must walk – our own deaths.  The wonder of what it means, and the mystery of where we all go.  What makes life worth living in the here and now.

1768I don’t know much about music, and I still don’t.  So many things that Bob knew that I knew but little about.  But I am grateful beyond words that I do know something more about the possibilities of friendship from what I have shared with Bob.  The surprise and gift and grace of a friend 37 years my senior.   The gift of a friend to sit at table with time after time over a simple and beautiful lunch, a plate of fruit, a cookie, and cup of sparkling cider.  To share the gift of conversation and care.

Bob died in the fullness of life.  Yes, practicing and perfecting challenging pieces of music.  Yes, reading, thinking, out mowing the lawn in fact, just the day before he died.  Yes, lived and died in the fullness of life. And yes, at almost 89 years old, his birthday in just a few weeks.

I told Bob on many a visit that if I have the privilege of getting to be an “old man” myself someday, I’d hope to be like him – engaged so deeply in the ongoing work and wonder, growth and possibility that is change and transition.  That is life.

By the time I arrived at Bob and Sandy’s door on Monday morning, I’d camera pictures 2014 2348stopped composing my one sentence eulogy in my head.  Able to arrive to comfort, and grieve the gift of the life of a treasured friend.  To sit on the couch, with Sandy, and weep.

Sometime soon, we will all gather.   So many particular connections, stories, history, relationships that a grand choir of singers have shared with Bob and Sandy.  Together, we will be ministered to by the music Bob selected for such a time, Faure’s Requiem.  Seems such a fitting tribute to a man who has led so many in song through so many passages in life.  And yes, shown this particular pastor, something more of the possibility, grief, potential and mystery that is change.  Gifted me with the amazing grace of walking the road with one I have been blessed to call  not only my former colleague, but my treasured friend.

The Decision

I’ve been struggling all day with what to say and how to say it. late november 2014 002

Not wanting to say nothing for that silence speaks louder than anything. But the Ferguson grand jury decision yesterday has left me speechless. Speechless in grieving.  Speechless in the not knowing of how to say some words that can add some different words, some helpful words, in  the helpless spin of fear, anger, blame, rage… and yet more violence.  In the hopelessness of “Will anything ever change?”

I was in my Tuesday morning painting class when we heard the crowd from Garfield High School marching down University Ave.  A floppy white banner, “Ferguson” leading the way.  Young kids with hands high in the air, chanting words we couldn’t understand, as we stood in the windows watching.

The police escort, blue lights flashing, clearing the road.

late november 2014 003It was all here.  The protesters.  The police.  All of it, the whole drama, passing outside the window.

On the way down the stairs to empty out my bottle of water, brown and muddy red, I said to the middle-age African American man going down the stairs with me, “It’s terrible about the decision today.”

“Yah it is”, he said, “and I’m not surprised.”

“Yes, that’s the worst isn’t it?  Not being surprised”, I replied.

“It will bring out all the crazies”, he went on,  “the anarchists and people who want to protest anything, throw things at everything.”

“Yes, it will”, I responded.

“And yes, we will move on and forget soon enough…”, but I didn’t say that.

But something in me can’t.

Can’t just move on, say nothing.  There is something here in this decision that sticks.  Sticks me right back in the place of grief, of feeling it all.november 2014 017

At a workshop on “Undoing Racism” last week, we were told that the place we need to begin, the place where we can begin to do some work that might really matter – is in feeling the grief.

Maybe it’s because I had lunch with a former cop who is a good man and shares many stories of the good and courageous women and men with whom he has served.

Maybe it’s because I had dinner Tuesday night with my friend who is a woman of color and who puts down her spoon half way through the meal and asks me if my having her as a friend affects how I think about the Ferguson verdict.

Of course it does.  Of course it all does.  All of my connections and interconnections do.

november 2014 060And in the midst of all the personal and media spin of fear, hurt, rage, and outrage I come back to that most difficult place to stand –  in the in-between of hearing the stories, holding the grief.  Before more words, silence and grief.

Today, I read this piece below by Safiya Jafari Simmons and it puts me in that place right there in the middle of it all and the complexity of it all that time after time feels like the place I am personally called to stand – as a witness.

Her words help me find my way to the words I can share today.  To the place of standing there speechless in the middle of the pain, and paying homage to it.  Thank you Safiya.

Peter Ilgenfritz

November 26, 2014

 

Why I Feel Torn About the Ferguson Verdict

By Safiya Jafari Simmons

updated 2:12 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014

Editor’s note: Safiya Jafari Simmons is CEO and chief strategist of SJS Consulting, a Washington public relations consulting firm. She is communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus, the Center for Policing Equity and other clientele. She has been a press secretary to U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland. She lives in Washington with her husband, a police officer, and their three children. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — I dreaded the Ferguson grand jury response for weeks. Not simply because I knew it was likely to lead to more heartache and unrest for the black community — my community — but because it would most certainly dredge up deep internal conflict for me.

I’m raising a black boy to be a black man. So the grand jury’s decision seems to double down on a pattern in this country of killing black boys without care or consequences.

But I’m raising my black son with my black husband, who also happens to be a police officer in Washington. And being the wife of an officer means I can’t support either camp fully — neither the outraged black community nor the justice system sworn to protect us.

When my husband first donned his uniform nearly 10 years ago, I told him clearly and directly: “You do whatever you must to come home to me.” Nearly a decade and three children later, he’s heeded that order, navigating the dangers that only populate my nightmares — just to make sure he comes home.

The irony isn’t lost on me. I know what the research says. I know that this country often denies agency to African-American boys, and that they’re often seen as a threat just by virtue of their skin color.

But in moments such as this, it’s the denial of agency to law enforcement officers that angers me.

All cops aren’t bad. All cops aren’t racist. Many cops have spouses and children. They have loved ones and friends and pets. They leave all this every day to place themselves in harm’s way for people they never meet.

They love their communities. They want the law of the land to work as it’s supposed to. They don’t like to see children hurt, people taken advantage of. They are people doing a job that few are brave enough to take on.

So when I heard St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCullough describe how Michael Brown allegedly lunged at Officer Darren Wilson in his police car, I knew it was likely that my husband could have responded the same way: shoot to disable the threat. Do what he must to make it home to us at night.

This is part of my reality. It’s how I process these incidents now.

But it was also my reality when, as we sped home to relieve our sitter one night, my husband and I were pulled over by a police officer on a dark, wooded parkway in Virginia. And I watched my husband, an officer for nearly 10 years, immediately turn off the car, turn on all the interior lights, place the keys on the dashboard and put his hands on the steering wheel.

He turned to me, calmly and coolly, and said, “Get our insurance card out. Don’t make any sudden moves, and leave your hands on your lap.”

I froze. I teared up, and fear welled up as a lump in my throat. Because that night, before he was an officer, my husband was a black man. Like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

These conflicting parts of my reality are why the South Carolina state trooper shooting earlier this year isn’t, to me, a black-and-white case of excessive force used by white law enforcement on an unarmed black teenager. And it’s why I’ve not waded into the debate waters on Michael Brown either.

Because I need my husband and his colleagues to make it home. Every night.

So I can’t “like” many of the stirring posts I scroll through on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. I can’t post my own rants of outrage at the failings of our justice system, nor can I post any statement that might be interpreted as in support of the Ferguson officer. Not because I can’t connect to them or feel them on some level, but because it’s complicated.

And complicated in a way that no one seems to respect or acknowledge or care to understand.

november 2014 028

 

“Complicated” is the place where I can actually begin to see.

Beyond my quick rushes to hateful words – or no words.

To putting into some larger holding all this sorrow.  All this longing.  All this fear.  All this prayer.

Recovery Plan

In returning and rest you shall be saved…november 2014 061

                                              (Isaiah 30:15)

 26 days after the race, my sister sent me the article on “Post-Marathon Recovery”.

For the past 26 days that was exactly what I was “supposed” to be doing – recovering. A day for every mile I’d run.

But when someone asked me the week before my race about my “recovery plan”, I asked , “What’s that?” The little running chart that I’d been using to track my training for the past six months ended on October 12: “Marathon: 26.2 miles”. That was it. Over. Done.

Recovery? I hadn’t “recovered” after the half marathon I ran last March. Instead, in my post-race runner’s high, I’d called my sister and invited her to run a marathon with me in the fall.  My running and training continued.

november 2014 058No, “returning and rest” have not been my way of “salvation”. Instead, I’ve been more into the way of “striving and labor” that clears the forest.  Working hard, going on, keeping on.

A wise friend told me years ago that every journey can be divided into thirds: the planning, preparation and anticipation for the journey, the journey itself, and the return home.

It’s been that last part, the return, that I’ve struggled with.

It’s exciting to prepare. To follow the little running chart that led me week after week into running further than I’d ever run before.

Exciting to pack the suitcase, get on the plane, all nerves and excitement.

Exciting to run a race like did – so enjoying every minute of it. So amazed at the miracle that I was actually running the race.

Finishing.  Celebrating.  Picture taking.  The huge, delicious lunch.  Sharing the stories.  The plane ride home….

And now what?

Put the suitcase on the bed. Fill the laundry basket. Do the laundry.

Tell the stories over and over and over again to everyone who will listen. Be glad that there are one or two people who really want to hear november 2014 059more than the 2 minute sound-bites but who really want to hear the whole long and glorious story.

And grieve.

No one told me about this.

After the stories got worn out of me. After I’d done the laundry. After I at took off the “Chicago Marathon 2014 tee shirt”, stopped carrying the heavy finisher’s medal around with me everywhere, and hung it over the knob to my bedroom door.

Now what?

I missed the little running chart that told me what to do each day.

I missed the hard work, the labor of preparation.

I missed the purposefulness of preparing for something that had been so beyond anything I thought I could ever do.

I missed the conversations with my sister about getting ready for the race.

november 2014 057I wanted to stay on the journey – in that wondrous time of preparation and doing – and I can’t.

I tried running a few days after the race – just 3 miles. 3 miles?!  That’s nothing after the preparation for running a marathon and yet after 2 and a half miles, my whole body cried out for me to stop, to rest.

Running had been my prayer, my meditation, my way through my worry, my fear, my sadness these past months.   My way into release and joy and strength.  What to do now when I can’t “move” these feelings through me?

Terry calls it “PPD”: “Post-play depression.” He’s an actor and a few weeks ago the play he had been starring in, finished it’s run.

The more positive and/or intense the play, the harder the reentry is likely to be.  This is partly because a play has a built-in community, often a fairly intimate and intense one, and when the play ends the community is lost as well.  So there’s nothing “wrong,” except that I’m out of a job, have no project to lose myself in, and I’ve lost my community as well.  That’s all.

“That’s all” sounds like a lot to me.november 2014 055

Talking with Terry reminds me of so many conversations I’ve had with parishioners after surgery. So ready to get out, get going and instead, no, this last part of the journey – this time of “returning and rest” – the recovery. That slow, slow work. And yes, often the grief that accompanies it – the isolation, and loss of connections, the recognition now, of all that you have gone through and the recognition of the preciousness, the fragility of your own life.

“Recovery” for Terry “involves the normal things to pull out of a funk . . .

Moving my body is good, preferably outdoors and preferably in the sunlight.  Getting out of the house is good; getting out of the house to see friends is better. Reconnecting with my family.  Making music. If I don’t feel like I quite have the energy, then it’s probably a good thing for me to do. TV doesn’t help. Getting lost in a good novel does. Going out to a movie is ok . . . probably more because it’s out of the house than because it’s a movie. Finding a new project is best of all . . .

Evette and Bob have run many marathons. 25 for Evette. 40 for Bob. They too have learned what helps recovery… a hot tub or jacuzzi, getting a massage, drinking lots of water, eating fruit, soup, bread, swimming. Evette tells me,

Laughing is also really neat and so one time I watched funny movies.  That worked wonders because laughing raises endorphins.  I like being with people who are laughing.  Casual walking also feels good.  Breathing normally again is great.

Ruth, coming through an intense season of deep sorrow and joy in her family’s life (its’ funny and so true how joy can be so exhausting as well), is recovering in tears and in gratitude. In noticing the gifts of what is here: “I have tea and play music with friends when I can.  I send daily “Thoughts” to a group of over 50 friends via email which keeps me reading and listening for the best I can find to share.  I read a lot, meet with a group of friends every Thursday night for prayer and sharing…”

And keeping at it. “I am grateful that through persistence and determination I can play my violin even though when I started again in June, I was like a beginner.  I couldn’t make my hands do the right things and I had a lot of pain after playing for a short time. But I wasn’t ready to give up.”

What I hear from Terry, Evette, Bob and Ruth is kindness. Being kind to your body, your spirit and soul after the events in life that have taken a lot from you.

I want to learn about being kinder to this body of myself.november 2014 064

I’ve learned that I should talk to more people like Terry, Ruth, Evette and Bob and ask for advice.

Erin, who also ran a marathon last month, like me, didn’t really think about an “after marathon” recovery plan because she was so focused on just getting through the marathon itself.

For the first week or so after the race I just wanted to rest and NOT HAVE to get myself up and out on a run. That said, I am now bumming that I don’t have that push. I have ran twice since the race (over a month ago). And occasionally I find myself saying “now what?” I know there are many other challenges and things to fight for. I guess it is up to me to determine that next challenge?

november 2014 063That day, when I saw the finish line coming into view, I started to cry. So much struggle. So much hard work. Such preparation and discipline. Such keeping on keeping on when I wanted to give up. It was about the preparation for this race. It was everything about my life these past years. And amidst the tears I felt before me, somewhere out there, beyond the finishing line, an opening into the new.

I know what it is to fall back into how I have been. To fall back into more pushing and striving. And yes, there is a place and time in life for that.

But it’s now, post-race, that I am learning to discover something else on the other side of the finish line.

Where all the laboring leads. Where I can open into the healing, recovery, kindness.  Step out into a deeper awareness, appreciation, care and joy moment by moment. Out into breath, being, sun, air – where I am going today.  To allow myself to fall into the hands of a catching, kindly grace.

november 2014 056

 

 

 

 

Election Day

Today is Election Day and of all the candidates and initiatives on the Washington State       october 2014 176Ballot one issue stands out for me this year.  If passed, Initiative Measure 594 “would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers…”

Washington is the only state this election cycle with a state-wide initiative on what critics call “gun control” and proponents, “gun violence prevention”.   It’s been seventeen years since Washington tried to pass anything to do with guns.  That attempt failed.

Initiative 594 stands out for me because of the rash of school shootings this year – about one every three weeks.  The latest, two weeks ago, in the community of Marysville, north of Seattle.

And it stands out, because of Jeff.   I’ve never seen Jeff as particularly active on political issues.  In fact, when I asked him about political involvement he told me about doorbelling for George McGovern.

Jeff’s a CPA, and was our church treasurer for more than a decade.  I’m used to hearing from him about our financial bottom line and questions on who to follow up with on pledge calls.  Now my in-box gets filled with emails he sends about rallies and marches and reminders to announce and sign this and that related to guns and Initiative 594.

It’s true that the issue of gun violence hasn’t caught fire in our congregation like other commitments our congregation has and is passionate about.  Jeff is kind of a one man band on the issue of guns around here.

I imagine many of us are supportive of the initiative, but to take on gun violence seems hopeless and impossible to change.  Better to concentrate on what might actually be possible.  I mean, who really thinks we can have a serious national conversation on gun violence when we don’t seem to be able to talk about much of anything?

Jeff on ATBut Jeff has been stepping into the impossible for many years.  At 17, he hiked the Appalachian Trail alone, and held the record for years as the youngest solo end-to-end hiker.

He went on to become the twelfth person to climb the hundred highest peaks in Washington State, and has gone with his wife, Virginia, trekking three times in Nepal.

Several years ago we went skiing together.  I told him I was a true intermediate skier.  But I also knew that if I was going skiing with Jeff, I wouldn’t be skiing my favorite blue dot trails on the mountain, but skiing the black diamond and double black diamond trails. I skied down cliffs that day I could never have imagined skiing and wouldn’t have, had it not been for Jeff.

“Why do you push the edges, Jeff?  What draws you to what others would seem as impossible?” I asked him the other day.

“I love the physical exertion.  Going where I haven’t gone before.”  Traits that serve a IMG_9064political activist well.

And when it comes to his advocacy for gun violence prevention, two specific reasons.  “I do it for Kellen.  And now Kellen and Bailey, my two grandchildren, three and one.”

“I don’t want this to be a story about me”, Jeff says.  “It’s not about me.  It is about the fact that we can have a different future.”

“If it’s about anyone it’s about people like Tom Wales, Cheryl Stumbo, Gabby Giffords – people who have personally suffered from gun violence.”

photo (10)And grandkids like Kellen and Bailey who inspire him to become a political activist and do something he hasn’t done before.

No, this story is not about you, Jeff.  The piles of information you send and leave on my desk about gun violence is sobering and helpful information.  But finally, I have to say, it’s your commitment to step into and work for what others would think impossible, that inspires me.  Gives me hope that change might actually be possible and inspires me to work for it.

“You know, going uphill is easier for me.  Going down hurts my knees”, he confesses.

Thanks Jeff for being an up-hill hiker.   I’m not sure how long it’s going to take, or if we’ll ever get there.  But it sure feels good to know there’s someone blazing the trail for the possibility of change.

 

 

26.2

Do you not know that in a race
all the runners compete,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
(1 Corinthians 9:24)

chicago 042

We were
as little children
again
giddy
that day
before the race
giggling
laughing
delighting
the wonder
and terror
of “How can we be!”
to “Yes we are!”

chicago 053
doing it
seeing it through
making it here
the possibility
that we too
might become more
once again
than the small spaces
confinements
fears
we have made of our lives
from what we have known
to all that might be
such birthing
releasing
dying to
letting go
it does not come easily
demands much
costs much
as mile after mile
month after month
we have tracked the chart
telling us what to do

chicago 094
showing us what it takes
we have become believers
early morning runs
long hot
Sunday afternoons
stretching
each week
mile after mile
beyond
what we had ever done

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and on the day of the race
sun and warmth rising
consistent
clear
steady
strong
we run
mile
after mile
free
so free
keep on
forward
ever
forward

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mile
after mile
doing what we
doubted
not collapsing
not falling in
but rising
beyond
fear
regret
the terror
of change
upright and tall
to all it has taken
to bring us here
past pain
self-doubt
through “I cannot do this”
to “We are doing this!”

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forward
forward
ever forward
and on
this possibility
this opening
sticky with sweat
the washing of tears
the years
the faces
the encouragement
and cheering crowds
the discipline and grace
to where all begins
and begins again
this discovery
this opening
these tears
this joy

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such happiness
such utter joy
here in this place
beyond the limit
of all we dreamed
to where we become
as little children
again
dancing
in giddiness
in all that is possible

Peter Ilgenfritz
October 16, 2014

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The Race

1022This weekend I’m running the Chicago Marathon with my sister. It’s been a long and mostly wonderful six months of preparation.  I’ve run in three countries, twelve states these past months.  Up rock and snow to the top of the highest waterfall in Europe,  along sandy beaches in Hawaii and dirt roads through groves of aspen in northern Saskatchewan.  Run with my sister, my nephew, my brother-in-law, my niece, my friend and running trainer, Larry, at the Y.  But most often, alone.  Long morning runs along Lake Washington, around Seward Park.  Winding my way through the arboretum to work.  So quiet, peaceful, but for the slow beating of feet and breathing, breathing, breathing.  It’s been my meditation. Following a little chart each day that told me what to do – run, rest, run, run, run, rest.  Following a little chart that has enabled me to go further than I ever have gone in my life.
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It began, this impossible idea to run a marathon, on March 27 when I ran the Mercer Island Half Marathon with a team raising money for the University District YMCA.  I’d never run so far, 13.2 miles and months before doubted I could.  But when I finished the race, I called my sister and said, “Nan, what do you think?  What about trying a marathon?”   On Sunday, we’ll join 45,000 others running further than we ever have before.
You know, it really has nothing to do with running.  But everything to do with what helps us move there – out, beyond the edge, of all we thought possible.
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The Race
It had nothing to do with the race

and it was all about the race
and a race that is taking me there –
past everything
old and cramped
stifled and tired
standing in the way
of my life
Followed the running chart each day –summer 2014 625

how far to run and fast
followed it religiously
like prayer, like passion –
never ran so far, so fast –
it kept me together.
Nervous that morning,
nervous, excited and silent
the community center
full of runners
lying
on the floor,
stretching,
breathing,
staring,
focusing, fidgeting –
a slight drizzle and cold –
the promise of sun
and afternoon’s warmth.
“5 minutes to race time” – 
Found my place in the crowd of
elbows, shoulders and knees,
tense with anticipation,
squeezed forward,
ever forward,
finding my place
and a little beyond –
where hope and desire lives.
“15 seconds” –summer 1014 206
stretched my arms
up and out
high overhead,
gathering everything
I had and could be –
I would do my best.
Breathed.
Breathed again.
The gun shot –
the pack moves forward,
a tangle –
elbows, shoulders and knees
begins to move
slowly,
ever so slowly,
out and forward,
across the starting line –
and we are off –
steady,
steady,
breathing,
beating
arms swinging,
further forward,
forward,
mile after milesummer 2014 353
1-2-3
1-2-3
sorting ourselves out to
find our place
angled
curving roads,
breathing,
beating
forward,
ever forward,
green woods,
the call of morning birds
4-5-6
4-5-6
past everything
everything
I had ever lost
past the grey haired
red jacketed old man
cycling the wrong way down
the other side of the road
past heartache,
and memory’s ache
past everything
that would slow me down
drop my pace,
collapse,
give up,491
turn back
kept on
past “I can’t do this” and
“why am I doing this”,
4-5-6
4-5-6
past everything
that had stood in the way
past fear and
doubt
past everything
to everything
I was running towards –
couples and young families
gathered at edges of driveways,
cheering as we passed –
forward
forward
breathing,
beating
forward,
ever forward
7-8-9
7-8-9
kept on
past cars
cutting
our path
the woman with her dog waiting impatiently to pass
nothing in our way
10-11-12
10-11-12430
up
up
up
a long
steady hill
breathing
beating
1-2-3
1-2-3
forward
ever forward
past slowing runner after
slowing runner
I kept on
past the old grey haired man
out front
had him in my sights
passed him,
passed everything
10-11-12
10-11-12
a quarter mile left
the old man passes me,
a stride ahead,
another,
poor man –
“Further!”,  I cried –224
sprinted ahead
past everything
I needed to leave
to everything I need to find
past hope and rage,
hard work and tears
the weight of memory
and fear of everything
past small and diminished
past simile and metaphor
where there is only sweat and feet
the pounding of feet
beating
breathing
forward
ever forward
the finish line ahead
forward
forward
the crowd cheering
cheering us on
to everything we’ve got
everything we could be
and kept on going
Peter Ilgenfritz
March 27, 2014
going deeper 011

Jazz

summer 2014 621            I.

Across the round, white-clothed table,
half-emptied coffee cups, rumpled
napkins and scattered silverware,
the dark, sad-eyed young woman sits,
at the close of the breakfast buffet.

Across the table
I tender a hello,
circle the corners
of conversation.

Lean in,
curious,
there’s more here than,
I’m from New Jersey…

You look up,
pause,
breathe,
I’m a child of refugees….
my parents fled…
the Civil War…
Sri Lanka….
that’s why I look like I do…
it’s where I’m from…

Yes, I was the only Indian girl at school
in the small German town
where I grew up….
Sure, they treated me different,
but I didn’t care….

I don’t believe you didn’t care
how they treated you –
wonder why you lie about that still –
as I wonder what keeps you attending
yet another boring meeting with your husband,
as you will later this morning,
and why you visit war museums each afternoon…
wonder how you can really think
the French Quarter
might not be worth it…
the improbable and fantastic
just outside the door –
a block away
another world –
so far from this windowless
chandeliered room,
the breakfast buffet
that never changes,
day after day.

But before I can speak,
jump in, respond,
with all I do not know –
you tell me how
the depression
sits deep
and low
making a flightless bird
of one so young and beautiful
and how no one understands
no one
no one
no one

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II.

The bleached blond young rail of a man,
wearing only a pair of frayed khaki shorts,
climbs from the riverbank early each morning
wiping sleep from his eyes
walking barefoot,
tenderly, down the walk
as I run by.

Later, when I run back
he’s there,
sitting on the wall,
down by the levee,
picking his foot.

I don’t know how
to approach you,
don’t know how
to say –
I’ve noticed you each morning…
as I fear so many do –
wanting something
from one so beautiful
and broken
so very young,
a child really…
I just wonder if you are alright…
if there’s anything I can do….

summer 2014 563

III.

There are conversations I know not how to complete,
conversations I know not how to have,
here in the city of sorrows,
the end of the river,
end of the line,
where the bayous pool
with tears and dreams
unspeakable stories
flowing down from Memphis,
down from St. Louis,
Baton Rouge,
down Plantation Row,
down here
to the end
or the beginning

could it be –
could it possibly be –
the beginning again
of everything.

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IV.

But tonight,
at Preservation Hall the band is playing,
taking the stories and weaving the songs,
making a poem of it all
of everything
as the jovial young fat man,
sparkling eyes,
giggles his trombone over the room,

summer 2014 416
as the old man, thin and black as his clarinet,
silver keys of hair,
sings of the love he has lost,
as the trumpet player bangs his foot,
one, two, three
one, two, three
as the piano player leans into the song,
long thin fingers
dancing the keys
as the gap-toothed drummer
smiles,
gathering the beat,
sipping beer from a plastic cup
between sets.

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Each taking a turn,
each passing the story,
the song,
around the room
hearing, responding,
playing it back,
playing it out
over the night
over the city,
playing in us
the possibility –
it’s happening here –
such a meeting,
a hearing,
a conversation,
our own,
a coming together
the gathering of stories,
the turning,
and turning around
to something new –
risking,
asking,
hearing each other,
making music, like they’re doing tonight,
the likes of which
we have never heard…

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We spill out into dark streets,
the waiting crowd
for the next show,
it’s worth it
it’s worth it 
worth the wait….
the best jazz,
the most healing of music,
anywhere around…

summer 2014 290

Peter Ilgenfritz
September 29, 2014

 

Poem

Perhaps,
after all this
a poem is emerging –
I mean,
after the divorce,
the loss of
so many names
that spoke of home,
and told me who I was.

september 2014 088

Perhaps,
after all this
a poem is emerging
in a bright red car
and new address
shiny silver pots and
sparkling blue plates,
pictures on the wall
and a voice who calls
me to be true –
call it, myself –
a language I am
still learning to
pronounce.

september 2014 090

Perhaps,
after all this
my life,
indeed,
is turning
to song.

september 2014 092

Peter Ilgenfritz
September 23, 2014

Resonance

I am learning to love the resonance.summer 1014 225

I’m not exactly sure what “resonance” is.  But when a space is resonant, sound stays alive. Goes out, keeps coming back.

Our church sanctuary is in the middle of restoration.  Carpet gone.  Walls incomplete. And on Sunday, resounding with the sound of children’s voices and drumming, a mournful oboe and exultant choir.

I think it’s good to have a resonant space for a church to gather, reminded of the great cathedrals of Europe.  And at its best, when people gather as church, there is an echoing. Memory, gifts of the past.   This present, now.  Future hope.

It was “Homecoming Sunday” at church last week, and there is probably no more “resonant” word in the English language than “home”.  Ask any 6 or 76 year old and they will have something to tell you about home.   The memory of home.  The presence of home.  The longing for home.

2543“Jesus” is another word that resonates.   Something about him.  What he did.  His way of being in the world, his way with people.   Certainly, many have been attracted to Jesus for many different reasons.  And I wonder today if there is something about “Jesus” that has called people “home”.  Not so much to a “home” out there, somewhere, for Jesus often called people to leave their homes, as life often does, for all of us.  But to the “home” right here, within ourselves.

Ask me about “home” and I will tell you about a place I never lived but where I spent some of the most treasured days in my childhood: my grandparent’s farm in rural central New Hampshire.

I could take you all over that old farm.  Show you everything.  Like here, that place as you 4077step into the kitchen. That spot on the worn wood floor that creaks.  Sit with you, here, at the long kitchen table with the plastic tablecloth and print of pink flowers.  Stand, backs to the wood stove, warming with you, as we return from cross country skiing in my grandfather’s woodlot.  Dripping water, pooling at our feet.  The sound of the pressure cooker popping with my grandfather’s baked beans cooking on the stove.  The scent of oatmeal rolls in the oven.

And stand with you here, before I left for college, where my grandfather, a man of few words, shook my hand.  Held it.  Looked me in the eye, and I knew that he loved me.

Yes, I could take you everywhere.  Show you everything. But really, of course, I am taking you around inside me.  For you know what home is.  It’s that place where you are at home in yourself.  And I was so at home here – in my joy, my wonder, my discovery, myself.

3515I’ve come a far country from that place.  Grew up.  And other worlds called me out.  To make something of myself.  Make a family.  Make a difference.  And in my successes and failures of doing such things, I learned to be strong and competent, to stand up for myself and to fight.  To make a home for myself, an important part of growing up.

But all this making and doing, that life often demands, not all I have needed. Especially now, in this season of my life.

When the crowd gathered, and Jesus invited them to sit with him on the hillside, he spoke4037 to them of blessings.  Blessings that we call “The Beatitudes”.  Not so much blessings that we go out and find, but blessings that find us.  Quieter virtues.  More vulnerable places.  Our need, tears, longing.   Places within.  The kind of places I discovered within myself on my grandparent’s farm.

If “church” has anything to do with home, it might have to do with calling us back to these vulnerable, human, truth-filled places within.  To what amidst all of our doing is most important.

It was 4 AM and a long way from home.  Another coast.  Set up camp late that night.   We had a long day ahead of us and much we wanted to do.  But something, something more important to do now.

Here, early morning, my nephew and I crawled out of our sleeping bags, threw on our sweatshirts, got into the car and drove up the mountain.  Here, on the edge of the coast of Maine, Cadillac Mountain.  The first place in the country, you can see the sun rise over the Atlantic.

2318It was cold, windy that morning.  And oh, so clear.  The edge of the continent breaking away in small island clusters. The vast blue beyond. Was it Jesus I found?  Perhaps.  Certainly, something that morning of grace, peace.  Something more important than just getting on with the duties of the day.  Something I needed to remember.

The sun shone out over the sea.

The days ahead resonated with the splendor of hills, sparkling with light.