Prisoners of Hope

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Credit: Magnus Hagdorn (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hagdorned/8504467548/)

It has been almost two weeks since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lifetime ago.  So much has changed so quickly I’m not sure what to feel at any given point. 

I woke up a few mornings ago and realized that not knowing what to feel actually provides me with the opportunity to choose how I’m going to feel.

Last week, a colleague reminded me of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah’s admonition:

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.

(Zechariah 9:12)

The great South African theologian Steve De Gruchy took the concept of hope a step further and once said that “We are called to be midwives of hope.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic is testing us in ways that few imagined just a few weeks ago.  The cost—human, economic, social—is huge and growing.  It is easy to lose hope in these times.  But as the prophet Zechariah and De Gruchy remind us: despair is not an option.  

Not only must we remain hopeful ourselves, but we must also bring hope to others.  We can do this through our own acts every day—with our coworkers, our family members and our neighbors.  By doing so we are united with one another through our common humanity.  

Moreover, that is where we will find God.

It is through that strength of unity that we can be of real service to those in need even as we face challenges like the COVID-19 Pandemic. We are only going to get through this by working together. 

My prayer for each of you is that you can find the hope of which Zechariah reminds us so that you can continue to be a midwife of hope for others.

So, each morning when I get up, I choose hope.

What can penguins teach us?

Prior to my recent trip to Antarctica, I confess that I had not given penguins much consideration.  Not beautiful. Smell bad. Can’t fly.  

Really, what was the point of a penguin?

Now, however, I have a new appreciation for the penguin.

Chinstraps Heading to the Ocean
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

As our ship lay at anchor off Deception Island in the Antarctic Ocean, we looked at its black volcanic rock-covered beach where we planned to make our landing.  From a distance one could see tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins marching in and out of sea. White breasts headed in. Black backs headed out.

Once on the shore, the sound of the birds cheerfully chatting and squawking at each other soon distracted from the smell.  We made our way up the beach, to the nesting area, where we observed what could best be described as the shift-change between parents.

While one parent tends the nest and their chicks, the other parent makes its way down to the sea to fish for their offspring.  During the fishing expedition, taking the penguin as far away as 50 miles, the penguin gorges on food, returning to relieve its mate and feed its offspring.

After a brief check in and handoff, the other parent heads down to the sea for its turn to fish.  The remaining parent takes its place on the nest and supervises the chicks. Male and female penguins share this responsibility equally.

Watching well over 50,000 penguins do this over several hours, I began to reconsider the penguin.  Several things impressed me then and remain with me still.

Penguins are loyal.  Penguins commit to a mate and then their offspring.  Moreover, a penguin can find and recognize both its mate and its chicks amongst tens of thousands of others, even after wandering miles away on land and sea.

Loyalty
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

Penguins are humble. Not known for its beauty, vanity is not a vice in which a penguin can afford to indulge.  It sits in its own guano patiently waiting and tending its offspring while its mate fishes.  

Penguins are determined.  As a penguin makes its way single-mindedly back and forth between the ocean and its nest, it encounters many obstacles.  Rocks, icebergs, predators, rain, sleet, snow, other penguins. And yet, the penguin presses on in its mission to take care of its family.

Penguins are brave.  The penguin world is full of bigger and meaner beasts than they are.  Leopard seals stalk the shoreline as penguins dive into the sea to fish.  Skua birds cruise the skies looking for a moment to swoop in and snatch a chick.  Yet the penguin goes about its business with courage.

Loyalty. Humility. Determination. Bravery. 

These are not choices a penguin makes.  Evolution has made them necessary characteristics for their survival. 

However, they are choices we can make.  

What would our world be like if we all chose to be unfailingly loyal, humble, determined, and brave?

Resolutions 2020

Let me stipulate from the start that I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions.  It seems like one is setting oneself up for failure. And that’s not a good way to start a new year.  I have lots of hopes for 2020. And consequently, I find myself a bit embarrassed to have actually made some resolutions for this year.

AntarcticaFlagMy family had the good fortune to take a trip to Antarctica.  Normally such a trip would be way beyond our budget. However, a dear family friend left me a bequest that made it possible for us to make this once-in-a-lifetime trip.  I know I should have paid down the mortgage, but this friend loved to travel and so I thought it more appropriate to honor her memory by creating some of our own memories. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

One of the unexpected pleasures of the trip was that we all disconnected from the internet for ten days.  No news. No social media. No email. No podcasts. Suddenly we could be fully present both in our shared experience and for each other.  What a joy it was! The news blackout was a particular gift. I suddenly realized how much bandwidth I allocate to following current events and how much it drags my mood down.  So that brings me to my first resolution: take a Sabbath once a week from electronic devices (with the exception of my Kindle, for pleasure reading).

In the lead up to Christmas I participated in a 360 assessment at work.  Fifteen of my colleagues anonymously filled out a 50-question survey providing feedback on my performance.  It’s very brave to offer candid advice and assessment about the boss, even anonymously, and I’m very grateful to them for doing so. 

It was with some trepidation that I met with the consultant to go over the results. Somewhat to my surprise I found the feedback very affirming.  Not that there aren’t areas for me to work on. There are. However, there is close alignment between what my colleagues would like to see me do differently and what I’d like to do differently.   Turns out I can sometimes be a micromanager. I’ll own that. That’s not my intention, of course, but I can certainly see how my focus on detail and irritation when things don’t go exactly as I want them to is experienced as micromanagement.  So that brings me to my second resolution: try not to sweat the small stuff.

Finally, this blog is going to be my third resolution: try for once a month and see if that’s sustainable.

Happy 2020 everyone!

Spiritual but not Religious

pexels-photo-257037In my experience the declaration that “I’m spiritual but not religious” is often greeted by a collective eye-roll in church circles.   For many of us affiliated with formal church or faith organizations, it can seem a ridiculous thing to say.

What we think we’re hearing is “I’m spiritual but not yet religious.”

Continue reading “Spiritual but not Religious”

The Three Beating Hearts of Maori Leadership

Haerenga-Ta-Moko-Maori-Tattoo-Whakairo-Maori-Carvings-Paintings-Maori-art-in-Waitomo-New-Zealand-e1454981391395
“Haerenga” Painting by Daniel Ormsby

Since taking up my role as president of Episcopal Relief & Development over 13 years ago, many people have kindly sent me articles and books about leadership.  How is it recognized? How is it developed? What does it look like in a faith context? How can one be a non-anxious leader? You get the picture.

I read much of what was sent to me as I searched for my vision of how I want to be a leader.  After over 25 years serving in various leadership roles, I can’t say that I subscribe to one school or genre of leadership.  

So much depends on context and how one’s personal gifts and graces (or lack thereof) interact with circumstances and the people you are trying to lead.  I’m reminded of the quip about pornography—it doesn’t have a definition, but you sure know it when you see it.

Nonetheless I am always intrigued by new and interesting takes on leadership.

Continue reading “The Three Beating Hearts of Maori Leadership”

Light in a Very Dark Place

black-and-white-blur-book-164821We are now approaching the darkest days of the year.  Our Advent wreaths and Hanukkah menorahs have brought light into our lives.  It is an opportune time to reflect on how one can bring light to dark places.

Several months ago friends from out of town invited me to a benefit organized to support Musicambia.  I accepted because I wanted to spend time with these friends and this was going to be a good way to do it.

After a nice dinner getting caught up on family news, we made our way to the event.  We settled into our seats and I began to focus on Musicambia and its mission.

First up was Dexter.

Continue reading “Light in a Very Dark Place”

The beating heart of a home

Big Ben Inner Clock Face
By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35619684

When my in-laws were downsizing out of their home in Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada and moving to an apartment, they very generously gave us a grandfather clock that stood in their front hall.  The clock was made in Halifax in Yorkshire, England, probably in the late 18th century and stands well over 9 feet tall.  

Fortunately our apartment in New York has high enough ceilings to accommodate it, and so my wife and I moved it into our living room.  We never got around to having the clock works cleaned and repaired, so the clock has stood mute for well over ten years. Continue reading “The beating heart of a home”

Interstellar Space

Living as I do in an urban environment, it is not usually possible to see many, if any, stars on a regular basis.  Fortunately, my work takes me off the beaten path to places where there is little ambient light to obscure the night sky.  

Most recently, I found myself in the desert of New Mexico at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert on a silent retreat.  There, after the sun had set, the heavens blazed.

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Continue reading “Interstellar Space”