Sunrise, Sunset

Friday, 28 March, started out like this:

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An absolutely beautiful morning on the Atlantic.

We knew it would be a special day when we got the call from my brother to run—not walk—upstairs to their balcony that overlooked the ocean. Why the urgency? We asked. Usually when you’re hanging out on the beach, things tend to be taken a little easier. It’s this kind of pace we were appreciating in on this post-Easter vacation.

The ocean was fairly smooth, and when it’s like that, my brother likes to look for dolphins smoothly making their way north or south paralleling the shore. And indeed he pointed out the spray from a blowhole you might expect to see from dolphins; except this time the spray was a bit bigger. Instead of the dorsal fins you are used to seeing roll out of the water, their was a large back—sans fin.
Right Whale
That’s a Right Whale, my sister-in-law explained. You can tell by the fact that it doesn’t have a dorsal fin. They’ve been hunted into endangerment; there are only a few hundred of them left. We watched it move it’s way south—spray, backbone, and one showing of its fluke. I guess seeing a whale that s on the edge of extinction should be enough to let one know that it was going to be an extra-ordinary day.

It was our last day on Jacksonville Beach, before we were to head north to Atlanta to visit with two of my closest friends; one with whom I was looking forward to spending some quality time as he had just gone through a surprising and painful divorce. When we left Cleveland on Easter Sunday, we had just received word from one of the folks in the church I serve—hereafter referred to as, M—that some scans observing his progression through cancer treatments had come back showing the cancer was present and, in his words, “raging” throughout him.

A group gathered after church to set up pastoral care, my family piled into the van, and we headed south. Wednesday I learned that M had checked into the hospital to undergo a blood transfusion. Thursday I was told he had been moved to the palliative care unit. On Friday morning (the same day as the sunrise and whale sighting), I spoke with M’s partner–R–who told me that he didn’t believe M would make it through the weekend. Around 5:30 that afternoon, M drew his last breath.

I am told that he was surrounded by—in the language of the church—a great cloud of witnesses; a few loving people who represent several aspects of M’s life. It’s hard to know what to do when you have a particular role in someone’s life (like, pastor) and you are unable to be there at such a moment of transition. M’s death was something for which many folks have been gearing for a while, as he had experienced peaks and valleys with his health for several years. But this happened so quickly.

As I concluded the conversation with R, he offered me one thing I could do from where I was: “Enjoy the sunset.” As I stood on the beach with my family, at dusk, I looked west and drew in the various shades of blues, oranges, yellows, and whites, and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a life that will sorely be missed. In my sadness, I prayed over the sunset of this life, but I had a faint smile somewhere within me over the sunrise that he must be seeing in the next one…….

Four Cups of Tea

I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is about an3 Cups of Tea American–Mortenson–who had the vision to build schools in remote Pakistan after being saved by villagers after a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2. The book, and Mortensen’s mission– has become more profound in the recent assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto.

Mortensen befriends the chief of the village in which he would end up building the first school. Haji Ali explains the practice of offering tea as an invitation to hospitality:

Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything–even die.

In the US, the closest we come to this ritual is to offer somebody a hot or cold drink–depending on time of year–when they come over to our house. But even that tradition is falling by the wayside in our faster paced world. Since I am not a coffee drinker, I tend to accept cups of tea–iced (sweet, of course) or hot (sweet, of course)–whenever they are offered.

This week I’ve enjoyed four occasions when tea was offered me, each of which was a significant glimpse into what sustains me–dare I say brings me peace–as I travel through this world.

Cup #1: A Classic Earl Grey set out by my wife. Usually my first cup of tea in the morning is prepared by me: sugar, milk, water, and tea bag. On this Monday morning I found that the mug had already been filled with water and the tea bag was floating there-in. Unexpectedly preparing tea is not a ritual that we are used to giving one another. But on this occasion it was a welcome and appreciated surprise.

Cup #2: A mango herbal, given to me by my spiritual director. It took me a while to find out the blessing of being asked monthly “where have you noticed God’s presence in your life and ministry.” Yet in the infusion of this question through my spirit, I find an opportunity to reflect and receive. “What do you discover?” you may ask. The assurance that ready or not, God accompanies me…and the difference that makes in how I meet the world.

tea-bag.jpegCup #3: A detoxifying Rooibus, offered by a member of the congregation I serve. As he concludes a latest round of chemotherapy for a stubborn group of cells going by the name of lymphoma, we begin our weekly visits with a cup of tea before diving into the theologically-rich text of Babylon 5.

Cup #4: Several infusions of a Milk Oolong, a rare tea, received at The Monestery restaurant (reviewed in prior post), while lunching with a dear friend and colleague in ministry. To receive insight and wisdom, care and concern, laughter and silence, from and with her is a great gift.
In these four cups a balance in life has been struck. Was it the tea that made the difference? Not really. It was after all, the relationships. But I am thankful for the gifts of boiling water, tea leaves, cup and saucer, as the elements to bring me together with these companions of mine.

Wherever you are, I invite you to pour a cup and take a sip with me.

Vote for BRC

You’ll note the badge on the left that supports the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow standing for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I would urge you to click on it and check out what Bruce has to say.

Bruce and I were in graduate school together at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He and I worked together for a year in campus ministry at UNITAS Presbyterian House on the campus of Cal-Berkeley. We have also staffed college and youth events, as well as shared in groups supporting the work of young presbyterian pastors and pastors who work in urban settings.

I have come to regard Bruce not only as a trusted and valued friend, but as a pastoral colleague in whom I have the utmost respect. I have appreciated Bruce’s ability to be a forerunner in the movement of pastors who aren’t interested in maintaining the church as it has been throughout the 20th Century. Bruce had the grace to realize early in his pastorate that a typical church wasn’t going to nurture him and his gifts for ministry. Instead, he challenged himself to look deeply within and fashion a ministry that would have great integrity within who he is. In the process, he has discovered that not only are there other clergy people who are looking to emerge into a different way of engaging the gospel, but that there are a whole lot of people searching for meaning who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t going to find it in the church as we’ve known it.

Even while Bruce has been testing the waters for new expressions of ministry and mission, he is deeply committed to the Presbyterian Church. You will find as you engage him in conversation, that his faith and witness are steeped in the reformed faith. He will be an excellent leader to bring people of divergent beliefs together. As I’ve spoken with him about his hopes as Moderator, Bruce has spoken with great energy about wanting to find a variety of forums for promoting constructive conversations in order to unite the denomination in its interface with the world.

It is without hesitation and with great expectation that I endorse the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow as Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) .