Kukla Christmas Letter 2021

Dear Friends and Family,

(Note: Caroline, a good court jester to me (that will make sense later), says you won’t read this whole letter – so if that is you, and you know who you are, skip to the bold “start here” comment about halfway down.)

I hope this Christmas letter finds you well – even if it comes under the shadow of another COVID variant. I can recall March of 2020 thinking, “we may not be in the Sanctuary by Easter…” without realizing we would miss two YEARS of Easter Sundays in the Sanctuary. I can recall the optimism of June 2021 when vaccines were being dispersed and it felt like the fall would bring “normal routines” when in fact it brought spiking Delta waves of new cases. I think of those memories and say, “how cute were we – all full of optimism, hope, and naivete?”

Yes… yes… this IS a Christmas letter… I haven’t forgotten. You came here expecting a bit of witty commentary on another year past and the accomplishments of our children with the survival stories of their parents. It was much what it would be if it was years past… and I will tell those stories, but first I’d like to share the preachy part… vocational hazard, ya know? COVID has become one more individualizing force in our lives (one among MANY). How do I isolate, withdraw, take care of myself is the question we have asked… maybe the better version where we do so to protect our neighbor. Some of that is necessary – but like all things, we are challenged in moderation. And pandemics can make us myopic – we only see this most pressing of all challenges. We can forget that all the old problems are still there. People still die of other things… and systems-level justice issues must still be addressed. By all means, be COVID safe, but avoid the temptation to stop helping others because it endangers ourselves.

And while I was thinking this, it struck me that if I record the story of our year past as what we accomplished – I miss that those accomplishments are largely empty and vain if we have not also done anything to empower our neighbor’s accomplishments and promote the well-being of our larger community. The impulse to self-preservation without regard for community preservation is a lonely end game – and ultimately it is far too often counterproductive: we can’t survive alone for long. It’s not simply theological, it’s evolutionary: it is in our drive towards each other and cooperative work towards shared values and goals that promotes the well-being not simply of the whole but of each individual within the system.

START HERE 🙂

Which is what makes the infectious joy with which Danielle lives every day such a gift. She is a hugger and cuddler (my personal struggle… some space please?) and she is drawn to people with a sense of rejoicing in their presence.. you can’t help but have a better day when she is around. It’s a gift I take no credit for but am proud of all the same. From the soccer field to the classroom she sheds joy on everyone. And she brings that joy no matter how “good” she is at whatever she is doing (she is now trying volleyball and that should be… interesting! But she will make it joyful!) Shared joy: you cannot eat it, and it won’t keep you dry or warm on a rainy night. But it will get you going in the morning when nothing else will. We all need cheerleaders!

Meredith snarls, glares, and rebukes like nobody’s business. But she has flourished into a natural leader that also mentors, teaches, and defends. Little did I know an old story of her early childhood would so define her: she used to get bitten a lot in preschool and I asked the teachers if she was provoking kids. They said, “oh no! We have a bitter in the classroom and no one will play with him.. except Meredith. She just doesn’t mind getting bitten and still plays with him… thus all the reports that come home.” And this year we have seen that same trait flourish in so many other ways… she is too stubborn to give up on anyone (except her little sister… but no one is perfect!).

Elizabeth is one of those withdrawing types – COVID has expanded E’s desire for their own space, privacy, and avoidance of anything like the limelight. And yet Elizabeth has gladly taken up working the food pantry at church every Monday from 3:30 to 7:30. E walks the stairs up and down hauling boxes made for families of 3… 5… 7. And it was one thing Elizabeth never questions or never fights doing. Sure the parents in us would love to see E desire to be at youth group, cross country practice, or taking part in all the family activities (not just the ones we make ‘em do)… but E is E and charting their own course: but never without regard for others – and I’ll take it!

Warren had another up and down year. Our kid most disillusioned with what COVID caused and trying his best to make it through AP classes, soccer, band, philharmonic, and all the things (not to mention video games, video games, and more video games)… he is a quintessential jack of all trades but that has included helping to run A/V in worship, and being willing to take up any new tasks or job he doesn’t know how to do already if anyone – literally anyone – asks him too (he will moan about… he is a teenager after all, but he usually also does it). He is a lot like oil in a machine – you don’t necessarily notice he is there until he isn’t… because when he isn’t nothing quite works right. (Also… he is the LOUDEST video game player the world has ever… heard.)

Caroline is the glue to it all. I don’t need to tell you that there are few people as compassionate, empathetic, and caring as she is – and who backs that up with tangible work: running the car pools, cooking the food, crunching the numbers, organizing the chaos. And while she might groan to me – she does it all with the type of laughter that tells you where Danielle gets her joy from.

The name Kukla means doll… or puppet. In Greek, it’s used as a term of endearment for a young child (you doll), but as you move up Eastern Europe in Czech it means cowl or hood… or one who makes or wears cowls or hoods… and in Russian, it takes on more the puppet or puppet maker meaning (thus Kukla, Fran, and Ollie for those of you that know that reference). We are Polish Kuklas… and I like to think it means court jester. (A doll wearing a hood who entertains… a mishmash of it all.). Why? Not because we mock or have nothing useful to add… but because I like to think the court jester properly makes things go more smoothly… to prick the egos of the powerful and lighten the nasty moods, to bring joy and point out elephants in the room, to serve the master, not of entertainment, but of cooperative peace… maybe even harmony – discordant notes brought together into a semblance of beauty… It’s a goal anyway – even if not quite attainable. And one I think is worthy. Because working together isn’t easy, it is messy, and it will cause no small amount of headaches and frustrations… but ultimately? I think it’s the only way we are getting through this thing called life.

So here is to a year of the court jester in its many manifestations! I hope you are finding people in your life who bring you joy and comfort (and prick the balloon of self-importance when necessary… we all need it – I know I do). And I hope you find yourself being those for others as well. Nurturing cooperative actions towards a more comfortable and joyous tomorrow for all our neighbors. And along the way: may you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and wonder-filled New Year.

We love you all, the Boise Kuklas

Kindled

You lean in

on hands and knees, you

can feel a cold draft pulling up

and yet a tiny warm glow barely

heats the front of your face.

Leaning in, you purse your lips

and ever so gently

exhale.

A billow of ash greets you, but

you do not pull back and you do

not cease your steadfast instigation

as you feed an ever-increasing

amount of air to ember

and bring the banked fire

back to life.

Just so… dreams are kindled.

On hands and knees with

reverent spirit and life

sustaining breath poured over an idea

that moves beyond itself,

flickering up and carried

away beyond the confines

of our efforts and into the skies

fueling yet more dreams.

Lean in and savor

the act of creating, birthing

and gifting the world

the ignited and igniting warmth

of a dream fed with love.

The Earth Will Now Rest… will you?

I came across this Harvest prayer for the Seaconke Wampanoag people written by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley.  The Wampanoag people were a thriving culture and people living in modern-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island inclusive of all of Cape Cod long prior to the sixteenth-century arrival of European settlers. Their numbers were decimated by epidemic but their culture lives on in the resilient way of life and today I’m grateful for their wisdom which I share with you, the prayer reads:

“Let us give thanks to the creator for all that is given.  The harvest moon has shined its brilliance over our home and now as we store the harvest of our work the creator gives sustenance.  The Earth will now rest through the coming seasons storing the energy needed to once again feed our people.”

Harvest Prayer of the Seaconke Wampanoag by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley

I love reminders to pay attention to the seasons… to let our work reflect the work that is natural to each season and thus keep our life in concert with the larger rhythms of life.  I believe God created and nurtured all that draws breath (and even that which does not) to live this interconnected pattern so that all creation shares breath, life, and death.  God was the originator of social networking! 

And the Earth is about to sleep, a type of death, that is not only natural but life-giving for the next season in the cycle.  Our forebears knew to match those cycles and let ourselves rest as well… that we might be prepared to have the energy we need to once again “feed our people” come the spring.  However Modern technology grants us the illusion that we are no longer bound by these rhythms, we can fight them and seem to win.  Our lives would see the gift of seasons as an obstacle to overcome and keep at bay and we learn to grow things out of season and even out of place.  We “extend the day” and fill up the coal tender of our lives with enough artificial energy to keep running… seemingly without end.  But we are finite beings… and there is always a cost.  It will be higher and higher the longer it is when it finally comes due. 

You are not meant to run without end.  The Earth will slumber and rest… will you? 

I have been thinking lately, as Thanksgiving prepares to blend right into Advent, about how I will intentionally incorporate more rest to my days… that I will allow myself to fall back into the natural rhythm I was meant to live… and fight now more.  I will be tempted to call it lazy and give it up.  But I am hoping to hold to my resolve… to ask myself each day:

“The Earth is resting… are you?”  And I invite you to join me in this spiritual discipline. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Viral Dis-Content and Disjunctive Gratitude

We have talked a lot about viruses the last year – many of us are running around with google degrees in epidemiology!  (Note: this does not equal an actual degree in actual epidemiology…)  But infectious diseases aren’t the only things that are viral in nature.  We can talk about a social media post that “goes viral” when it’s shared repeatedly by an ever-growing network of people.  We can talk about viral phenomena when a new idea catches our interest as a society and becomes, almost overnight, pervasive.  Viral is contagious, growing, and has a persistent (pernicious?) grip on our attention.  

So, I want to take note of another thing that can go viral: complaint… dis-comfort… dis-content. 

When people start to complain and take not of reasons to be upset an interesting thing happens… we all start taking note of all the reasons – legit reasons – to be upset.  We “catch the bug” of one moment of discontent, we focus on it, and we let it spread so that all that our eye sees is that which is wrong.  And the wrong things are often there.  We aren’t “making it up”.  There is much over which to lament and be upset.  But the nature of the viral pushes out anything else – it consumes us.  It allows that we only see that which it is looking for: bad stuff. 

Enter thanksgiving: I’m caught up in the idea that the root idea of thanksgiving (both the concept and the holiday) is of gratitude IN THE MIDST OF messiness and challenging circumstances… it to have a necessary disjunctive experience to our viral complaint and our current condition.  This is not the same thing as having rose-colored glasses.  I’m not saying to ignore all that is wrong with the world and pretend it is all good.  I’m saying that sometimes we need to clean off our glasses to make sure we are seeing the WHOLE picture… which often is as much – and even more – filled with reasons for gratefulness and celebration than it does for complaint… but we won’t see it, experience it, or celebrate it if we don’t cut off the viral nature of the progressive cancer of discontent. 

I’m a cynic and an idealist at the same time.  I’m not sure which is more my core being.  But I do know how easy it is for me to swing out of balance towards cynicism… or out of touch towards idealism.  And then I need a disjunctive experience – my own vaccine to my viral blinders.  It is often my favorite part of “going home” at the end of the day.  Work can get me negative… or work can be high on idealism… and home brings me back to rootedness in the everyday blessing and messiness of life.  It is why I appreciate seasons and liturgical seasons because ready or not a new thing is ready to interrupt my current thing… and I think, for me, that’s healthy. 

So, thanksgiving?  What are you grateful for?  Who are you grateful for?  And how are you expressing and sharing and celebrating those gratitudes in ways that interrupt your, and others, viral fascinations? 

We all need it.

Taking Off the Whole Armor of God

I was reading this article (https://www.christiancentury.org/article/how-my-mind-has-changed/why-i-came-back-around-repentance) this morning and I was struck by the tagline: “First I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”  That line was something of a tuning fork to me… I found reading the rest of the article difficult because I want to spend time just with that phrase.

I spend a significant amount of my personal faith journey, preaching life, and ministry trying to take off the “whole armor of God”.  You know that exciting passage in Ephesians… the breastplate of righteousness and the sword that is the Word of God.  So powerful.  So strangely anachronistic to most of the ways scripture talks about our life of faith.  No wrestling with an angel and limping the rest of our life… no Paul talk about being afflicted and, Paul who speaks with confidence but also with an open heart to the ways faith makes us vulnerable to ridicule, confusion, and doubt.  Any attempt we make (and we make a lot of them) to turn Jesus into some indomitable warrior-monk fails at the foot of the cross, or when Jesus took towel and washed his disciples’ feet.  I’d like to pass on that please and put on the belt of truth and pick up the shield of faith instead. 

I’m struck almost daily how much energy we put into pretending… into appearing like knights in solid armor.  My heart aches for how much lies underneath that we fear to share with the world.  Enter the tagline of my current focus: “first, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God”.  We have nothing to hide.  We do not need to pretend.  We are not playing a board game where we count all the tokens at the end of the journey and proclaim a winner. 

“First, I needed to meet a progressive, gracious God.”

John Calvin is much maligned, and oft misunderstood.  I have my appreciation for him and dislike of much of his jurisprudent theology where everything had to be square and plumb no matter the conclusions such perfect logic arrived at in his God-talk.  But I’m a fan of predestination – that terrible divisive concept only a mind so legally consistent as Calvin could have put to paper. But in the end, Calvin’s point is this and only this: you are not saved because of you… you are saved because of God.  It has nothing to do with you… you can’t gain it, keep it, or lose it.  The creation and healing (saving) of the world is a God job and its way above your pay grade.  And we can all stop pretending. 

I have said before that we all need to crucify God… or better said, we need to crucify the constructs of God we created or were created for us… because then the God who is really is will rise from the ashes of our armored warrior God – or the vending machine who simply gives us what we want when we ask.  And when we meet that God – that God who exists beyond our machinations and projections?  A whole new world unfolds around us.  The armor falls off and all the energy we have put into winning, or looking like a winner, can… simply relax. 

I’ve been called an embarrassment as a pastor and not worthy of respect. I have received notes calling me a blasphemer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and all manner of names. I have watched many people walk out of my life because I failed them, because I wasn’t enough, or right enough, or fun enough, or authoritarian enough, or malleable enough… or I don’t even know.

It hurts… every time.

But you know who has done none of those things?  You know what picks me up and helps me to heal those hurts?  You know upon what ground I can fall apart every time?

“First, I had to meet a progressive, gracious God…”

What armor are you wearing?  What are you hiding?  How much do wish to just let it all go?  Stop pretending; stop playing the game; stop wearing ill-fitting and much constricting armor.  Just be you… standing before the God who loves you as much as God’s life itself… bathing your feet… and willing for you health and not harm.

Let me introduce you, if you haven’t met, to a gracious God.  It’s the first day of the rest of your life.

It is NEVER ‘just in your head’

The word just is one of the most dangerously abused words in our language.  For the sake of this conversation, I’m not talking about the word just as a term for justice, but when just means only or simply.  It creeps into all kinds of dialog… “I was just talking about that,” “it will just take five minutes,” “can you just sit still for a minute?”

It is regularly a throw-away word that wasn’t needed in the sentence, but that’s another conversation… today I want to talk about the ways it is toxic.  It is a word to negate identity and experience.  You are (I am) just a layperson.  You are (I am) just a beginner.  You (I am) just….

And then we use it this way: “it’s just in your (my) head”. 

Mental health continues to be a major stigma in our country.  When you break an arm, everyone can see the cast and understand why ordinary things are more difficult for you.  When you are carrying trauma, when your body chemistry is out of balance, when you experience pain or identity crisis or emotional distress – no one can see it, you cannot quantify it (no matter how many times they ask you pain level on a scale of 1 to 10), and its lack of objective reality makes us have a tendency to utter the harmful words: it’s just in your head. 

Our mental and emotional worlds, despite their subjectivity, are as real as our flesh and bones.  And in many ways, they are far more powerful motivators of our well-being or lack thereof.  And it’s made all the harder when we try to discredit that reality with words like “…just…”  I find myself heartsick at how pervasive our need is to address feelings of grief, stress, trauma, and all manner of mental and emotional health challenges.  A reality made more difficult if we aren’t willing to admit that we are carrying these burdens… or that they are not legitimate burdens. 

I sincerely hope that we all can carve out space for ourselves and others to talk about the mental and emotional burdens we carry… and I earnestly pray that you, me, and all the people are willing to use professional resources to address the pervasive burdens that prevent us from being whole and well.  When you break your arm?  You get it looked at by a doctor, x-rayed, casted, cared for by professionals. Please do the same with all your health challenges, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same, recognize that there is no such thing as normal… and there is never a reason to say, “it’s just in your head”.  Do not negate the pain of your neighbor simply because things affected them differently than you, and do not negate your own pain because you wish it didn’t bother you as it does. 

If you do not know where or how to start, I’m always here for you – and no I’m not equipped to be the only person here for you, but I’m willing to be the guide towards the better guide and to be the voice crying in the wilderness: you are not alone. 

Spiritual Home and Wholistic Spirituality

People often come to me and say some version, “I can’t stand XYZ… why do we do this?” Almost always whatever XYZ happens to be is something that someone else loves so much they come and ask me, “why can’t we make everyone do XYZ?”  I usually want to introduce person A to person B and say, “have you met?” 

We are all fed in different ways.  We make meaning in different ways.  We express ourselves in different ways.  And we almost always imagine everyone else is fed, does meaning-making, and should express themselves the same as we do.  But they don’t.   Learning this is really important.  It helps us in so many different ways.  I’ve said before I had to learn to parent each of my children differently.  They are not all the same kid… so I can’t be the same parent to them.  My values are the same, and the values I wish to nurture in them are the same – but they respond differently to different stimuli so I can’t be a one trick pony.

And frankly… that is true of everything we do.  We cannot be all things to all people – but we do need to learn how to express ourselves in ways that meet people where they are, in ways that they connect to… and that’s true of the music we sing and play, the themes we preach and teach, and the service we will out in our life together. 

And we also have to give ourselves permission not to like something… without condemning it – because it just may be perfect for your neighbor.  This is what I find helpful about various personality “tests” – which I prefer to call tools.  They aren’t predictive of all we do and say and shouldn’t be used in such ways… but they can be reflective tools to understand why we like/resonate with some things, and dislike/disconnect from other things.  They can provide insight.  They can offer grace – or help you to offer it to yourself. 

With this said… for those who are interested, I’d like to offer this Spiritual home tool.  (If this isn’t your thing… great! This blog post / newsletter article ends, here – thanks for coming!)

This exercise comes from a book by Corine Ware called “Discover Your Spiritual Type.”  You need a piece of paper and on it draw a circle with the following four quadrants:

In Corine’s book she has you do this exercise for yourself, and then also for your preception of your church as a whole.

For each of the following questions draw a spoke (on the wheel) in the quadrant corresponding to the answer number for each question.  So if you on the first question your answer is number 2, you will draw one spoke in quadrant 2 of your circle…. You will use this circle later.  Now… the questions from Corine Ware’s book:

The Order of Worship

  1. A carefully planned and orderly worship program is a glory to God.
  2. A deeply moving and spontaneous meeting is a glory to God.
  3. Simplicity and some silence are important elements needed for worship.
  4. It is not a service, but ordering ourselves to God’s service that is important.

Time

  1. Stick to announced beginning and ending times of worship services.
  2. It is important to extend the meeting time if one feels led to do so.
  3. All time is God’s time.  A sense of timelessness is important.
  4. Gather whenever and for as long as you need to accomplish the task.

Prayer

  1. Words express poetic praise; we ask for knowledge and guidance.
  2. Let words and feelings evoke God’s presence in this moment.
  3. Empty the mind of distractions and simply be in the presence of the holy.
  4. My life and my work are my prayer.

Music

  1. Music and text express praise to God and belief about God.
  2. Singing warms and unites us and expresses the soul’s deepest heart.
  3. Chant and tone bring the soul to quietness and union with God.
  4. Songs can mobilize and inspire to greater effort and dedication.

Preaching

  1. The word of God, rightly proclaimed, is the centerpiece of worship.
  2. The gospel, movingly preached, is the power of God to change lives.
  3. Proclamation is heard when the Spirit of God speaks to the inward heart.
  4. What we do is “preaching” and speaks louder than anything we say.

Emphasis

  1. A central purpose is that we fulfill our vocation (calling) in the world.
  2. A central purpose is that we learn to walk in holiness with the Lord.
  3. A central purpose is that we be one with the creator.
  4. A central purpose is that we obey God’s will completely.

Support of Causes

(If necessary, circle the words and pick the categories with the most circles.)

  1. Support seminaries, publishing houses, scholarship, preaching to others.
  2. Support evangelism, missions, spreading the word on television and radio.
  3. Support places of retreat, spiritual direction, liturgical reform.
  4. Support political action to establish justice in society and its institutions.

Criticism

  1. Sometimes I/we are said to be too intellectual, dogmatic, and “dry.”
  2. Sometimes I/we are said to be too emotional, dogmatic, and anti-intellectual.
  3. Sometimes I/we are said to be escaping from the world and are not being realistic.
  4. Sometimes I/we are said to have tunnel vision and to be too moralistic.

Dominating Themes

(If necessary, circle the words and pick the categories with the most circles.)

  1. Discernment, discipline, knowledge, order, grace, justification.
  2. Love, conversion, witness, spontaneity, sanctification.
  3. Poverty, humility, wisdom, letting go, transcendence.
  4. Simplicity, purity of heart, action, temperance, obedience, martyrdom.

Member Criteria

What the congregation believes is necessary, who you believe is necessary.

  1. Assent to doctrine; baptism; endorsement by group.
  2. A personal inward experience of God, baptism; public declaration.
  3. All who face Godward are incorporated in the holy.
  4. Solidarity with humankind is membership in God’s kingdom.

Ritual and Liturgy

  1. Ritual and liturgy evoke memory and presence, teaching traditional truths.
  2. Liturgy and ritual ceremonies are not of great importance.
  3. Ritual and liturgy are ways in which God becomes present to us.
  4. Ritual and liturgyare one way we make statements about inner conviction.

Concept of God

  1. God is revealed in Scripture, sacrament, and in Jesus Christ and his cross.
  2. I can feel that God is real and that Christ lives in my heart.
  3. God is mystery and can be grasped for, but no completely known.
  4. We participate in the mystery of God when we become creators with God in the world.

After you have all the responses now look at the following chart and make the necessary notations to what each of the different pie pieces on their chart mean.

Read the following basic descriptions of the four “pie pieces” in the chart, or the four types of spirituality and which ones correspond to you:

  • Thinking – people of this type enjoy sermons, lectures and study.  They experience God primarily in thought about God and seeking knowledge of who God is.  Their growing edge tends to be enjoyment of God, and the danger of the thinker is allowing the ideas of/about God to replace God.  They tend to come towards wholeness when aware of the limits of logical thinking about God and appreciate the mystery of God
  • Feeling –people of this type experience God through their emotions and what they know of God comes out of their feelings.  The weakness to this type is a need that others have the same “heart warming” experience of God and the growing edge is to find God’s will in the ordinary stuff of life, and being obeying God in the doing.
  • Being – people of this type are most comfortable just being with God absent from needs of thought or feeling: “to be still and know that I am God (psalm 46).”  Their weakness tends to be sense of pious advanced spirituality over the thinker or feeler, and a desire to stay in the state of contemplation all the time.  Their growing edge is using intellect to appreciate how God uses other people, and also to being more ordinary and less special by pushing towards being contemplatives in action.
  • Doing – people of this type have a “kingdom spirituality”.  They want to do things for the kingdom of God and have a passion for transforming society and social justice.  Their weakness may be a lack of deeper faith development and being superficial in their actions.  Their growing edge is engagement of spiritual formation and prayer to get in touch with their feelings separate from the need to do.

The words outside the circle explain what happens if we live solely in one type of spirituality and so “hang out” on the outside of the circle.  The hope for each of us is to be pulled by Christ and our community of faith into the center of the circle where we engage in holistic spirituality, here the being person can engage as well in thinking, doing and feeling – just as those people can engage in their opposing and adjoining spiritual types.  However, in times of stress we may find the need to reside solely in our “spiritual home”.  This is good and right, but the question always remains and it always does: how do we open ourselves up to Christ’s invitation to come back to whole-ness? And how do we foster gratitude to others whose spiritual home lies outside our own and whose holy friendship helps us to see a wider and deeper world of imagination and love?

“Unchartered Territories of Grief”

*the title isn’t mine, it is a slight shift on the name of the poem quoted here and is the work of Tanaya Winder.

Today I bring you a poem… preceded by three happenings:

Monday was Indigenous People’s day – a day we hope to bring forth from the ashes of celebrating Christopher Columbus “discovering” lands already lived upon and bringing tides of colonizing oppression to free hearts and spirits…

…flip to a pre-committee meeting Monday night where instead of talking about programs and ministries we shared on cameras and tv screens across miles a deep connection of our shared grief as “prayer concerns” turn heavy…. that was how it was described to me, “that meeting was so heavy with our grief”…

…I reside on lands that were roamed and cared for and lived on by the Northern Shoshone people who exist today in three federally recognized tribes of Idaho and Utah… (those words “federally recognized tribes” come clumsy off my lips as I recognize both the gift of being “recognized” and the curse of federally recognized as if without federal recognition you didn’t exist, which they did and do).  I live on the lands of the northern and western bands of the Shoshone and Bannock and Paiute people… and so I sought to center their voice in my listening and sharing today rather than my own and in my wandering I came to this poem from Tanaya Winder who is of the Duckwater Shoshone tribe with a mix of Ute and Pauite and Black heritage and she writes here about grief… so the tapestry weaves itself together with this excerpt from the middle section of larger poem I commend to you in full here:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/155485/uncharted-territory-of-grief

Our grandmothers told us stories of the desert,

how giant serpents laid on mountains

to create canyons. Imagine earth crunching

under the weight of unbearable sadness.

Imagine what it feels like to collapse

into an uncharted territory of grief.

As young girls we learned the tale

of a mother who cried so many tears

she created a lake in the middle of the desert.

Today she sits in stone beneath a star-stitched sky,

holding up the otherwise untethered blue.

Last month, I read an orca gave birth

to a female calf who died thirty minutes

after entering our world. The orca carried her dead

calf for 17 days. Tethered by grief, hers the price

paid for love and loving.

                               At 34, my sister gives birth

to her first child, a winter-born boy.

In recovery, my sister asks if she can walk yet.

Her nurse says, “Wait until your legs are yours again.”

I wonder who and what I’ve carried

and carry for days, months, for years. Grandmother,

take me back to your childhood, where you sang

“Blue Moon” in boarding school, where you won

the talent show.

                                         Take me back to 17,

when my back first curved into an S—

the serpent inside me coiled under grief,

my scoliosis stopping any sports

outside of prayers and inside dreams.

I wish we’d had more time.

I invite you to spend some more time with Tanaya’s words and gifts and offerings… you can find quite a few here: https://tanayawinder.com and here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/tanaya-winder

Fall Wisdom

Fall LeavesIt isn’t a new thought… it’s a yearly thought: We come to this season and the world reminds us that its time to do some letting go.  It would be ludicrous to go into your yard right now and start strapping leaves to the trees, so they don’t fall off… and yet in our lives we often cling to things we won’t don’t want to lose in that same kind of futile struggle.  We fight the progression of seasons.  Ecclesiastes reminds us “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  This also means, reflexively, for that for every matter there are times that is simply isn’t the right season to be carried.  You can no more force a tree to hold its leaves in fall than you can make it bud out new growth in the depth of winter.  The trees live the rhythm of life, and we can learn that wisdom if we are willing.  Trying to do things “out of season” is costly for all involved. 

I invite you to reflect on what this “fall wisdom” is inviting you to contemplate in your life: where are you clinging to that which is not giving you life?  What is it time to let go? What is time to plant for the future?  Are you in step with this season of your life?

I leave you with this poem, Sonnet 73, from William Shakespeare on life, death, and love in the light of fall:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Gentle Expectations

The article I’m working off in this post requires a deep dive… (links at the bottom of this post) its lengthy and skims over a lot of data and ideas.  Its also provocative in ways that you might make someone “dislike” it before they really dive into it.  The major premise of the article is that most of us will experience a steep decline in fluid reasoning after age 50.  Fluid reasoning (for those not familiar) is basically your ability to problem solve… in a unique situation how well do you make leaps of understanding and connect seemingly unrelated ideas to find a previously unknown way out of an untread predicament.

For the sake of the article its tied to ingenuity and innovation and the author (Arthur C Brooks who, at the time he wrote this in 2019, was the President of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in Washington, DC., and is now a professor of public leadership and management practices at Harvard) is making the case that for people in leadership and creative positions will peak at age 50 and experience a sharp decline in effectiveness after that age as a matter of biological development (in other words… its out of their control).  He will go through data on what age do people win literary awards, write great music, make scientific breakthroughs, etc.  You will get insulted (if you are over 50) but don’t let him scare you off.  His point is valuable, and he makes a lot of astute and helpful points along the way – each one worthy of an hour or two discussions.  If his provocative premise is a decline in fluid reasoning after 50, his conclusion is this: your skills are shifting – so shift your expectations and job to match those shifting skills, and he will then compare how this was done in the life JS Bach versus Charles Darwin:

“What’s the difference between Bach and Darwin? Both were preternaturally gifted and widely known early in life. Both attained permanent fame posthumously. Where they differed was in their approach to the midlife fade. When Darwin fell behind as an innovator, he became despondent and depressed; his life ended in sad inactivity. When Bach fell behind, he reinvented himself as a master instructor. He died beloved, fulfilled, and—though less famous than he once had been—respected.

The lesson for you and me, especially after 50: Be Johann Sebastian Bach, not Charles Darwin.”

We’d all like to imagine that we will defy the odds.  That isn’t how the odds work.  And there is great wisdom in reminding ourselves of our mortality and what is simply a fact of nature: our skill sets change. A major league baseball player’s eye no longer catches the spin of the stitches… and they can’t hit the ball anymore.  For me… a pesky disk in my back made my doctor tell me I had to stop running and really should not lift anything heavy… for the rest of forever.  What?  I’m only 45!! Apparently that argument doesn’t change anything. Facts are facts.  This doesn’t have to be “bad”.  It a matter of how we learn to live within this new world we didn’t ask for… can we alter our expectations for ourselves?  Can we recognize the need to change what we expect of similar people around us?

There is a really popular refrain from an old Dylan Thomas poem that reads “Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (Did you know that Bob Dylan changed his last name to Dylan in honor of Dylan Thomas… that’s a lot of Dylan.) This refrain is popularized in movies and funerals (or at least, movie funerals).  Its one of those “excepted as universally wise” refrains.  But is it, wise I mean, for us to rage against the dying of the light?

I’m not an either/or kind of guy.  I like to “hold ideas in tension” so I’m not saying let’s throw out the idea of not succumbing to death… but do we really want to make our life about raging against the inevitable?  Who benefits from this?  You cannot fight death.  You can seek life.  I have always liked the idea of recognizing that there is a moment when we want to start paddling downstream and stop forcing ourselves to go forward in unlikely ways that requires nature to become our enemy. 

What does it mean for us to recognize, and even accept our limits (or shifting gifts… lets even stop calling them limits)?  What does it mean to live within the world presented to us rather than continually trying to force a different reality?  What would it mean to question the polarity of options of “passive acceptance or rageful fighting” as if there is no middle way?  There is in fact a whole world of opportunity where we allow ourselves the grace of shifting talents, gifts, and possibilities – and then play within those.  Brooks notes that highly intelligent people are prone to less happiness in mid-to-late life, likely because since childhood their keen intellect has been central to their identity… and the didn’t imagine that keen intellect might fade in the same ways a pitching arm, or a running backs legs do.  We cannot fight nature… what we can do is learn, and live to learn, within these inevitabilities so that our happiness is not tied to “defying the odds”.

I’m living in a season of telling myself not to expect fish to fly and giraffes to swim.  (They can swim – giraffes that is, but not well – so don’t ask them to be lifeguards at the pool.) If I know premise A to be true, then I need to play by the consequences of that reality.  I’m usually better at the first part than the second.  I want to make all things work. I want to defy the odds.  But that’s not how the odds work… and we live with some toxic American myths that tell us “you can do all things” and that the highest good to force your way through where no way exists…. We are told stories that revere and set the standard at the larger than life concepts like Paul Bunyan and John Henry.  Stories that teach us to work ourselves to death.

You, we, deserve more than rage… and unending work.  Don’t you? What does it mean for you to shape a life more like Bach than Darwin… more like peace than rage?

Links for further readings, the article on the decline of innovation reasoning:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/work-peak-professional-decline/590650/

Link for Dylan Thomas’s poem (which I still like even if I question its wisdom):
https://poets.org/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

author’s additional note:
Acknowledging that I have not lived this journey but have lived alongside this journey hundreds of times I want to say this is not an accusation and is meant to be the exact opposite of “out with the old and in with the new”. Its about recognition and appreciation. I experience in people the grace of naming things. When we name a reality and realize we aren’t the only ones experiencing this we can sometimes finally breathe and say: “ok. This isn’t just about me.”

Not everyone feels that grace but so many people do and I think Brooks’ article (when you sift through some of the data that can get insulting as if its saying people over 50 aren’t worthwhile… which is not where he is taking us but on how to reclaim worth by being realistic about expectations and goals) is about being willing to offer ourselves the grace of admitting we aren’t the thinkers and innovators we used to be. And that’s ok, let’s find the gifts of experience and wisdom and the time for mentoring and guiding, and the intentional paring back of life to enjoy what is, rather than rail against what is no longer.

Our world will get smaller.
We will lose independence.
We will lose intellectual skills.
Our work will become someone else’s
(often without the gratitude and recognition we wish for… see the Charles Darwin story)
This is not something we can stop.
But we can change how we choose to relate to that journey.

The consequence of this for me are wide-ranging but I didn’t have time to do it all in the article itself but one of the things I am telling my church leadership right now is “we have to stop worrying about who is no longer here or what we can no longer do”. We have to be the church with who shows up and the means available to us. And when we make that pivot I think we will be much more hopeful about tomorrow. (The exact point Brooks’ make about happiness through mid-life.)