What do you do when you’re tired, very tired?

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Photo by Steven Nawojczyk

For years, Steven Nawojczyk has been one of my heroes. Yesterday I posted on my blog one of his many beautiful photographs taken while enjoying nature with his delightful dog, Feebi. The two of them explore nature every day, taking in the extraordinary beauty of Arkansas. Steve has learned to immerse himself in the life-giving sights and sounds of creation. It is therapy, really, a time of re-creation for a person who spent his life as a public servant, immersing himself far too deeply in human tragedy.

In the early 90s, Steve was the county coroner in Pulaski County, Arkansas. He saw too much, felt too much, cared too much and investigated the deaths of far too many young people. Steve was the “face” of the 1994 documentary that gave Little Rock a years-long reputation as a haven for gangs β€” HBO’s β€œGang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock,” While that star billing turned him into a sought-after public speaker and educator throughout the country, it didn’t make him popular in Little Rock city government.

When HBO came to town, largely because of Steve’s urging, Little Rock was a city with a problem. Gang-related killings had spiked the murder count to a record high of 76 — a higher per capita murder rate than Los Angeles and New York. With the coming of crack and gang skirmishing to determine who would sell it and where, there were areas of where drugs could be purchased openly in the streets. Graffiti threats covered every wall, every bridge. Gang life had even spilled over into the suburbs, with white teens suddenly willing to do violence for their colors.

Steve Nawojczyk did not sit in his office in those days. Instead, he walked city streets, listening to gang members, hearing their life stories, holding before them the possibility of change and hope. But that kind of life commitment made him tired, more than tired.

Today, national media are again interested in the soaring murder rate in Little Rock, surmising that gangs are once again taking their place in the city. And they are calling Steve for interviews and information. This is, in part, Steve’s response to them:

ATTENTION MEDIA BOTH NATIONAL AND LOCAL WHO HAVE BEEN CALLING:

I am not doing any interviews or returning phone calls about the LR night club shoot-out nor the current status of gangs. I’ve been saying the same things about it since the early 90s when I was the county coroner . . .

I will address one question all of the reporters, even the one from CNN, seem to be leaving on my voice mail- “…how does this compare to the gang wars of the early 90s when HBO came to town?”

Here’s my answer- ask the leaders in LIttle Rock this question since almost every single one of them were involved in one way or the other back then.

The current mayor was the prosecutor. The current city manager was in the city manager’s office. The current prosecutor was the chief deputy prosecutor. Many of the city board were around then as were many of the same preachers that are still preaching the same sermons. So, they should have been working to understand this and work to prevent it from recurring for the last 20 plus years. At least you would think . . . No need to reinvent the wheel, dudes.

So, I’m retired and tired, very tired. Thanks for thinking enough of my opinion to call me. But I’m done with it all, I’m tending to other more important personal battles right now. Paz y amor.

Signed:
Steve Nawojczyk

So what does one do when they are tired, very tired? Again, Steve is our example.

Go out into the serene beauty of nature. Take in all that is right and good about God’s creation. Let the sunrise awaken your soul and the ripples of an Arkansas lake sooth your spirit. Let the weariness of the past fade into yesterday; let the present day give you strength; and lift your vision to the bright hope of tomorrow.

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Feebi

Steve and Feebi are restoring their souls in their daily adventures. They are opening themselves up to stunning sunrises and the gentle breezes of soul healing. So if you are tired, very tired, spend some time letting nature give you a fresh, new vision of the world.

And as Steve so often says, β€œPaz y amor.”

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Telling My Myth

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The village of Aperi, Karparthos, Dodecanese, Greece

A myth is a story that’s told again and again and serves to explain why something is the way it is. (vocabulary.com)

Our stories, the stories that emerge from living our lives, are myths. I tell a number of stories that my grandmother told me, from stories her grandmother told her. My Yiayia shared stories of life joys and life tragedies. She told stories of her losses and her fears. In tears, she told me about weddings and funerals, birthdays and name days. She told stories of faith and worship. She told me about all the ways God ordered her life.

Her stories, from her tiny island of Aperi in Greece to her later years in Alabama, became her life myth. So as I retold her stories and they became mine, my myth. It’s interesting that both my grandmother’s stories and mine tell of loss and pain, of dark moments that indelibly mark life.

Those dark moments make us who we are. They become an eternal part of our myth, our story that is told again and again as the years pass. The myth we tell reveals why Β life is the way it is. The telling is the cleansing that makes life bearable and meaningful. The myth we tell is full of the kind of power that propels us and gives us wings.

The truth is that we are our tragedies, even more than we are our joys. Joseph Campbell writes about the power of myth.

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

(From The Edge, a beautifully written blog; https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/contemplative2017-myth-ix/)

I will always tell my myth, because in the telling, I find boldness and perseverance for my life. In the telling, I find inspiration. The myth I tell definitely speaks of “the bottom of the abyss.” It also tells of the transformation that I find in the abyss. My myth proclaims with strong certainty that, in my darkest moments, I always found the light.

The Lord is my light and my salvationβ€”
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeβ€”
of whom shall I be afraid?

– Psalm 27:1, New International Version

Today We Remember

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Today, April 4th, marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A minister, a change-agent, an advocate for equality, Dr. King was a civil rights leader whose message of non-violence inspired generations.

At 39 years of age, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King, who was in Memphis that day to show solidarity for striking sanitation workers, delivered one of his most famous speeches on April 3 at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis. Toward the end of the speech, he referred to threats against his life and used language that seemed to foreshadow his impending death, yet he reaffirmed that he was not afraid to die. His words hung in the air as an ominous predictor of what was to occur the next day.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Just after 6:00 p.m. on the following day, Dr. King and a group of others were standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was hit in the neck by a single bullet. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening.

For all of us, for all persons of compassion and good will, for a world filled with racism, his death was a deeply felt loss. We remember his eloquence. We remember his tenacity. We remember his faith and his courage. Today, we remember and we honor his legacy

When I Die: An Epitaph

 

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When I die, give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.

And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I have known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn’t die, people do.
So when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.

– Epitaph By Merrit Malloy

In celebration of the life of Elizabeth Scott Hankins . . . Libby

June 16, 1993 – March 17, 2017

 

The Light in the Harbor

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Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.

Remembering

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Today you are being handed a towel of servanthood with your name on it.

Those are words written by Nancy Hastings Sehested for my ordination service on March 29, 1992. From that day to this, the power of that towel has been a part of my life. I won’t lie. There have been times when I wanted to lay it aside, get out from under the high calling it symbolized.

In 1996, I was presented an actual towel of servanthood by my church family. That towel has remained with me, a reminder of God’s sacred call to ministry. I took it out of its box last week and contemplated the flood of memories it holds.

I thought of patients I encountered as a hospital chaplain. I remembered their pain and suffering as if it happened yesterday. I remembered baptizing a stillborn child as her parents held her close.

I remembered the mother who prayed for a miracle in the hospital chapel after her son was injured in a car accident and declared brain dead by the doctor. I remembered the very moment he miraculously woke up and started his path toward healing.

I remembered the funeral of one of my church members, also a dear friend. I remembered the sheer joy of living and working with the people of Uganda. I remembered the day I preached my first sermon as a pastor.

I am grateful that the Holy Spirit abides with me and reminds me of my call — the grief, the pain, the labor, and most of all the joys. Remembering inspires me.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you.

– John 14:26

Today, I placed my towel of servanthood in a visible place so that I would see it every day. That’s where it really needs to be, to help me remember.

Here’s to Extraordinary Days!

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Life can seem so ordinary at times. Since being retired, the days seem to run together, one being just like the next. There is no workplace to be every day that can punctuate each day with events. I have discovered, though, that the secret to being happily retired is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I like was Steven Charleston says about that.

I look for God when I do the dishes, I search for the Spirit as I take out the trash. The sacred is revealed in brilliant light only rarely, in the flash of some great insight unexpected, but much more than this the holy is to be discovered in our daily lives, in the moments when we are simply being ourselves. Putting the kids to bed, working in the garden, sitting on the porch in the evening: the beauty of eternity is that it hides in plain sight all around us. We are all prophets of the predictable pattern, witnesses to the wonder of the average day.

– Steven Charleston

Finding wonder in the average day is not as easy as it sounds. It requires mindfulness. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, yet not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.Β Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here are some practical ways to be more mindful:

1) Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skillsβ€”but you do need to set aside some time and space.

2) Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.

3) Let your judgements roll by. When we notice judgements arise, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.

4) Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.

5) Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.

– From http://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/?gclid=CjwKEAiA2abEBRCdx7PqqunM1CYSJABf3qvaauVuejiHYoLcIYxifEBqDiya__MAbIcn9gNVf5SnFxoClYrw_wcB

Winnie the Pooh gives us one of the best pieces of advice about making an ordinary day extraordinary.

What day is it?” asked Pooh. β€œIt’s today,” squeaked Piglet. β€œMy favourite day,” said Pooh.

So here’s to extraordinary days!

Imagine a World

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Imagine a world . . .

Where every person is accepted and cherished;

Where faith fills the heart of every person;

Where there is always enough time to watch the stars and listen to the music of the night;

Where there is a sense of calm in every soul;

Where peace reigns in every nation, through every community;

Where we speak to one another with words of kindness and respect;

Where we search for the goodness in every person;

Where we respect and care for the earth;

Where we care for every child;

Where compassion guides our every action;

Where we live as one people, united by lovingkindness.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Bridge Endured

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The Broadway Bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas has graced the Arkansas River for 93 years. Yesterday crowds of people showed up on the banks of the river to watch the Broadway Bridge implode. The charges detonated shortly after 10 a.m. and puffs of smoke could be seen coming from the bridge. The steel from the bridge was supposed to fall into the Arkansas River within minutes. But after the smoke cleared, the bridge was still standing. They called it a failed implosion.

That old bridge was apparently stronger and more firmly and deeply fixed than the engineers thought. The explosives were carefully calculated and placed. The charges detonated like they were supposed to. The bridge simply did not fall. And the people were asking, “why are we replacing a bridge that is strong enough to withstand an explosion?”

The people renamed the stubborn Broadway Bridge “the Darn Bridge.” It refused to fall down after being hit with a Big Bang, and crews made seven additional attempts to pull it down with cables and barges. In five hours — around 3:00pm yesterday– the bridge finally came down.

I could not help but make an analogy regarding humans. The world may seriously underestimate how deeply and firmly rooted we are. I am certain that throughout my own life people have watched from afar to see me fall. Sometimes people are like that. Sometimes others relish in our failures. But the truth remains constant. We a deeply rooted and grounded because of the depth of our faith. Life’s explosions cannot destroy us.

We stand strong. We have built our lives on a firm foundation. We endure. We can withstand attempts to destroy us. It’s good news.

You must remain firmly established and steadfast in the faith, without being moved from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Colossians 1:23

Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary

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To see the holy in the ordinary . . . that is something to aspire to. Seeing the holy in the ordinary can change one’s life, making mundane activities into sacred moments. Learning to savor our days and the experiences that fill our lives can transform us.

Normally, we are a people content with the unremarkable, everyday moments, accepting the usual happenings without thought. But what if the flutter of butterfly wings prompted a season of contemplation? What if birdsong became a symphony of the spirit? What if the gentle breeze rearranged the story of our souls?

Macrina Wiederkehr writes of bringing the longings of our hearts into every present moment. She writes about finding the sacred in the ordinary by gathering up joys and sorrows, struggles and beauty. She urges us to gather the dreams and hopes of every hour that “they may be consecrated at the altar of daily life.”

Oh, that our lives might be open to holy moments and sacred days. God would be well pleased.