Balcony People

This week in my FaceBook memories, I came across a post I had written following my recovery from hip surgery.  The memory now has mostly faded of how difficult physical therapy was.  But in the post I recounted how during the most painful of treatments, I would think of all the people who were pulling for me, praying for me, and it would help get me through it.  One of my friends had replied: “Your Balcony People.” 

What a descriptive term!  When I hear it I think of all the people who have been such for me.  So many of them have passed on from this world.  In the successive years 2008 and 2009 my mother, and then my father, died.  The year 2019 was full of loss: my dear Uncle Harley in April, my cherished friend JoAnn, in June and my beloved brother Ed in October.  Yet I feel their continued presence in my life.  And so many others are still living, still cheering me on through life.  

In 2001, as I drove down the driveway following the ambulance carrying my husband, I called my friend Diane,  just wanting the assurance of a caring friend.  But in less than an hour she and her husband were at the emergency room and brought a meal for me.  In 2002, barely four months later, when Terry had restenosis in the stent he had only just gotten, once again Diane showed up in the waiting room.  In 2009, as I waited in the Emergency Room where my father was being treated for a stroke, my friend Ann showed up. So many encouraged me through the long process of preparation for ministry, have supported me through dark times and celebrated successes with me along the way.  Balcony People are priceless. 

Knowing how much those people mean to me, I strive to be a Balcony Person for others.  Life is full of opportunities to fulfill that role.  Mercy knows, we can all use someone in our corner. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife.” – Tim Gunn

Prisons

Recently Terry and I began watching a series called “I Am a Killer,” featuring interviews with prisoners convicted of murder.  The stories tend to be heartbreaking.  The last one we watched was the story of a man with an IQ of 70 and a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).  He seemed as baffled as everyone else why one moment he was chatting with an elderly neighbor on her porch, and the next he had pushed her into her house and had begun to brutally murder her. 

The detective who had investigated the scene of the crime was understandably horrified by what she found.  She saw her role as the advocate for the victim in the legal proceedings.  As part of the documentary, she listened to part of the prisoner’s interview.  In it, he talked about being brutalized by his father.  Without blinking an eyelash, she said “Well, lots of prisoners claim they were abused in childhood.”  Perhaps because many of them were?  The percentage I saw reported was 44%.

I am always struck by the approach that operates from the mindset that involves treating inmates as less than human.  How does treating people who often have been made to feel worthless throughout their lives do anything but perpetuate the same?

On the other hand, I read this week an article from a minister who taught a course at a local prison and became acquainted with an inmate who had persuaded the prison administration to let him cultivate flowers in the middle of the prison. This was one of his tactics of survival for incarceration. 

The author of the article also described a book he had come across written by a prisoner in a facility near the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona.  The prisoner had painted and sketched plants, animals and insects he was aware of in his surroundings.  He included stories about how he and his friends would welcome birds to build nests on their window ledges, between the bars, leaving bits of food for them.

Label me a “bleeding heart,” if you like.  I recognize we are talking about people who have committed crimes, sometimes horrific, repulsive ones.  Yet I see no way for us to make any headway in reducing crime if we continue to think only in terms of punishment, with little or no effort towards rehabilitation. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Years ago on a visit to our exchange daughter in Germany, we were shopping with her in a town nearby to her home.  We came across her father, a policeman, with a fellow just walking along with him.  We exchanged greetings and her dad and his companion went on their way.  Later, back at their home at supper, we asked who had been with him.  Oh, he said, it was his prisoner.  No handcuffs.  No indication he was in any trouble.  By all appearances, just two men walking through the village.

Authentic Voice

After talking for several years about writing a blog, the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity.  Looking back, I see my blogs tend to fall into three categories:  1) some bit of information or experience that caught my attention that I wanted to share; 2) some slice of life from this little town I now call home; or 3) something uplifting, some words of encouragement I hope to offer.  I can tell you the third category gets the most response.  How much we all seek to be uplifted!

As my pastoral duties take precedence, I sometimes struggle to give my blog the attention that fulfills me and hopefully provides something worth my readers’ time.  So I was struck by a daily post from the Frederick Buechner site I follow.  Buechner, a favorite author of mine, spoke of his early writing that had “very little” of his “life’s blood.”  Sometimes I have achieved the discipline of writing and posting without infusing it with as much of myself and my passion as I would have hoped.  For that I can choose to “offer myself some grace.” 

So my intention is to offer you my authentic voice always.  When I am faced with a blank page blinking back at me, and stumble to fill it with something that approximates that voice, perhaps you also will give me some grace!  More importantly, when there are times in your own life when you feel you haven’t measured up, when you have disappointed yourself, when you find yourself mired in some disconsolation or despair, discover the healing balm of giving yourself some grace. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  from another favorite, John O’Donohue: “To Come Home To Yourself”

May all that is unforgiven in you

Be Released.

May your fears yield

Their deepest tranquilities.

May all that is unlived in you

Blossom into a future

Graced with love.      From To Bless the Space Between Us

(As my pastor friend Tonia says, “I bid you peace.”) 😊

The Whistlestop

As railroads became a means of transporting goods and people in the late 1800s, my current home in Columbus, MT, was  on the Northern Pacific Railroad line. The  typical small town train depot in Columbus housed a freight warehouse, a passenger terminal and the station master’s office.  As late as 1967 there were two eastbound and two westbound trains making stops in Columbus.  Early in the century there were eight trains daily, three passenger and one freight each direction.  That was the impetus for the Whistlestop Café, located directly across from the train station.  It has been a fixture in this little town for decades, beginning in 1927.  Pictures of the early years line the walls, telling the story of a little restaurant that has evolved but in its essence has changed little.

When I moved here, the hours were 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, which I found rather strange for a burger and ice cream place.  Recently, the Whistlestop has come under new management.  They are open later in the evenings and have Saturday hours to include breakfast beginning at 6 a.m. In another month, they will be offering breakfast on Sunday mornings as well.  The burgers are old fashioned and delicious; the ice cream is ridiculously good and the baked goods on Saturday mornings are outstanding.  But the real attraction is the opportunity for a gathering place….families having a meal together, neighbors chatting as they wait for their orders, children getting ice cream cones.  As a town of less than 2,000, eating establishments are few and places for building a sense of community are limited. 

I have never attempted to open a restaurant but I understand such a business is demanding. With food prices skyrocketing, the risk the new owners are taking is astonishing.  So I salute these folks, a couple not yet even thirty years old, for taking that gamble in this small community.  I appreciate the spirit of camaraderie they are creating and the extraordinary effort they are putting into creating it.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Freight facilities in Columbus in earlier years included an automobile loading and unloading platform, 4 stock pens, water for stock and a wool warehouse. Many Montana Northern Pacific towns had wool warehouses, as the Northern Pacific was the major carrier of wool out of Montana. The wool warehouses were eventually all closed with centralization of wool collection in Billings.

What If?

I was going a totally different direction for this blog.  And then I read from a favorite book of mine, Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, this line: “To be aroused by life is to cherish every moment and to not miss a thing.”

This is not a new thought but it seems to be one for which we need periodic reminders lest we lose awareness of daily gifts.  What better time for a reminder than as we enter a new year? The authors quote Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, best known for her classic work on the stages of grief, On Death and Dying, “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth—and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up—that we will begin to live each day to the fullest as if it was the only one we had.”

Terry and I just finished the Netflix series “Dead to Me,” full of rich character development as “Jen” and “Judy” navigate life and their relationship, culminating in Judy’s death from cancer.  Judy spends her final weeks living each day to the max, with full awareness that each day may well be her last.  How many people have I heard with cancer or other end of life medical conditions say what a gift their disease was because it brought them into such awareness?   When we so resist that recognition, we cheat ourselves of fully experiencing life. 

What if we were willing to cultivate such a response to the opportunity to live another day? Living in this manner is a challenge, but not an impossible task.  The sign in my meditation space calls me to “Start each day with a grateful heart.”  As I drive to my office I pray blessings on living out the day in grace and gratitude.  When Terry and I walk I seek to pay attention to the beauty of the day. At night I seek to fall asleep with gratitude for the blessings of that day. I have not integrated these things daily. But the more often that I practice this approach to life, the more often I experience peace, contentment, even joy; and the more I am capable of passing those blessings onto others.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “Setting your intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart.”  Bruce Black

Insight 46

My inbox is full of so much that I rarely get around to reading.  But, waking early and scrolling through my gmail, I opened The Conversation, where I found a series of in-depth articles on a variety of topics to include Insight 46.

In March 1946, in the early months after the end of World War II, Britain initiated a study about maternal health, which came about because of a decades-long concern about decreasing birth rates, infant mortality and a need to grow the postwar labor force.  A representative sample of the babies born in a particular week in March 1946 were followed.  Over the years the study developed multiple foci.  Over the years it became the longest continuously running study of health over the human life course in the world.

In 2016, a sub-study of 502 people from the cohort, dubbed Insight 46, was begun  to address brain ageing and dementia.  Dementia is an ancient word meaning “out of mind,” but today it refers to a syndrome of acquired (not present from birth), progressive cognitive impairment, severe enough to interfere with everyday activities such as planning meals, managing bills and medicines and housekeeping, alzheimer’s disease being the most common form.

Every year the researchers send participants a birthday card with a newsletter that summarizes key findings from the cohort over the previous year.  Over the years, study members had attended research clinics to have their hearts, blood vessels and bones scanned.  Those leading this study wondered if these participants would be willing to travel to London to be injected with a radioactive tracer, then lie in a scanner for an hour for the purpose of beginning to track their brains.  They report from sessions led by a focus group expert, that the response was affirmative.  Some feedback from these meetings:

“You tested our hearts, bones, why not our brains?”

“I think anything that we can do to try and limit, reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, dementia, absolutely has my 100% support.”

“I’m happy just even talking about it now, I feel less scared…”

One man wrote: “I am happy to boast that I have been described as one of the best-studied people on the planet.  And I’m quietly proud that information about me, ranging from how many pairs of bootees I had at birth to the state of my memory now, has appeared in at least eight books and 700 other publications.”

How wonderful that people are willing to do this not only for their own sakes but for that of others!

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  All that has been learned from this study that originally was directed towards maternal health and infant mortality speaks to how our contributions can grow over time, leaving a legacy we never imagined. 

  • Information as reported in The Conversation dated December 28, 2022.

Time in a Bottle

“Christmas?? Already??” I began my yearly holiday greeting letter.  Where did the year go? A frequently expressed sentiment!  So I was quite intrigued by an article I came across in the Huffington post.  The author, Jillian Wilson, described that there is a reason why we may feel “like the years moved slowly when you were a kid, but zoom by now.”

Experts say, Ms. Wilson reports, that our perception of time greatly changes as we age due to several factors.  Are we in the moment experiencing an event or are we looking back on it?  Memory and how much one has experienced influences perception. For example, in the life of an 8-year-old, a week is a big portion of their life.  For an 80-year-old, a week is a much smaller portion of their life, making the experience of time feel much faster.

Curiously, the brain “lumps time together when the days or weeks are similar,” with the result that for an 80-year-old whose days generally run the same course, the year is going to blend together and seem to pass very quickly.

When one stays active with a variety of activities and variation in routine, time seems more expansive.  Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, encourages folks to experience things that are new and out of one’s usual routine in order to contribute to a sense of time expanding.

When I explored this topic, I found numerous related articles, articles on time perception and ADHD; on time perception and depression; relationship to substance abuse, to schizophrenia.  I even found an account of research exploring “tired brain cells” as a cause of time distortion. ( I think I have some of those!)

Come next year, I can almost guarantee I will be saying some version of “where did the year go?”   I am not sure I entirely believe that varied routine and new experiences give the perception of expanded time.  It seems like the more active and involved I am, the more time seems to speed by.  But I do find it  fascinating that we each have the same 24 hours in every day and the length of minutes never varies.  Yet our perception impacts how long or short those minutes and hours and days are.

Henry Van Dyke would remind us:

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “The bad news is time flies.  The good news is you are the pilot.”—Michael Altshuler

Happy Holidays

“If someone says ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, I just say ‘To you as well.’  I’m a Christian, not a jerk.”  This was a FaceBook post I came across this week.  I haven’t heard too much lately about the “Christmas wars.”  But that post struck me as conveying how misguided we are to take offense to a simple greeting.  More broadly, why take any action that creates a sense of hostility where none existed? 

Peace-loving soul that I am, I find it puzzling that people would seek conflict, would cultivate it.   On a site I found called Shift, this enigma is addressed thus:  “As humans, we oversimplify things. We don’t want to waste our mental energy looking at the vast interplay and complexity of every situation and experience. This can be helpful at times, but it can sometimes also leave to us facing more challenges in life. The dualistic black-and-white thinking can lead us to developing an internal belief system where we see certain aspects, powers, and forces as ‘good’ while others are ‘evil’ in our eyes. We view people as either friends or enemies.

This is a mistake. That is, it means we lose out on the incredible opportunities we have for growth that would not come in any other way.”

I just know that the Christmas I was in the Middle East when a clerk at the grocery store, dressed in full abaya and hijab, wished me “Merry Christmas,”  my belief in humankind was affirmed.  She could have chosen to consider me “an infidel,” an “ugly American.”  She saw me as another human being, with no conceivable reason not to be courteous towards me.  And I was very gracious to her.  That’s how this world works best.

So Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Have an amazing Kwanza!  (Or as you may remember from the old 1997 Seinfeld episode “Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us.” 😊)  May this season just inspire us to be good people to one another year round.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “Blessings to you and yours for peace, love and cherished memories this holiday season and in the coming New Year.”  — from the quotemaster.org

Advent and Adversity

                                           Much of my time lately has been focused on preparations for Advent season, now underway.  More than ever this year I am aware of an acute sense of dissonance between the season as it is portrayed and the way it is lived out in reality.  If the ads and store displays are to be believed, everyone has a home to decorate, money to load up the tree with presents beneath it and a loving family with whom to share the holidays.  And yet, Advent is by its nature a time of darkness, in which we seek light, in which our intention is to kindle hope.  As many Christian traditions are, this season’s celebration has pagan roots.

                        Wikipedia recounts that for Pagans back in the day, Christmas was a celebration of the sun god, Sol Invictus. In the late 3rd century, Roman emperor Aurelianus had a massive temple constructed to please Sol Invictus, and it was inaugurated on, you guessed it, December 25th. So as a Pagan holiday, Christmas is a celebration of the “birth” of the sun god Sol Invictus. These ancient Romans knew this day as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, translating to the “birthday of the Unconquerable Sun”. 

December 25th was believed to be the sun god’s birthday because of its proximity to the Winter Solstice. As you may know, the Winter Solstice (December 21st) is the shortest day of the year, after which the days start to have more and more sunlight. For this reason, the ancient Romans believed that this is the time when the sun won its battle against the darkness, hence the name the Unconquerable Sun.  (from Wikipedia).

              For those who may be experiencing their own darkness right now, or simply would appreciate something uplifting, I offer you a blessing from Jan Richardson, artist, writer and ordained Methodist minister:

              ON THAT NIGHT: A Blessing

              On that night when

you are holding

              your very last hope,

              thinking to let it go

              as too small to be saved,

              or sanctified;

              on that night when

              you turn away at last

              from the far horizon

              over which you had thought

              your life would come

              to find you;

              on that night,

              believe me,

              this is where

              the ache

              will give way

              to the mystery

              and the blessing

              that seemed so distant

              will quietly

              come to meet you,

              holding your heart

              in its two

              luminous hands.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Ms. Richardson has written numerous books, to include The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief; In the Sanctuary of Women; Circle of Grace and In Wisdom’s Path, to name a few. 

A Little Bit of Heaven

“When we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone somewhere.”  Those powerful words of Quaker author Parker Palmer just grabbed me this week.  We may want to shrink from our surroundings when we despair that “the human soul is no longer at work in the world.”  But that is the time when it is the most necessary to “make sure that ours is visible to someone somewhere.”

Jesus said the kingdom of God is “at hand”… present and available.  And we are “agents” of the kingdom when we make sure our soul is visible to all those we encounter.  Pretty awesome when you think of it:  in those circumstances when we may feel the most powerless, we remain in a position to demonstrate kindness, compassion, understanding, love. 

One of my favorites, that I return to periodically, comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.”

Or, as I once read, “If the kingdom of God is within you, you should leave a little heaven wherever you go.” (Cornel West).

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Consider where have you left “a little heaven” lately.