Home Blog Page 5

lenten journal: evensong


these are the days when dusk
feels indecisive, reluctant to
bring the day to an end yet
holding on for a few minutes
more each evening, as though
trying to make room for
just one more thing.

I love the long reach of
the light, the fading fire that
fills the horizon but I am
ready for the night to come,
I’m willing to give into to the
warm blanket of darkness
the world is pulling up.

the tilt of the earth means
night will be short-changed by
whatever daylight is saving;
I do look forward to planting
and growing, to days as warm
as a fresh tomato, but not yet;
let it stay dark a little longer.



lenten journal: the calculus of christ

I led a Bible study Monday night at church looking at Mark 8 and the things that happened leading up to Jesus saying:

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?” (Mark 8:34-37, Common Bible)

I leaned into Chex Myers’ book “Say to This Mountain:” Mark’s Story of Discipleship to explain what Jesus was saying.

The cross was not a religious icon in first-century Palestine, nor was “taking up the cross” a metaphor for personal anguish. Crucifixion had only one connotation: It was the vicious form of capital punishment reserved by imperial Rome for political dissidents. . . . In contrast to Judean nationalists who were recruiting patriots to “take up the sword” against Rome, Mark’s Jesus invited disciples to “take up the cross.”

In the next paragraph he closes by saying,

Jesus thus thrice reiterates that “gain” and “loss” should not be calculated according to the ledgers of the dominant culture. Unfortunately, most Christians have failed to experiment with the mysterious calculus of Jesus’ nonviolence. Jesus closes his homily by invoking a different vision of justice.

A good bit of time in our group discussion centered on Jesus’ last question in the passage:

What will people give in exchange for their lives?

We talked about how that question seemed to turn the losing-finding discussion on its ear, almost asking, “What would you die for?” or “What is worth living for?” Jesus’ political and economic metaphors call us to see life at the margins. We are all connected to one another. When one is dying we are all dying. To gain the whole world is not living.

Based on what people said in the room, none of us had heard anything about the FBI sting that resulted in a lot of rich white people being charged with bribing to get their children accepted into elite schools. As I read articles and analyses today, I thought about our discussion. And I thought back to my days as a high school teacher.

For seven years, I taught at Charlestown High School in Boston. I had five classes a day with thirty-five students in each class. Seventy percent of them were nonnative English speakers. Most of those were the only ones in their families who spoke English. When parent night came around, I was lucky to see two or three, not because of neglect but because of work schedules, cultural differences, and fear. My last three years there, I taught seniors. In January, I would go down to the one guidance counselor (for 1200 kids) and get the unopened box of SAT applications and help my students fill them out.

For three years, I taught at Winchester High School in Winchester, Massachusetts, a town just north of Boston where Ginger pastored. I had five classes of twenty-five students. When we had parent night, I saw two hundred and fifty parents. A day didn’t go by that I didn’t receive an e-mail note from one of them. The school of 800 had a staff of guidance counselors that met individually with the juniors to work on test preparation, college essays, and recommendation letters.

I loved the students in both places. I loved reading books with them and talking about ideas and dreams. I had smart and motivated students in both places. And the playing field was never level.

[SIDE NOTE: Why were only the mothers mentioned and the fathers were not? Felicity Huffman has been married to William H. Macy for a long time. His name was not in any article I read.]

The parents who paid the bribes were egregious in their actions. I’m glad it is out in the open. I wish I thought that meant it would stop, but the so-called elite schools will continue to pander to the elites who give money one way or another. Baylor, my alma mater, is no longer affordable for a family on an average income. Yes, I know there are scholarships and grants and students are still almost impossibly saddled with debt when they get out.

The White House released the proposed budget on Monday and announced severe cuts to Medicare as a way to cut spending, even as the military budget increased and more money was set aside for the wall. Betsey Devos, the Secretary of Education, suggested cuts in education funding. I’m sure Social Security and support programs like WIC are not far behind. We have people paying millions to bribe to get what they want, yet these programs are what politicians call “entitlements.”

I know a rant on a blog or a Facebook post changes nothing. I’m working hard not to rant. I want to get beyond my anger. I keep coming back to the question:

What will people give in exchange for their lives?

When we hear the term nonviolence, we think of standing up against war or torture, but the bribery and budget cuts are acts of violence. They are doing damage. They are dehumanizing. It seems to me it is worth our lives—our time, our effort, our money, our security, our reputations, our churches—to do what we can do to dismantle these broken systems.

No, I don’t have an easy solution for what would replace them and I suck at calculus. But for Jesus’ sake, I’m willing to try and learn his math.



lenten journal: words and music

As we finish up our first week of Lent, it seems a good time to offer some songs for the road. I’ve chosen songs that have come alive to me for one reason or another over the past months. Gillian Welch’s “One Little Song” seems a good place to start.

gotta be a song left to sing
’cause everybody can’t have thought of everything
one little song that ain’t been sung
one little rag that ain’t been wrung out completely yet
’til there’s nothing left

Pierce Pettis released a new record this winter, which is reason enough to have hope in the world. His song “Don’t know where I Am” is an honest search in these days.

I thought that I was homeward bound
but I don’t know where I am
now I’m in so deep that I might drown
and I don’t know where I am

Kathy Mattea is another who released a record after many years. She went through a period where she could not sing and had to relearn how to use her voice. Her song “Tell Me What You Ache For” puts melody to an adaptation of a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

tell me what you ache for
tell me what you wait for
tell me what you long for
what you’re holding on for
tell me what you’re dreaming
what would give your life real meaning
you’ve been afraid to pray for
tell me what you ache for

Patty Griffin’s silence was because she was battling breast cancer. Her new record is another statement of tenacious hope. Here is “Luminous Places.”

love flows out of these luminous places
love lies down in the deep of the sea
falls out of the sky in millions of pieces on me

John Prine’s latest record is not brand new, but it keeps following me, so he will bring our closing hymn. He has now survived cancer twice and he still sings with an abandon that makes my heart smile. Here is “Boundless Love.”

if by chance I should find myself at risk
a-falling from this jagged cliff
I look below, and I look above
I’m surrounded by your boundless love

surround me with your boundless love
confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
when you found me with your boundless love
you dumbfound me with your boundless love
you surround me with your boundless love

May you feel surrounded by a boundless love.



lenten journal: the flavor of fear

I have a growing collection of phrases that I have come across reading. I started writing them down just to see what they might become. One of them became the title of the poem below, though I’m not sure this is an ice cream shop I’d enjoy.

the flavor of fear

social anxiety a la mode
chicken ripple, rocky road

crowded elevator, past mistakes,
family gathering, faulty brakes,

ice-o-lation, terrorist crunch
late-night rumble, sucker punch

online date, salty stranger
minty clear and present danger

broken promise, stomach flu
foreign substance, botched tattoo

repeated failure, fall from grace
double vision, deep disgrace

final jeopardy, too much stuff
perfect storm, just not enough



lenten journal: context

This morning before church I read more of Seven Thousand Ways of Listening by Mark Nepo. He talked about how being on a snowy road one night sent him into a memory about his father. Nepo said, “When I returned to the snowy road, I wasn’t sure which road I was on.” Reflection on his experience led him to realize “that I hadn’t been lost. I had simply lost track of my context; that is, I’d lost sight of where I was coming from and where I was going.”

For Nepo, there was something in the moment that set him free.

Though we’re most comfortable thinking of ourselves as making progress from here to there—mosts comfortable working within our contextual dream—our personal context can box us in. . . . Following the immediate can break our patterns and restore wonder as our guide.

One of my favorite passages in John’s gospel that is a part of his account of Jesus’ last night with the disciples almost matches Nero’s words.

Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel. (13:3-4, THE VOICE)

Yet is seems to me that it is exactly Jesus’ sense of context that pulled him into the moment and let him live in the immediacy of caring for his friends. But Jesus was going in a circle; he was going to end up back where he started. Our cultural idea of progress is linear. We are supposed to be moving forward towards a goal, plotting our success, becoming somebody. We can’t just stay here. There’s too much to be done. We have to be moving on to what’s next. Though both are talking about where we come from and where we are going, the two senses of movement stand in sharp contrast.

When John tells the story of that last night together in the Upper Room, he says nothing about the shared supper that has become the defining meal of our faith. Instead, he describes Jesus’ actions and the conversations that took place around it. In a dirt-road-and-sandals world, a good foot washing must have been one of life’s most magnificent and temporary pleasures. However good it felt, it wasn’t going to last long. The ones who did the washing on a regular basis were servants, I imagine, or the Palestinian equivalent of shoe shine boys. It was not a prized gig.

Jesus had a sense of what was going to happen that night. He knew his time with his disciples was limited. And he knew he had come from God and was going to God. Perhaps that was all he needed to know. Nothing could change that. On a night when he knew it had to matter, he did something that wouldn’t last just to say he loved them. By the time they got to the Garden of Gethsemane, their feet would be dirty again. That wasn’t the point. His act of love was not confined by circumstance. It was empowered by context.

Mark Nepo is right to say we have to break the hold of progress if we are to live with a sense of wonder. By progress, both he and I are talking about something other than flushing toilets and air-conditioning. We have made advances in our world that matter. But, as s the saying goes, we are human beings, not human doings. Here in Guilford, I watch our students play almost every sport and do all sorts of community service to build up their “resumes” for their college applications. In that regard, I think we are a fairly typical American town. We are teaching them that they matter when they do well, that will be considered important if they continue to prove themselves.

We are more than the sum of our accomplishments.

I feel like I should type that about nineteen times in a row.

Soon after we moved to Charlestown in 1990, I got a part-time job at the Blockbuster Video in our neighborhood. It was my first adult job that was not connected to ministry. My favorite part of the job was talking to people about movies. One night I asked a customer if she needed any recommendations. She looked a little startled and said, “I usually don’t talk to the help in places like this.”

I was speechless, then I was mad. I wanted to tell her she had no idea who I was. She didn’t know I had an MDiv, or that I had been a hospital chaplain, or that I . . . (I had a long list.) I didn’t say anything to her, but spent most of the rest of the night thinking about the interaction. In the days that followed, I realized I had never been in a position to make a distinction between who I was and what I did. Ministry, as I had seen it and I had lived it, was all-consuming. I didn’t realize that was a skewed way to live until that night in the video store. If I was my job, her comment was devastating. If I was Milton who worked rented movies because that’s what he needed to do for money, I had room to move. I wasn’t coming from Blockbuster and going to Blockbuster. I was coming from God and going to God, and along the way I could help you find a copy of The Year of Living Dangerously.

Context comes from two Latin words that mean “to weave together.” Once again, the image is not linear. It makes me think of a tapestry or a quilt, something with an imaginative pattern that is not necessarily visible as it is being made. We have come from God and we are going to God; I guess that means the best we can do with our days is to weave ourselves into each other.



lenten journal: spring forward

spring forward

it is a childish act of communal arrogance
to think we can change what time it is
simply by agreeing to do so

the sun will be nonplussed in its rising
and setting, no stars will be dismayed
the moon will not be late

we have given our folly a name that smacks
of accomplishment: daylight saving time
when we have saved nothing

we make ourselves weary trying to tell time
when time is not even listening
we’re talking to ourselves



lenten journal: weathered

I started a new book today.

I haven’t finished any of the others I am currently reading, but that never stopped me before. The book is Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo. It was a gift from a church friend who knows about my struggle with my hearing loss. Nepo wrote a book on listening as he realized he was losing his hearing. As he described how his relationship with the world around him had changed, I found deep resonance. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Joan, my spiritual director, last spring when I realized my hearing had changed more dramatically than I expected.

“Here’s the question for you,” she said. “How will you listen when you can no longer hear?”

Nepo works with a similar distinction between hearing and listening and he says, “To start with, we must honor that listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to circle back.” I wrote last night about how our word search came from the Latin circare, which means “to go round.” To listen well we have to circle back to see what we missed, perhaps, or what we failed to take in the first time.

I spend a good bit of time, regardless of who I am talking to, saying, “I didn’t hear what you said . . .” I have worked hard not to let myself act like I heard what I did not, even though it feels embarrassing at times. Often, what I hear is not what was said, so I’m like the man in the joke who says to a friend, “I got new hearing aids.”
“What kind?” asks the fried.
“11:30,” replies the man.

I’ll be here all Lent.

I did get new hearing aids last Saturday. After eighteen months of fighting with the ones I had, I opted for new ones that gave me some more options technologically. The biggest thing is that my phone answers into my hearing aids, which means I can talk on the phone again. After eight years or so wearing these things, I know there is more to it that just putting them in and going on. I have to keep circling back to the audiologist to make adjustments. I have had to learn how to pay attention differently, not only to what I can or cannot hear, but also to as many other details as I can.

My last hearing aids gave me no sense of how loud my voice was, so I talked loudly most all of the time. One day, Ginger and I were having coffee and I asked her to tell me when my voice was a normal level. I kept getting softer and softer until she responded. Then I took note of how my throat felt talking at that volume as opposed to what I thought was my normal volume. I could tell a difference. I have learned how to listen to my voice in a whole different way.

Later on in the book, Nepo makes a distinction that stood out to me.

Two basic forms of awakening and receiving are always near. The mystery of revelation is the awakening through which our habits and frames are expanded by moments of wonder, awe, beauty, and love. And the weathering of erosion is the receiving through which we are broken open into deeper truths.

I remember the first day I put in my hearing aids. We were still living in Durham. My audiologist told me to walk down the hall and see how they felt. I heard all kinds of things for what felt like the first time. I came back to her office, pulling the zipper on my jacket up and down.

“Did you know this made noise?” I asked. Revelation.

These days, I feel more like the extended play version of the blind man who came to Jesus and had to circle back because the first healing didn’t do the trick. Jesus touched him and the man said, “I can see, but the people look like trees.” So Jesus touched him again and things cleared up.

My audiologist is not that efficient. I keep looking for metaphors to describe what is working and what isn’t (“I feel like my head’s in a bucket.”) and he keeps making adjustments. We are wearing away at it, even as I am learning what can’t be helped by the hearing aids, and learning different ways to hear and ask for help. I am being weathered by my hearing loss, I suppose; I am learning to listen a little at a time.

I remember one of my theology professors in seminary talking about the difference in the Christian view of history was that it was linear—moving from Creation to ending up in the presence of God. Most other religions saw history moving in circles, going nowhere. (His words.) I struggled with what he was saying because it didn’t seem to put much value in the present. We were just blowing through this joint on our way to what was next.

If it were not for circling back, I wouldn’t have learned much in this life. The best definition of repentance is a turning: a circling back to make things right, to do things differently, or to find what we missed the first or second or fourteenth time through.

My hearing is not going to get better. The technology will. But more than that, my listening will improve, if I will chose to be weathered into a deeper understanding of how to connect with the world around me.



lenten journal: searching

I saw an article several weeks ago that said a study had shown that people who surround themselves with books they have not read are better adjusted because they are continually reminded of all they do not know.

I didn’t even have to finish the article to feel vindicated in my life choices.

Right now, one of the books I am reading keeps me quite conscious of all I do not know on its own: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. And I’m only on Chapter Six. Much of what he has discussed so far has to do with the impact of technology on our lives, both in ways we understand and in ways we don’t. He says, for example, “We no longer search for information, we google it.”

The sentence took me back to Moody Library at Baylor, where I sat with a couple of the drawers from the card catalog looking for articles to help me break down “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” for my freshman English research paper.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

One person wrote about it all having something to do with the solstice, since it was “the darkest night of the year;” another talked about solitude; and another said they thought the person was contemplating suicide. My discovery only went as far as my search. I had to rely on the card catalog and then whatever combination of circumstances that led me from one thing to another. Harani is right: searching is not the same as googling. There’s more to discovery than clicking the link in front of me.

The dictionary definitions for search (which I looked up online) are:

try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly;
examine (a place, vehicle, or person) thoroughly in order to find something or someone;
to explore or examine in order to discover.

The dictionary says our word has its origins in the Latin circare, which means “to go round” and also comes from the Latin word circus—circle. When we go searching we go wandering in circles, trying to find what we are looking for. Maybe, sometimes, we just go wandering. I can picture afternoons I sat paging through the World Books we had just to see what I could learn about everything that began with E. It became my mission to turn every page of every volume just to see what was there. Googling finds its origin in the company that makes money when I click on a link. And I spend a lot of time clicking links. I also just noticed that my spell check thinks “googling” is a real word. I suppose it is. But it is not a replacement for searching, for wandering in circles.

Our church year goes in a circle from Advent to Advent. The labyrinth, a long-time physical representation of faith, is also a circle filled with a path that moves in unexpected ways, calling us to be thoughtful as we walk. When my mother would lose something in the house and would search everywhere she could think of, she almost always asked the same question when she found it: “Why is it always the last place you look?”

One day, I replied, “Because you found it. Why would you keep looking?”

We keep searching because we are not looking for answers. What I learned from my research paper was how to love poetry, not how to explain Frost. Every time I come back to those woods, I find something else. So it is with our circles around the sun, or around the labyrinth, or around the liturgical year. We search in order to discover.

One of the best discoveries of this week came from my friend, Billy Crockett, who circled back around on a song we wrote many years ago and gave it new life. The song, “The Question Pool,” grew out of a conversation about the questions we most needed to ask to make the most of our lives. We wrote some friends and asked for their input. Here is what we came up with.

where did I leave my plastic halo?
why can’t I speak to my good friend?
am I sleep walking through the best years of my life?
how long is too long to pretend?

what do I owe my parents’ generation?
what do I want and who would know?
can I live on answers that were handed down to me?
do I lust hold on or just let go?

I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
down at the question pool

what is lying over my horizon?
what am I afraid of going through?
if whatever happens comes to push me past the edge
will all I believe in still be true?

I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
down at the question pool
I wonder what it all comes too . . .

why am I moved by the story of Eden?
what does its lovely sadness mean?
am I a traveler who cannot remember home?
why do I cry sometimes in dreams?

I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
I am drinking from
I am drinking from
I am drinking from the water blue
down at the question pool

I google when I can’t remember who sang a song from years ago, or I need a recipe. I search because I want to see who’s there.



lenten journal: left undone

I’ve known this was coming for weeks.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of my commitment to write every night during Lent. The mark on my forehead is a harbinger of marks on the page. But I wasn’t sure what I had to say, other than I meant to write more often during Epiphany.

On the train home from New York this evening, I was reading A Time to Live: Seven Tasks of Creative Aging by Robert Raines, who just happens to be a member of our church here in Guilford. The book was a gift from my longtime friend Kenny, which makes the book even better. In a chapter titled “Embracing Sorrow” Bob wrote,

There is an underground river that flows deeper than remorse through the bottomlands of our lives into the valley of sorrow, carrying our tears towards the ocean. And some of us are left with wounds unhealed, loves unrequited, understandings not achieved.

That sentence made me catch my breath.

He went on to talk about his mother dying when he was thirteen and how the “incomplete grieving” of his youth played out later in his life. I finished the rest of the chapter and then looked out the window, overcome with a sadness I could not name other than to say the phrase resonated deep in my heart. I thought about the line in the prayer of confession in the Book of Common Prayer about the “things left undone.” Incomplete. Unfinished.

We had a pretty good snow late Sunday night and it has stayed cold, so the ride along the Connecticut shoreline was particularly beautiful tonight with the snow and the fading light. It felt like the closing scene to something, or perhaps I was reading my sorrow into the grey and amber sunset. I kept looking out the window, wondering what sadness had been stirred up, what work there was still to do. Somewhere in the middle of it, I started thinking about growing up in Africa. Kenya, in particular, which is where I lived in eighth and ninth grade. Bob told about being thirteen when his mom died and coming to terms with his incomplete grief years later.

We lived in a small town called Karen on the outskirts of the city. It was named after Karen Blixen–Isak Dinesen–who wrote Out of Africa. Our house was built on land that had once been a part of her farm. We left Nairobi at the end of my ninth grade year. The plan was to spend a year in Texas on our usual leave and then a year in Accra, Ghana so Dad could work on a special project and then we would be back in Kenya for my senior year in high school at Nairobi International School. When we left for the States we didn’t say goodbye. We thought we were coming back. Six months into our time in Ghana something happened between my parents and the Foreign Mission Board and they resigned. We moved to Houston and Dad was called to pastor at Westbury Baptist Church. I started Westbury High School in January of my junior year not knowing a soul. I did not return to Kenya for another thirty years. And that’s the only time I have been back.

I said goodbye like I knew I wouldn’t be back. Things left undone.

I am aware of how much of my life I have spent trying to find my way home and to create places where people feel at home. I wrote a book about it. It’s underneath why I love to cook for others. I have learned what home feels like in my marriage and in my years in Durham, more than any one place, but the more I think about what feels incomplete it’s less about home than it is in saying goodbye to the person I thought I would become. Growing up in Africa, I imagined I would spend my life somewhere other than America. When we moved to Houston the thought never crossed my mind that I would never live outside of the United States again. That was January 1973. Every address of mine since has had a US zip code, even though I still feel like a third culture kid.

I never said goodbye to the person I thought I would become.

Walt Wilkins sings a song called “Here’s to the Trains I Missed” that offers gratitude for some of what was left undone because of where he ended up.

here’s to the trains I missed, the loves I lost
the bridges I burned the rivers I never crossed
here’s to the call I didn’t hear, the signs I didn’t heed
the roads I couldn’t take the map that I just wouldn’t read

it’s a big ole world but I found my way
from the hell and the hurt that led me straight to this
here’s to the trains I missed

I look around at Ginger and the three Schnauzers and I get what he is saying. I live an amazing life full of people who love me. I’ve gotten to do amazing things. And my grief over leaving Kenya remains incomplete. There is still sadness to break forth and more to learn about how the scar tissue of sorrow has hindered my healing, even as I embrace who I have become.

When we were in Durham with a group from our Guilford church a couple of weeks ago, we took them to eat at The Palace International, a Kenyan restaurant with amazing food. I discovered it when we first moved there because they had a sign out front advertising their “world famous” samosas and the picture looked just like the ones I bought from the street vendors in Nairobi after school. And they tasted just like them, too. Whenever my parents came to Durham, we went to eat there and the chef would cook off the menu just for us. Her name is Karen. After our dinner, she came out to meet our group and said, “Welcome home.” There, in one room, were Karen, Nairobi, Durham, Guilford, and me.

Typing that sentence makes me think about a Karla Bonoff song that begins,

though we never know where life will take us
we know it’s just a ride on the wheel . . .

She was singing about the death of a friend, but the chorus feels like what I want to say to the person I thought I would be.

so goodbye my friend
i know i’ll never see you again
but the time together through all the years
will take away these tears
it’s ok now
goodbye my friend



approach . . .

For many years now, my Facebook post on New Year’s Eve has been a line from a Counting Crows song:

long December and there’s reason to believe
maybe this year will be better than the last . . . .

I began to realize that next year never seemed to come through. It wasn’t better. Maybe it wasn’t worse, but I was expecting the turn in the script towards a happy ending, I was going to be routinely disappointed. In 2017 Jason Isbell gave me a different song and these words:

last year was a son of a bitch
for nearly everyone we know
but I ain’t fighting with you down in the ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I am not an optimist. I don’t think that things are just going to get better. I have hope. No. I want to say that a different way. I hope—it’s something you do, not something you possess. I do think we can change things. I do think, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” But bending the arc is the hard and determined work. And I hope we can do it.

Rebecca Solnit says hope grows out of uncertainty: hope is not an open door, but the possibility of a door. John Berger says hope is “the action of approach, of measuring distances and walking towards.” Not just walking, but walking towards. He just doesn’t say towards what, even though he says we measure the distance.

If hope feeds on uncertainty, we have all the raw material we need, my friends. This long December has proven that last year really was a son of a bitch. What distances then, are we to measure? The best response, it seems to me, to measure the distances between us and start walking towards one another. I see many who are already on that path, which is why I hope. I hope for justice, for connectedness; I hope love is the last word.

We measure distances to calculate what it will take to get from one place to another. Let us measure the distances between ourselves and figure out how to reach each other. The distance us between those who are trapped at the border. The distance us between those who don’t look like us. The distance us between those who are our political rivals. The distance us between those who are related to us. The distance between us and the people behind store counters we see everyday. The distance between us and strangers. The distance between us and those we love most. Let us measure the distance and approach one another, draw nearer and see what uncertainty we can create.

In the story of Jesus meeting the person we, in Christianity, have come to call the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus responds to the man’s question about what he needed to do to have eternal life by saying, “Sell everything you have and come follow me.” The story says the young man went away sad because he was very rich. He could measure the distance, but he could not bring himself to approach. We live in a world led by those who are held hostage by the measurements of the walls they build, or the power the amass, or the wealth they can store up, all of which are fear-driven attempts to create the illusion of certainty. They do not approach, they demand. They fortify. They do not hope.

May the year ahead be one of approach for us. May we measure the distances between us, not to meet halfway, but to approach and connect every chance we get. Let us hope bravely and brazenly because we are committed to doing so. Whatever next year brings, I hope because I know we are in this together.