The buses are back.
More than once in my life, I have lived across the street from an elementary school. And long before I had kids, I appreciated that proximity. There’s bustle and sweet high voices and the familiar rhythm of yellow school buses arriving and departing on their predictable schedule. I find it simultaneously energizing and soothing. These days, I also appreciate that my childrens’ commute to school is approximately 17 seconds. But that’s just a bonus.
The regular program year has returned to South Church, too, with its traditional bustle and familiar rhythms. Last Sunday, Water Ingathering. This Sunday (9/18), we’ll have two services at 9 and 11 for the first time since May. And we’ll hold our sixth annual Bring-Your-Weight-in-Food Drive, which is always a whirlwind of people and food. We launch our year with service to the larger community, which always feels good.
There’s a lot going on, so please do check out the Fall Brochure and the updates in the Order of Service.
If you’re not sure where to start, mark your calendar for the “For the Birds” concert planned for October 15th. It’ll be chock full of bird-themed music, poetry, and story put together by Kimberly Cloutier-Green and a host of other good people. And it’ll be a nice way to connect with other folks from South Church and beyond as the weather starts to get brisk.
Or stop by the Small Group Ministry table in the parish hall, and learn more about joining a group. They’re another wonderful way to meet interesting new people and deepen your experience of South Church.
If you have children, don’t forget to register of R.E.!
There’s so much in store, a fresh set of new experiences of worship, fellowship and learning. It’s a joy to be with you as we settle into the new year.
The whole point of living here, really, beyond all of you wonderful people (and you are wonderful,) beyond all the wonderful beaches, the wonderful food, even all the distinctiveness of all the nature and the fishes and the farms and the parks and the shows, every last singular sweet drop of placehood with which the Seacoast drips, the whole point of living here, really, is the seasons.
This dramatic unfolding of time, this glorious transformation, as my sweet family goes from adventuring to beaches, water battles with buckets or sprayers in our backyard, berry picking, boat rides, sunsets on days full of frolic, sunrises with so many options ahead.
This all sweetly dissolves, or transforms, in fits and starts. The first leaves, which I always wonder if perhaps signal the tree being sick, not that the inevitable change has once again come, as it always does. And the bursts still again of heat, memories of what was, punctuating the cold, reminding us, returning us.
The page turns.
And sometimes I say amen!
Sometimes we have one of those summers that we would just as soon forget, a summer of strains and pain, of stretching and sacrifice. Sometimes we find that first leaf and call out to all the other leaves, “Look at this wise, wonderful leaf, doesn’t this look like fun! Fall! Please fall already.”
And sometimes the summer closes on unimaginable sweetness. New love, with all the overblown importance it deserves. Sweet memories whose finality can cause a near physical pain.
I remember such summers. The best friends I had ever made, feeling held and connected, having built something real and true and lasting and good and then the leaves falling and the searing pain.
But, perhaps it’s age. Perhaps the sheer mass of events in a life full of our glorious monkeys and their adventures and triumphs and pains and joys. Perhaps it’s the result of trying to keep up with a wife who is perhaps wiser than I will ever be and loves me with a completeness and a faith that I will pour my everyday into honoring. Perhaps it’s you all. All of your glorious lives, all the birth and death, all the soaring and crashing, the fullness and beauty of it all. And this thing we are building, this precious and mysterious thing to which I pledge my everything, this thing which is only created because of you and Lauren and me and every other person who is reading these words right now and who will ever read these words and all the ones who will not.
Because of all this it seems to me this year that the leaves come and the page turns and a summer full of almost everything is in the books. And now it is a choice of the remembering. Refusing not to remember beauty and goodness. Refusing to be mired in the challenges which we face together, but seeing them, feeling them and knowing that together we can build change, that together we can wrench away the potential of this world from the fearful hands of the clutchers and the grabbers.
And the thing that helps me most in all this. In the turning and the leafing and the remembering and the savoring and the serving and the loving and the building and the all of the everything, the thing that helps me most is you all and South Church and the incredible things we are building together.
So if you’ve had a bit of a break, bust out your GPS, the address is still 292 State St. in Portsmouth. Sunday mornings, 10:00 on September 4th and 11th and then back to 9:00 and 11:00 on the 18th.
And on that 18th, we have our next annual Bring Your Weight in Food Drive. As we have for the last five years we will be gathering donations of food and money for the Seacoast Family Food Pantry. We will have a truck outside the church and my sons and I will be helping the Senior Youth fill the truck and deliver the food. We invite you to weigh yourselves, weigh your pets, remember your ideal weight, weigh the smallest or largest person in your family, however you want to do it, and bring that much food or a check. You an also drop off donations the whole week prior in the Social Hall.
This, too, is how we remember what is beautiful and good in this world. We serve. We join with our neighbors who are doing amazing work to help serve and support folks who are struggling in our community. We serve. We love. We rebuild what is broken in so many ways.
So we will see you soon. Know that you are cherished. And however you turn that page, turn it. Feel the sweet breeze of the page, and prepare for this good thing which awaits, this sweet thing which is on the way.
So much love to you all,
It’s simple really.
Like so many things, so simple and so hard sometimes to do.
When we meet with our staff as an entire team we talk about “big rocks.” These are things that are important, which demand our attention and care, things which we need to think about together as a team.
(This is especially sweet as right now there are thousands of pounds of big rocks on the porch of the church)
But the idea is that if you are filling a container, you have limited space, and if you start filling the container with little things first, by the time you try to put the big rocks in, there is no space.
This is why you start with the big rocks, allow them to take the time and space they need and then fill in with the smaller rocks.
And I thought of it recently as I looked at our calendar, looking at the remaining weeks of summer before our boys start back to school. There is so much swirling around, so much possible, but instead of looking at it all at once, we took the big rocks.
We abated to get the boys to their grandparents. We wanted to bring everyone out to Star. We wanted to go camping again.
And with those in place we fill in with all the other things.
And now with the big rocks in place, we can savor these remaining days. Beaches and rivers, fairs and museums, water fights and watermelons, all the adventures which await.
So in this time which remains, be it the last few weeks of summer or your last years on earth, know what are your big rocks, and treat them accordingly.
So much love to you all,
It started with the eyebrows. But more on that in a minute.
First off, I am sending you all love from the front porch of the Oceanic hotel on Star Island. It is a cool night finally after so much heat. I have come here with Jack, our sweet six year old. Lauren and I are having some very sweet and rare time alone with the boys this week, her with Jack on a trip to California, and me with Ben on a camping trip, our first together.
And right before these trips, a tiny little adventure with just Jack here on Star. Some fishing, Jack catching the largest cunner we have ever caught here on Star, the fish in the picture above, and whatever else he wanted to do, which just a little while ago was the game of Life. This classic board game which is fascinating because it’s a little horrifying.
From the very first move where you have to choose a career or college, the game feels drought. This first choice starts you in different places. It all seemed so stressful, somehow. Jack was unfazed, choosing a life of the trades so that he could start making money right away, he loved this. He decided I had to go to college, which seems only right as it had been my actual choice in real life, there was no option for grad school, certainly no seminary option, though there was a little plastic church which Jack joked that I should live in.
And so the game raced on. Houses were bought, children arrived, floods and insurance, pay days, raises, so much all piled into this game. But the really fascinating thing for me was the ending. The game of life ends with retirement, which is patently absurd. I had just moments before been talking to two of our new members, both freshly retired, both so excited for all that was now possible. I see so many of you so involved, both at the church and out in the world, serving with passion and poise, with wisdom and care. So I chuckled at retirement being the end.
But what was more disturbing was how you won. Jack was convinced that you just counted up your money and the one with more money won. What!?! Have we taught you nothing?!? Jack gleefully counted up his many hundred thousand dollar bills. But I am contented, I protested. I gave back to my community. I volunteered and knew my neighbors. I learned to knit and fish.
But to no avail. Jack counted and then recounted his money, exclaiming to all gathered to watch that he had won in Life.
The big point, of course, was that we had fun. We played a game that he wanted to play, by his creative and advantageously shifting rules. It was a sweet and rare moment with just the two of us.
But the real reason I write to you about it now, was that it was over so quickly.
And that is why I mention the eyebrows. I was at the barber and as she was giving my beard and hair a trim she asked,
“Would you like me to trim your eyebrows?”
And I took a deep breath. My eyebrows have had unruly moments, but never before has a professional asked if I wanted them tamed. My father in his later years had truly crazed bushy eyebrows. Only infrequently could the women in his life prevail upon him to trim them.
I arrive in this moment, in this middle moment in this life, and I am so grateful. So grateful that Lauren and I and our family get to be here with you all. To build this moment together. To have these lives and these careers and these buildings and these children and houses and projects and purpose and beauty.
As Mary Oliver says, this wild and precious life, I am so glad to get to be here with you all, as together our eyebrows get wilder and we get wiser, as we serve this world, as we change this world.
And so, good people, sweet South Church. Breathe deep, take in these sweet days, this precious time. Think of what is most important to you. Know that the question is not what will it mean to win the game of life, but how do you choose to live these precious days and hours and minutes we have. What matters most to you, deep down, and are you doing that?
So much love to you all,
As I sat down to write you these words, I opened my computer to the news about the attack in Niece. A truck driving into people watching fireworks. At the time of this writing more than seventy dead. Fifty injured. Surely that number will rise.
And I breathed deep. A crushed stroller. One unspeakable, unimaginable description after another.
I am tired. I am tired of the relentlessness and senselessness. I am fearful of the numbing which comes. What feels like a moment ago, in the wake of the killings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas, I read of still another shooting which turned my stomach.
In Baltimore, a gunman opened fire on people who had gathered for a candlelight vigil in memory of homicide victim. Four men and one woman were shot before the gunman ran away.
And what was shocking to me was that this story just kind of of disappeared. I read it once and had to seek it out to mention it here. No outrage, no reaction. Just another in a long line of senseless acts of unspeakable violence.
And now Niece. Along with all that has come before.
And I am left with the question of how we carry on. How we remain awake and open, how we remain grounded and hopeful in the face of this onslaught of violence.
And I think of you all.
I think of last Sunday, our voices raised in song. I think of the look in the eyes of a couple new to South Church after they worshipped with us, after they get a taste of this thing we are building.
I think of you all and this helps.
I think of just a few hours ago, in the thick and sticky July heat as I lay on our living room floor, with Jack our six year old lying on my back, Ben, our eight year old, lying on my arm, and Aliyah, our ten month old crawling over to me and meeting my pursed lips with her own big, drooly, sweet, wet kiss.
And this helps.
I think of so many of you, bravely rising up in your lives. Facing down long held demons, getting sober, being honest with yourselves, stepping up to your calling, grieving the searing and painful loss, living with integrity and beauty and love.
I think of you all and this helps.
Sweet, South Church.
Know that you are not alone in these difficult days.
Know that we will chart a way forward together, that we will match this violence with equal and yet more powerful love. Know that the pain you feel, that the sadness you feel is your heart having not yet given up or given in. Know that you are held in love by Lauren and I and all of your South Church family.
And know that together, joined in solidarity with so many others, we are building a world with love at the center. And it is happening.
I love these words of Arundhati Roy.
She writes, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
So much love to you all,