Photo by Tim Graves

Just One More Bonus Moment

Photo by Tim Graves

Photo by Tim Graves

Every hike has a moment. In each hike there comes a moment that makes the strained muscles, the perspiration, and the overall effort worth the journey. As I journeyed a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (near Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood), the moment came when I rounded a bend, slogged up an incline, and came upon a view of a deep chasm and Mt. Hood.

But this post is not about The Moment. It is about the bonus moments that some trails offer up with divine abundance. The waterfall reached by a scramble up a canyon filled with rocks, gravel, sand, and boulder was just such a bonus moment offered by the Pacific Crest Trail near Timberline Lodge. The challenging scramble forced me to move from one side and again the other of rushing snowmelt. The bonus moment was worth the risk of landing in icy water.

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Photo by Tim Graves

But this post is not about that bonus moment, either. It is about those bonus moments that distract me from thoughts of well-prepared food and a shower as my trip nears its end. They are parting gifts that often bring a tear to my eye.

This post is about the creature that I caught in my peripheral vision as I moved through a canyon. The movement of the orange mammal was a divine gift as I was returning to the trailhead and thinking about filling my belly. It was the Just One More Bonus Moment that crowned my ten mile hike with a golden glow.

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See also The Things That Move

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The Crimson Face of God

Ascending,
muscles speak,
breath shortens,
and the cool, fresh air invigorates,

Photo by Tim Graves

Photo by Tim Graves

On the boulder strewn summit,
with its vestiges of snow,
and grey moon dust,
green patches cling close to the ground.

Between the stones and rocks,
within the moist canyons,
green grasses and blooms thrive,
in the late summer.

Beyond the trees,
beneath the late summer sunshine,
the mountain peak dominates,
the deserted ski slopes.

In hopes of snow-to-be,
the lift clangs and beeps,
as it moves in anticipation,
of white mounds of snow.

Beneath the cables,
the rock and grey dust,
are stirred by foot fall,
and breeze.

It is here,
in this alien and sacred place,
that God reveals God’s face,
in crimson leaves.

Photo by Tim Graves

God reveals God’s face in crimson leaves. Photo by Tim Graves

Bursts & Sudden Stops

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She touched my heart which has been grieving the disappearing summer and gave me joy for the seasonal shifts, each with purpose and presence worthy of my notice. Photo by Tim Graves

If I were a car, I’d be annoying to follow. I hike in bursts and sudden stops. Moving, moving, go, go…HALT!  If I were following myself I’d be hard-pressed to anticipate my own stops. I stop first, then think about stopping. On a preconscious level, I note something I want to examine or photograph and I cease moving.

I’m sure a brain researcher could explain the neurological functions that occur when this happens. Perhaps my brain is primed and looking for creatures and plant life of interest to me. I do hike with my camera intentionally.

However, I prefer to interpret this biological behavior metaphysically because for me hiking is as much a spiritual experience as a physical one:

Leaving the trailhead, I embark on a journey with the one I call God. Typically, I fail to notice my traveling companion during the early miles of my hike. For awhile my divine hiking partner, allows me to set my own pace. As my muscles move, the toxins I carry with me are released. A space opens up within me that is open to creator and creation.

Photo by Tim Graves

From my extravagantly bedazzled flower, I learned to live fully in the moment. Photo by Tim Graves

Once my being is open to the divine under my feet and surrounding me, I begin to notice the divine in the chattering squirrel, the towering pine, and the rock face.

But.

But even so, sometimes as I’m hoofing it I run the risk of passing by someone I should meet. The divine hiker, stops me suddenly. It’s as if my hiking buddy shouts, “Wait! Look at this!”

In that moment my eyes focus on someone from whom I can learn. The most remarkable encounters I have on the trail are typically the result of these sudden stops.

This morning, I met the first wooly worm of fall from whom I learned that there is beauty and purpose in all seasons. She reminded me that life is cyclical. She touched my heart which has been grieving the disappearing summer and gave me joy for the seasonal shifts, each with purpose and presence worthy of my notice.

Photo by Tim Graves

The morning sun had conspired with semi-transparent seed pockets to garner my attention. Photo by Tim Graves

Earlier, my divine hiking partner grabbed my arm and pointed to the lavender robes in which the late summer flowers clothed themselves. From my extravagantly bedazzled flower, I learned to live fully in the moment.

Cool nights are upon us already. Bitter winds filled with snow will mark the end of lavender displays along the trail. Rather than worrying about what is to come, my floral friend celebrates the present in his best outfit.

As I neared the end of my hike, with trailhead and my car in view, I raced downhill only to have my victory burst halted. The morning sun had conspired with semi-transparent seed pockets to garner my attention.

From this friend, I learned that the future is within the now. While we are influenced by our past, the future beckons us in our becoming. Using not only the raw materials of the past and now but the future we are in the perpetual process of becoming. In this becoming, is where we are most wholly (holy) ourselves.

 

 

 

 

I’m On to You! (An Ode to Poison Oak)

Photo by Tim Graves

Photo by Tim Graves

I’m on to you.

After that one time,
you know the time I’m talking about,
the time you infected my skin with your invisible weapon.

You ask will I ever get over it,
it’s been two years hence.
Did I mention I was miserable for weeks?

My skin puffy and crimson and the itch unbearable,
because you felt a need to protect yourself from my bare leg.
You could’ve just asked me to stay away.

You could stay in your area,
and I’d stay in mine.
But noooo, you encroach on my path.
Did I mention I was miserable for weeks?

But I’m on to you now.

I see you lurking beside the trail.
Your evil ways are known to me,
and I protect me from you.

I wear long pants when I’d rather wear shorts,
leaves of three invade my psyche and my nightmares,
but I know you now.

Sometimes I even protect me from benevolent three-leafers.
You should be ashamed at the bigotry you’ve created in me now.
I avoid raspberry plants and trillium and banana plants because of you!

Did I mention I was miserable for weeks?

The Moment Autumn Began

I watched as it caught the wind.

Photo by Tim Graves

Photo by Tim Graves

Gently to my right,
then my left,
over this way and that,
the brown leaf rode the invisible air.

Westward, then that
and downward it slowly moved
until it came to rest amid
the blades of green
and the seed-bearing cones.

Pausing to acknowledge its journey,
I knelt on rock and soil.

Packed clay and sharp stones
greeted my middle-aged knees
as I thanked the brittle leaf
for the joy it had given me as
hope bloomed in emerging spring.

I eulogized the formerly green one
t
hat had cooled me in its summer shade.
I bid farewell as it embraced its journey
toward becoming nourishment for the seeds of cones,
and the acorns of its descendants.

Our paths intersected,
in the moment that autumn began,
the brittle one and I,
and diverged again as our journeys continued.

             

Quick to Listen

The first major decision I made was racist.

A young white man in his twenties, I was going to change the world. The new director of an urban early childhood program dedicated to providing services within a multiracial, multicultural, mixed-economic setting, I was passionate about the mission. Giving my confession of faith in a storefront church with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness and educated in the St. Louis city and Ferguson-Florissant school districts, I was not a novice to racial tensions.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

When you’re white you journey through life assumed by our culture to be a worthy human being. My experiences with racial conflict in the late sixties and seventies, while upsetting and confusing for me, were still experienced through the lens of a white child. In my church I was blessed to have an African-American man, whose weekday ministry was about healing racial strife,  mentor and help me to process and understand race during that turbulent era. Looking back more than four decades later, I see the divine breath moving in our weekly conversations.

The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to  respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves

The pie is big enough for all peoples. It is time for those of us who are white to respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security. Photo by Tim Graves

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

Part of the problem is that I still understood racism in personal terms. I made a racist decision, not because I intended to favor a white employee at the expense of black employees, but because my white lens filtered out the experience of my African-American staff. Personal prejudice did not cause me to make a racist decision. Not understanding the systemic and institutional nature of racism, caused me to make a bigoted decision. The inability to perceive the whole picture particularly the role of power and privilege within which I was operating, caused me to make a racist decision.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

I’d like to be able to report that I was able to effectively and quickly fix my mistake. I cannot. The damage was done. I had stepped in the proverbial doo doo and early in my tenure I lost some credibility.

I was fortunate, however, to have a United Way representative — who herself was African American — help me to understand the significance of the mistake I made. I also was able to seek out an African American colleague, the director of a sibling early childhood program, a former professor specializing in racism, and several of my staff members. All were extremely patient with me. I am grateful for their help; they were under no obligation to teach me.

Still, the first major decision I made was racist.

As a result of that decision and other experiences I grew in my understanding and awareness of racism. I learned to accept the racist thoughts and impulses within me that are a part of growing up white in America. (Awareness of my shadow feelings, helps me to guard against acting upon them.) I made better, though imperfect, decisions after that day. I continue to learn about the insidious character of racism.

***

More than four decades later, I am no longer an active early childhood educator. I am the pastor of a small church in a tiny frontier town in eastern Oregon. By my count, we have no people of color within the membership of the church and less than a handful of African Americans among the 650 souls who live in our town.

During my nineteen months serving this progressive church, I have preached only twice about the injustice of racism. (This is a luxury that white pastors in white settings have which pastors of color do not.)  The first time followed the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and the second was in response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Two weeks ago when I preached about the sin of racism, a couple of individuals pushed back against my words with examples of individual African Americans acting in prejudicial ways. This is not an unusual response among whites. It reflects a personalizing of racism (which is really about power and systems) and a failure to hear the voices of our oppressed sisters and brothers.

A recent tweet that crossed my feed implied that Progressive Christians are all talk and no action regarding racism. Sadly, I think there is too much truth in this perspective. In my case, I’ve talked about racism only twice in nineteen months. No actions have been forthcoming from my community of Christians.

It is time for substantive action to end the institutional racism that results in the shooting of young black men. Those in the African American community cannot be expected to wait one moment longer for change.

Nonetheless, as a white pastor in a white community, I know that until whites admit that racism is real, they will not be a part of a solution. In ignorance, we will continue to make racist decisions until we listen and believe the lived experiences of our sisters and brothers. We must pay attention to the teachings and modeled life of Jesus: we must hear the cries of the marginalized and oppressed! Then, we must confess our past sins, personal and collective. When that happens, I am convinced that we will respond affirmatively to the divine encouragement to let go of our control of the pie, of our privilege, so that all might live in safety and security.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen [and] slow to speak…
James 1:19 CEB

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Photo by Tim Graves

Revealing Leavings

Adjusting the camera to its closest setting, I got down on my hands and knees on the rough, trail surface. I was more careful than usual to support the camera in such a way that it didn’t slip and end up against the subject which lay less than an inch from my lens. I focused and clicked.

Yes, it’s true I took a photo of a bird droppings today.

I took this paparazzi style photo of a not-chicken along the Herman Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves

I took this paparazzi style photo of a not-chicken along the Herman Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Tim Graves

As I hiked the Herman Creek Trail today I spied a flock of birds fifteen feet ahead. I quickly turned on my camera and quietly approached. (One of my goals is to get more photos of  The Things That Move.) I snapped a couple not-so-clear photos. The birds reminded me of chickens. Not knowing what these birds were, I took a photo of the droppings they left to help me track down their identity.

After photographing bird poop, I continued on my way. My thoughts turned to the excrement I did not photograph on a recent hike in the Cape Perpetua. That turned out to be bear leavings.

Later as I continued my journey, I discovered the feather of a Steller’s Jay across my path. I confess it was hard not to grin in joy at its azure beauty. In each of these cases — the yet-to-be identified chicken-like birds, the bear, and the Steller’s Jay — the leavings tell us about the creature.

It is the same with people. There is a reason nurses and doctor’s monitor intake and outtake when we are ill. Our waste reveals something about us.

It’s not just physical but social waste, however, that reveals something about us.

Following encounters with others, what do we leave? For example, following an argument with my wife, do I do the work to reach reconciliation or do I leave the residue of hurtful statements? In the first, I reveal a commitment to my marriage and a respect for her as a full human being. In the later, I reveal an inability or unwillingness to do the hard work of relationship maintenance. In both I reveal something about my character and my personal journey.

Divine One, help me to remember my connectedness with and impact on others. Help me to consider what I leave behind as I journey this life. When I reach the end of my trail, may others find azure feathers of love, respect, and affirmation in my wake. Amen.