The Things That Move

Eugene Fern's "What's He Been Up  to Now?" Photo from amazon.com

Eugene Fern’s “What’s He Been Up to Now?” Photo from amazon.com

Our eyes met. The spotted fawn looked at me; I looked at her. Reaching down to flip on my camera I silently chanted, “stay where you are, stay where you are.” She didn’t.

As I walk along the trail, I catch motion. Too fast for a snake and too small for a squirrel my eyes fail to focus before it is too late. As if to taunt me it happens multiple times. Sigh.

Far enough away, it didn’t seem to notice me. The coyote moved through the sage and grasses a few hundred feet below the trail. My camera beeped as it came on. I adjusted the zoom but my canine friend moved. He got away, too.

Catching the things that move on camera is full of near-misses, long-shots, and if-onlys. In my pursuit of the  things that move I often feel like Reginald, the elephant in a children’s picture book who falls into a deep hole in his pursuit of a butterfly. I confess that I give up sooner than Reginald. I also rarely need my father and mother to retrieve me from a deep hole.

Sometimes, I have unexpected successes that startle me as I download them from my camera. In late spring of this year, I captured an image of my very own butterfly at Dyer Wayside State Park near my home. It didn’t require a chase at all just a few steps.

A Butterfly on a lilac bush at Dyer Wayside Park between Condon and Mayville, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

A Butterfly on a lilac bush at Dyer Wayside Park between Condon and Mayville, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Feeling empowered by my butterfly success, I chased some moths and dragonflies in Cottonwood Canyon State Park. Though I was satisfied with several of my moth photos, it was this dragonfly that surprised me when I downloaded it on my computer. Prior to the download, I feared my near-misses of stepping in water was all for naught.

I chased this moving thing through the marsh near the John Day River in Cottonwood Canyon State Park in June. Photo by Tim Graves

I chased this moving thing through the marsh near the John Day River in Cottonwood Canyon State Park in June. Photo by Tim Graves

As chasing the things that move continued into the summer months, I had a few non-insect successes. By observing squirrel behavior, I noted to myself that they run and hide from my approach. They tend to scamper into a tree or protected space in the ground. It is their equivalent to the President’s “undisclosed location” except that I see where they go. By waiting a few minutes, camera focused, they will return to the opening to peer out to check on whether I’ve left or not. Patiently and quietly I waited for this squirrel to reappear and was rewarded with this image.

This squirrel returned to the opening of its bunker at Columbia Hills State Park, near The Dalles, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

This squirrel returned to the opening of its bunker at Columbia Hills State Park, near The Dalles, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Birds are particularly skittish of my approach. Their ability to fly also makes it difficult to follow or focus using my zoom. Too many of my photos of birds are blurs or of an empty sky or perch. Sometimes I am lucky. Most of the time I am not. I expected a blurry blob, particularly consider that distance from which I had to focus, when I downloaded this aviary image.

Surveying its vast domain along the John Day River in Cottonwood Canyon State Park, this bird of prey sits in its throne forty feet above mere mortals and photographers. Photo by Tim Graves

Surveying its vast domain along the John Day River in Cottonwood Canyon State Park, this bird of prey sits in its throne forty feet above mere mortals and amateur photographers. Photo by Tim Graves

Reptiles move at a pace that makes them difficult to shoot, however, I’ve discovered that a few varieties make assumptions about the quality of my vision. This one was convinced that I could not distinguish it against the rock upon which it remained perfectly still. In this angle, you can see that it is adept at blending into its surroundings.

The rocks of Deschutes State Park, near Biggs Junction, Oregon help this creature feel like a stealth jet. Photo by Tim Graves

The rocks of Deschutes State Park, near Biggs Junction, Oregon help this creature feel like a stealth jet. Photo by Tim Graves

Despite my aging eyes I spotted my camouflaged friend. Perhaps because I saw its movement before it became stationary. Perhaps because I could view the rock from more than one angle. (Remarkably its confidence at my poor visual acuity allowed me to photograph from only inches away.)

I recently encountered a friend who was convinced my vision could not make out his form on the rock. Photo by Tim Graves

I recently encountered a friend who was convinced my vision could not make out his form on the rock. Photo by Tim Graves

No doubt the things that move will continue to do so. I am committed to honing my skills and walking less obtrusively through their homelands. I suspect both actions will lead to more successful images. Nonetheless, I expect to continue to download a few blurred images as I chase my metaphorical butterflies. Just pray I don’t fall into any really big holes in the process.

The dunes and yet-to-lift fog hide the ocean from my view. Photo taken at Holman Vista by Tim Graves

Seeking the Origin

A yellow gem emerges from its slumber. Photo by Tim Graves

A yellow gem emerges from its slumber. Photo by Tim Graves

Left foot, right foot. My legs move repetitively one after another. On the packed sand, I move at a good clip in the midst of the adaptable vegetation that thrives on the dunes.

Moving my whole body at an energetic pace en route to the ocean, I only pause to breathe in the noble vistas or tiny gems that border, and sometimes encroach upon, the trail.

The path does not remain an idyllic easy-to-traverse route. Much of the trail is loose sand as I journey over and through the dunes. Struggling as the ground shifts beneath my feet, my stride slows. I feel each step not in my calves but in my right hip (Genesis 32:25).

Left foot, right foot. I am determined to return to the sea from which Darwin posits all life emerged. With each footfall the stress of recent weeks moves through my muscles and exits my psyche. Yearning to commune with the One, my spirit moves my body toward the divine breath that sweeps over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Signs of Confusion

Signs of Confusion. Photo by Tim Graves

As I near the sea, the blowing sands have covered my path. Signs placed to point the way perplex me. Confusion overcomes me. “Which way is the right way?” I lament. Without an obvious answer, without a simple answer or a definitive path to follow, a gut choice is all that remains. I stake out toward the sea of life through the final dune.

Left foot, right foot. My feet arrive on the beach as the wind blows away the morning fog. The sun warms my face as the breath of origin envelopes me.

Photo by Tim Graves

The Breath of Origin. Photo by Tim Graves

 

 

 

 

Contemplating Beauty

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carlson

The morning fog hangs over Dune Lake in Suislaw National Forest, near Florence, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Aliens Among Us?

There are two ways to read a mystery novel. You can start on page one and read from start to finish. The reader who reads this way allows the story to unfold in its own time. Some would say in the way the author intended.

Another way to read a mystery novel is to skip to the last page first to find out whodunit before returning to the beginning. This reader — knowing the ending — watches the story unfold but enjoys spotting the literary clues the author has left.

***

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 7.35.26 AMChristians start reading the Bible with Jesus. We read Genesis through his life, death, and resurrection. We read the prophets through his life, death, and resurrection. We read the Psalms ever mindful of Jesus. Even Christians who read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation already know what happens to Jesus. Since we know what happens, we understand the rest of the Bible in a particular way.

Our elder testament — the Old Testament — accounts for approximately 75% of our sacred text. Yet, we spend most of our time reading and preaching the younger testament.

This is a mistake. To understand Jesus and his teachings, we must understand his faith. To understand his faith, we must read and study his Bible.

***

In our scripture reading from Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:28-31), several Jews, of whom Jesus is one, are discussing the Torah. (The Torah is the first five books of our Bible.) 

Like UCCers, many Jews of Jesus’ time did not read the text in a rigid way. They believed, like we do, that the Bible is a living document through which God still speaks. Like us, they believed that the Bible is best understood within community. No one of us has the answer. It is in community that varied perspectives and voices are part of the conversation and more fully enable us to discern God’s will.

And, so, overhearing the discussion a legal expert asks Jesus,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus responds by quoting from Torah. He paraphrases Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5,

Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.(Deuteronomy 6:4-5 CEB)

Jesus doesn’t stop with one commandment, however. He tells the legal expert that there are two commandments that serve as the foundation of our faith. And, so, he paraphrases from Leviticus 19 as well,

You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18 CEB)

Jesus tells the legal expert, “No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:31 CEB) 

If the teachings of Jesus are foundational for Christians, as we claim, I argue that when he tells us what the Greatest Commandment is, we should try to follow it. Says Jesus,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” 12:30-31a CEB

This. These words of Jesus quoting Torah can serve as the yardstick by which we measure our actions and relationships in the world.

These words are the sunglasses through which, as followers of Jesus, we view a brighter, a more hopeful possibility for the world. They allow us to see the world in a different way and determine the actions we will take in our personal lives and in our advocacy for others.

***

Many of you have been rightfully upset by the unaccompanied children who have been entering our country at the southernmost border. I’ve had multiple conversations about “What can we do?”

Here is a short video shared by Kate Epperly that I think frames the issue well. Kate is our UCC Minister on the Disciples/UCC Family & Children’s Ministry Team.

So, what do we do? What would Jesus do when faced with a complex political and ethical issue? He might pray; he might look at scripture. I suspect that he’d do both as he considered his actions. 

When he looked at scripture, he’d probably find any number of passages about God’s expectations regarding our response to this Hebrew word variously translated into English as alien, as immigrant, as sojourner, or sometimes traveler.

Contextually in the seventh or eighth century before Christ, when Deuteronomy was written, there are no Hiltons or Motel 6s. There were no McDonald’s or Denny’s. If you were traveling, you depended upon the hospitality of strangers. This serves a dual purpose. For the traveler, it meant a place to stay and food to eat. For the host it was a way to honor God.

To breech this obligation to care for others was to breech your very obligation to God. Writes UCC scholar Walter Brueggemann,

Deuteronomy has in purview a profoundly neighborly ethic that understands the formation and maintenance of a communal infrastructure as a primal mode of obedience to the God of covenant. (Abingdon OT Commentaries: Deuteronomy, loc. 122)

And, so, when Jesus looked at his scripture, he might’ve looked at Deuteronomy 10 in which the writer, speaking as if Moses, says,

Stop being so stubborn, 17 because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. 19 That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16b-19 CEB)

Jesus’ Bible and our Bible is chockfull of widening the circle of love. Jesus himself widens the circle to include not only the Jewish people but Gentiles as well. Jesus himself spends much of his ministry at the margins of society, among those who are not fully included in society.

We are called to include all peoples within God’s circle because our God is an “awesome God who doesn’t play favorites! (Deut. 10: 18 CEB)

And, so, as followers of Jesus I ask you now, what does God ask of us?

When we view this crisis through the lens of the Greatest Commandment, what position do we take? How do we manifest loving God with all our heart, all our being, all our mind, and all our strength? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves?

What actions do we individually and collectively take? What would Jesus encourage us to say and do? How will we respond to the aliens among us?

Amen.

___

Following this short sermon, preached at the Condon United Church of Christ on July 20, 2014, the congregation had a lengthy discussion regarding ways to respond to the current crisis of unaccompanied children at the United States’ southern border.

What’d You Get Her For Your Anniversary?

"Growing Together 1" Photo by Tim Graves

On our hike this morning, we were both intrigued by this tree that seems to grow from two root systems. Photo by Tim Graves

Thirty-five sounds like we should have special plans. We should get all dressed up in our sexiest clothes and go out to dinner. If you believe the commercials, I should surprise her with an expensive gift. Perhaps a diamond ring or necklace. Maybe I should send her thirty-five roses?

Instead we’ve been hiking and now we’re hanging out together over fast food pizza. We might stop by the cherry stand in Mosier on the way home and we’ll probably cuddle with the dog this evening. We rarely put pressure on ourselves with the big days or the numbers. We also don’t spend money on each other just because some marketer says we should.

We spend time together. As we traveled from our remote town to the trail this morning, we talked about our future. I asked about how she was feeling about work which is currently in a state of flux. She listened as I reflected upon my hopes and dreams ministering with my congregation. We listened. We loved.

We did what we usually do on our Monday sabbath. We spend time doing things we enjoy and just being together.

Still, I’m more reflective today than most Mondays. As I look across the table at my Imzadi, my soul mate, my other half, my partner in life, my thoughts drift to where we were then and where we are now.

We were married young. Maggie was nineteen; I was a few months into my twenties. Objectively speaking, she has a few “blonde” hairs on her head now. My red beard is rapidly greying and we both wear bifocals now. We finished our childrearing a long time ago. We bicker less than we did during those years, perhaps because we have more rest and time to work on our relationship. Undoubtedly, because we’ve learned a thing or two about ourselves and one another through the decades.

"Growing Together 2" Photo by Tim Graves

On our hike this morning, we were both intrigued by this tree that seems to grow from two root systems. Photo by Tim Graves

Through it all — including the stormy times — our commitment to one another has remained rooted in our own mutual admiration society. You see, there is no one else. There is no one, including my children, with whom I’d rather be than Maggie. No one gets me like she does and I get her better than anyone else. I know and love her through her idiosyncrasies. She inexplicably finds my obnoxious morning (and afternoon and evening) songs endearing.

How could a diamond necklace or roses in any way represent the value of our thirty-five years together? Time together, sharing jokes with one another, talking about the next thirty-five, and simply being together are gifts that reflect our decades together. Those are the gifts we both expect from one another.

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The view of Mt. Hood (on the left) and Mt. Adam (on the right) from the peak of McCall Point, near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Self-Care: I Am Important

One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

The statistics about the health of the clergy are staggering. (See for example, Clergy Members Suffer From Burnout, Poor Health). We tend to be heavier, less active, and prone to depression.  I knew the problem before my mid-life call to ministry.

As the “pastor’s wife” for a decade I saw the toll that parish ministry takes on clergy up close. My wife’s physical health and mental health suffered at the hands of the church. I was frightened at the impact that congregational ministry had on her.

And, so, when I discerned a call to ministry, I was bound and determined to avoid suffering the same fate as my wife had in parish ministry. With a personal routine of working out at the gym five days a week prior to seminary I naively committed to continuing to do so in seminary.

Alas, poor habits of self-care are taught alongside theology and the Bible at clergy training institutions. I left seminary flabbier, more stressed than necessary, with a caffeine addiction of epoch proportions, and with extremely poor sleep habits. Within a year of of leaving school I’d unlearned most of the poor self-care habits.

Once ensconced in parish ministry, however, my health began to slide again. I had two significant health events within as many years of beginning parish ministry. The second, in which my right colon was removed, was the quintessential wake up call.  That surgery earlier this year caused me to think about what I would regret not doing should I die.

Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves

Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves

I’ve re-ordered my priorities.  Since my surgery nearly four months ago, I have become diligent in taking care of myself. I hike and write — my preferred forms of physical and mental exercise —  at least three days a week. The mental shift I’ve had to make is this: instead of taking care of myself after X or Y is done, I do so on a, albeit flexible, schedule. Self-care is a priority.

I am as important as my parishioners. I am more important than administrative and other tasks. My self-care is non-negotiable.

And, so, today I prioritized myself. Though many things demand my attention in this extremely busy week (with another looming), I went hiking with God.

So you see that a sabbath rest is left open for God’s people. The one who entered God’s rest also rested from his works, just as God rested from his own.
Hebrews 4:9-10 CEB

Respect the Rattle

Photo by Tim Graves

Call it a transplanted midwesterner’s romance with the frontier or a foolhardy amateur photographer’s dream. Either way, today was my lucky day. Photo by Tim Graves

I confess I have been looking forward to meeting a rattlesnake since moving to the west three years ago. Call it a transplanted midwesterner’s romance with the frontier or a foolhardy amateur photographer’s dream. Either way, today was my lucky day.

On our weekly sabbath hike, my wife and I encountered a plump rattler along Oregon’s Deschutes River.  I powered up my camera while keeping a safe distance. I briefly debated whether to get on my belly in order to get an ophidian-eye view of my formidable friend.

The fears inherent in pre-adolescent stories of the evil rattlesnake (undoubtedly embellished) joined together with the tales of lifelong eastern Oregonians with a respect for the genus, to convince me that was unwise. Appreciating my zoom, I snapped multiple photos while kneeling on the ground.

Hiking away from my new rattler friend, I felt disappointment. I didn’t get the knockout shot I had imagined I’d get on my first encounter with a rattlesnake.

Sigh. On the other hand, I didn’t need a trip to the emergency room.