26 May 2012

Of Corners and Markets

No doubt about the reality that one is often judged by the company one keeps.  This can be as small as the company of an individual to the corporation for which one works.  My thesis here is that such judgment is a patently absurd method for determining the full nature and character of another human being.

It wouldn't hurt to begin by citing the one we call the Christ of God:  Jesus.  The disciples he chose were not the cream of the Jewish social world of his day.  One was employed by the Romans to collect the much hated taxes the Empire placed upon its subject peoples.  Jews thought such a person to be ritually unclean and no better than a common criminal.  Another was a political dissident whose aim, it ultimately seemed, was to enlist Jesus into the Zealot party....the radical anti-Roman and anti-Herodian rabble rousers.  The balance of the Twelve were tradesmen -- common working folk who were considered important to the economic life of Israel but of little merit when it came to the truly "important" political and social strata of culture.

Jesus was regularly found teaching in the company of prostitutes, those who were considered ritually unclean, diseased and not even part of Judaism (the Gentiles).  Jesus rarely responded to the accusations and judgments based upon the folks gathered around him.  When he did respond, it was along the lines of, "unless you accept the least of these, you also reject me...."  Of course, within that Aristotelian style logic, it also meant that they rejected the God of Creation.  As we know, this ultimately cost Jesus his life....or at least the one that both Jews and Romans believed would deliver them from this meddlesome, itinerant rabbi.  Oh, and speaking of rabbi, Jesus bore no credentials for that title....i.e. he had no "pedigree" of training (e.g. Paul was a student of Gameliel, the famous teacher of the Law).

Ultimately, the Church that is in place to reflect the very essence of its founding...Jesus...has become splintered asunder and about as elitist as the Sadducees that Jesus condemned for their kind of elitism and entitlement claims (they were the 1% of his day)*.  Immediately, you might be screaming, "Foul!!"  Fair enough.  Could I be wrong in my own assessment?  Perhaps.  Could I be exercising my own kind of judgmentalism?  Very possible.  Except for one small point:  I am intimately a part of the very thing of which I am currently being critical.  Oh, and I'm not done yet.

The second example of my above stated thesis on judging another human being is the essence of the very culture in which I am also intimately a part -- the United States of America.  I can hear it, "OMG, here he goes on a rant for sure."  Nope.  I encourage you to stay with me on this and at least catch my drift.

[As an aside for those who might not know me well:  I rarely go on a rant of any kind.  If I do, I usually believe I am within a boundary of some moral or ethical issue containing some depth.  Also, I follow a rule that I learned in my studies of Bowen theory of Family Emotional Process via my mentor Dr. Edwin Friedman:  In this life, no one gets better than 70% -- on a scale of 100 -- in terms of function.  What this means is that, at least 30% of the time every one of us is in a willful mode of thinking and doing.  A person who functions consistently at 70% is historically canonized by the Church or such institutions recognizing those who have achieved a level of "perfection" in this life.]

Back to the USA.  The largest number of folks who came to the shores of this country were either exiles politically or fled their European homes due to religious intolerance.  At first, this may not have been true of the English gentry and tradesmen who settled in Virginia and other colonies.  However, by the time of the Revolution, those folks were at the very heart of a kind of dissidence considered intolerable by the Mother Country, England.  The war was fought and independence from England won.

At the center of leadership were those who sponsored the Declaration of Independence and those who would constitute the First Continental Congress.  It was the latter that drafted the Constitution of the new United States.  This was, to be sure, a bold experiment in human culture....a system of government that recognized the capacity of human dignity in freedom and capability of living responsibly under laws crafted for mutual well-being.  Further, ongoing leadership would be elected from its own citizenry.  Any citizen could serve.

There were no legal boundaries for religious practices, lifestyles or ideologies.   Laws were crafted based upon principles considered more or less universal....the Ten Commandments.  Those Laws of Moses were foundational to mutual responsibility and dignity.   The argument that our founders were Christian is without merit.  There were deists, universalists and agnostics.  Seriously, I have read enough biographies to have this part down pretty well.  By many, God was "The Greatest Good" and not an entity or spiritual reality.  Remember, our country was founded by those who had read Rousseau, Voltaire, Descartes, and Spinoza.  Evangelical Christians of that time were Anglicans whose hearts had been "strangely stirred" (John Wesley's description).

My point in having our country as an example is its current state of affairs.  Some anonymous wag once said, "call a man names, and he will get angry; fool with a man's money, he is likely as anything to kill you."  Yep, I am hinting that money has become something of the Ultimate Reality and statement of human worth.  You got it?  You're in.  You don't got it?  You're out...or at least maximally marginalized.   So, when our economic system shows signs of cracking or peeling, we look for someone to blame.  It's usually the ones at the top of the elected heap.  I get that.  However, couldn't it be as much our chosen lifestyles and demands that have jacked things out of shape?  Just askin' here.

Like the Church, our system of democracy...that bold experiment...is not quite what its framers envisioned.  The Church isn't what Jesus envisioned...and that is based on my own experience as a priest in the Anglican (Episcopal) expression of this Body of Christ.  I am also a life-long citizen of this country.  My forebearers on both paternal and maternal sides fled from Scotland and northern England in the 1740s for political and religious reasons (both happened to be non-juring Anglicans living in a Calvinist country or in the northern part of a country that expected allegiance to the crown as part of their religious duty).  My paternal side also backed the wrong political wing claiming the English crown (Bonnie Prince Charlie...a Scotsman).  But all that is another story.

In our current climate, it seems as if those who would hold office want to move us back to a place of exclusivity and cultural monochromism.  One not only has to be Christian (because we are "a God-fearing Christian nation"...a very tired phrase), one has to be a particular kind of Christian or come from a particular kind of group.  The freedom and tolerance taught by our founders wasn't perfect by a long shot.  We had to fight a war that cost over 600,000 lives to get a foothold on racial tolerance.  We still aren't there in full measure.

When the radical Christian leadership of its day did have some clout, they claimed that God had "ordained" those from European countries to subdue and rule the land between the two great oceans.  This was termed "Manifest Destiny."  It cost the lives of many, many more thousands of indigenous people who had been here at least 10,000 years before us.  Some of those indigenous cultures were rendered extinct.  The rest were subjugated like a conquered and marginalized people.  To this day, the First Nations (Native American) peoples are judged harshly by many.   Personally, I truly think the Lakota should have the Black Hills returned to them.  It was their "cathedral" -- a sacred ground.  Why do we have it?  There was gold in those hills....the opportunity for wealth made it our "destiny" to possess the land....thus breaking the Treaty of 1868 (the 8th treaty with the Lakota alone).  Nope.  Not much has changed from the time of Jesus and the Sadducees.

I am not a cynic.  Thank goodness my parents did not raise us to be such.   My first question is always, "Okay, what's good about this?"  I do almost always find that good....maybe only a sliver, but that is all that is needed.  I don't whine when I am not getting my way.  God does know that we can be such whiners when our sandbox gets invaded by those not of our liking.  It's the adult version of, "he's playing with my stuff."  If we don't like who is leading, we live in a system that allows us to elect another at the appropriate time.  What good is it to cast judgment and call names?  For crying out loud folks!!  Whoever is in whatever office, they are created in the image of God the very same as we are...not more or less...the VERY same.  At least show the dignity due every human being.

I daily pray for those I don't necessarily care for.  I don't care for them insomuch as I don't want to spend quality time with them.  I DO care for them, because they are my brothers and sisters...regardless of where they come from, color of skin, education, socio-economic status.  As I pray, I do so for their safety, well-being and becoming what God has actually created them to be.  It is a grave error to pray for someone to become what WE think they should or need to be.  Who knows, but what we think is right and good may well be in that 30% that would be considered willful, dysfunctional or not of God (i.e. sin).  I have a right to hold on to that 30%, but I do not have a right to foist it on others as an expectation of their function and behavior.

This country has come a long way since World War II, but we are regressing a bit of late.  It does seem that we are risking a new kind of elitism, a kind of anarchy or a kind of oligarchy that would narrow the scope of who is in and who is out.  Do I worry about this?  You bet.  But I am hopeful.  In all such experiments as ours, there is risk.  Power is a dangerous thing, and our founders were experienced in the effects of power misused.  That's why our government is formed the way it is.  Power is divided.  Obamacare?  Give it a rest.  That is an oligarchic statement.  At least 537 people were involved in making that law...whether they supported it or not.  Am I supporting it in this statement?  No.  Am I going to tell you what I think about this new healthcare plan?  No.  It's non-sequitur to my thesis.

The only way out is the way we came in.  Whatever one wants to call God or how one wants to perceive God, the element of human life that gives it quality is a love that penetrates all barriers and embraces all creation.  It is the image in which we have been created.  It is the responsibility we have been given:  to exercise responsibility, to live with dignity, to embrace our fellow humans and to come to a place of being one in heart and spirit.  This Oneness was underneath the bold experiment that created our country.  It was at the heart of what was begun as the Church in Jesus.  It is at the heart of the Buddha, Mohammed, Wakan-tanka, and all who have sought the Highest Good....God.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

My Love to You,

Retired and, yes, Running Amok

*Note:  I am grateful to my friend, Dr. Kern Trembath, systematic theologian, New Testament scholar and coffee artisan.  He offered information regarding the Sanhedrin and roles of the Pharisees and Sadducees in that system.  Very appreciated!

18 May 2012


The Anhinga is one of the strangest birds I have known.  I never get tired of watching them when they are at work -- if I can keep up with them.  You see, they are not like other water birds.  Related (a bit distantly) to the Cormorant, they have a longer neck than a goose; tail feathers that spread widely and a large wingspan.  Their beaks are narrow and sharp.  

The big difference from other water birds is that Anhingas (like cormorants) do not have water repellent feathers.  When in the water, their bodies are submerged.  All one can see is the head and part of the neck.  Because the Anghinga has a very long neck, one can mistake this bird for a water snake, as it swims.  This has led long-time Floridians to call them "snake birds."  Anhingas dive and can stay submerged for a substantial period of time....only to pop up some distance away or within the shoreline water grasses.  While submerged, they scoot along the bottom of fresh water lakes or ponds looking for small fish, frogs or other small marine life as their diet.  

When finished with its swimming expedition, the Anhinga must dry its feathers.  It can be seen with its wings and tail feathers spread wide and its neck either fully extended upward or curved down to its chest.  It will remain like this until dry enough to fly.  Their low level flight looks ungainly and awkward.  However, once it gains altitude, it soars quite well on wind currents.  The male Anhinga is usually all black.  The female has some brown on her neck.  During mating season, males develop a line of white feathers along the front edges of their wings.  The picture above is a male Anhinga drying his feathers.

When I was a teenager, I often went fishing with my maternal grandfather.  As I have mentioned in other places Grandad Burden was an entomologist and true outdoorsman.   He taught me to fish, hunt and track.  The hardest thing to learn was to track an Anhinga on the move.  They are very quiet swimmers and exceedingly efficient in the water...moving at surprising speeds.  Their heads very suddenly disappear below the surface, and, except for the ripples created by their submerging, they travel with speed and stealth underwater.  It makes them very effective aquatic hunters.

My Grandad could usually predict where an Anhinga would surface, and I never could understand how he knew this.  All he would say is, "I think we will find this fellow right about there..."  He would point and be within a few yards of where the bird would, in fact, surface.  One acquires this skill, I suspect, from years of observation and participation in the environment.  I have not known many folks who could navigate the waters, woodlands and swamps of Florida like my Grandad.  I always felt safe and oriented when with him.  He taught me a great deal, and I still retain a lot of that to this day.  

I do have a point here.  There was an Anhinga in our pond this morning.  It was swimming and hunting for breakfast as I consumed my first cup of coffee at sunrise.  I did track him for one dive but then lost him after that.  I thought about how well adapted the Anhinga is to its environment.  It lives its life within its capabilities and specialties.  It lives by its very nature.  

My grandad did not change the environment to suit him.  He adapted to the environment in which he would find himself.  He developed skills that would allow him to shift and reshape himself to listen, observe, smell and move in ways that would say to anyone with him that he was perfectly comfortable and capable in the place he found himself.  

We are at home in the environment of our body and essential character....Imago Dei...God's image.  Often, it seems, we work very hard to make that something that it is not...to rewrite the script of our being.  Often, we overthink what it all means and lose the meaning altogether in a jumble of words, conjectures or synthetic ideologies.  

True character is in the oneness of relationship for its own sake.  Our nature is to love, to adapt to be open and to express the Christ in us.  (It is a point of observation that when my grandad worshipped ... he was Episcopalian ... he rarely picked up the Book of Common Prayer...why?...because he became familiar enough with it to make it part of his interior landscape).  

St. Paul reflected that wherever we find ourselves, we are at home.  There is nothing about creation that should be "unhomelike" to us.  

Love and Blessings,


17 May 2012

The Shoreline

When I was a kid, my parents gave me a book for Christmas one year that I simply devoured with both delight and eagerness.  It was Rachel Carson's, The Sea Around Us.  She was a marine biologist whose writing was imaginative as well as full of important facts....perfect for a guy with my curiosity.  I ended up reading and referring to this book often enough that it literally fell apart by the time I was a student at the University of Florida.

Our family spent a good amount of time on the beach, while I was growing up.  Most of that time was on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida....in the very area where my wife and I now live.  Day trips to Coquina Beach at the south tip of Bradenton Beach (part of Anna Maria Island...a Key off Bradenton...at the south end of Tampa Bay) were a regular part of our local events from late spring through early fall.   From the time I was seven years old, we rented a cabin at one of two locations on Longboat Key from two to three weeks each summer.  This went on even after my Dad's untimely death in 1968...until late in my college career.  Mom spent the last seven years of her life living full time on Anna Maria Island.

One might say that the sea is in my heritage.  Being a third generation Floridian, my maternal grandfather grew up in what is now part of Miami.  He worked on the Flagler railroad project that bridged the keys down to Key West as one way to earn money for college.  My maternal grandmother was born in Largo....a port town that is now part of greater Tampa.  My paternal family came from the Caithness area of Scotland...along the northwest coast  and the northern part of the Irish Sea.

When we decided to buy our retirement home in Sarasota, FL last summer, I was reminded of a conversation  Dad and I had when I was about eleven years old.  During one of our vacation stays on Longboat Key, our Dad took my brother and me out for a sunrise jaunt to watch the fishing boats coming in from their night work and new ones going out for the day catches.  We would watch from the bridge between Longboat Key and St. Armand's Key. The fishing village of Cortez was their home port.  After that, he would take us to Sarasota for breakfast at one of those traditional diners that looked like a street car.  It was great food, and I still remember the chocolate milk.  I have never found anything like it since those years.

On one of those trips, I told Dad, "Someday, I am going to live in Sarasota.  It is my favorite city."  It was a kid's fantasy, and, over the fifty years since that time, I had forgotten all about it.  In fact, from other stories I have published, we had decided for a long time not to retire in Florida.  Virginia, North Carolina, north Georgia and Kansas City, MO had become potential destinations at one time or another.  Suddenly (almost literally) we find ourselves here in Sarasota.  The memory came flooding back....as if Dad was saying, 'yep, you really are living here...this is someday."

That digression is a foundation for my reflection on Rachel Carson's book that I so much loved.  Denise and I were on the beach Tuesday evening.  We parked our chairs close to the shoreline...just out of reach of the waves gently rolling onto the beach.  It was a beautiful early evening.  The seagulls, sandpipers, pelicans and occasional skimmer were in the process of finding meals before the grand sunset migration to night roosting locations.  The tide was coming in, so we were mindful of the water edging toward us slowly but steadily.

With the birds working the shoreline, I became acutely aware of the strip of land that would be underwater with the incoming waves and then out of the water as the wave receded.  This constant back and forth reminded me of Rachel Carson's long chapter on the shoreline.  It was titled something like 'Neither of water nor of land.'   What is this place?  What strange creatures inhabit it?

I know many of the biological and ecological answers to those questions.   That knowledge comes from curiosity and the experiences of digging around the shoreline over many years.  The inhabitants vary.  They are different along the Gulf than the creatures along the shore of either Tampa or Sarasota Bays.  They are different even again where the bays meet the Gulf....areas prone to stronger currents and constantly changing temperatures at the two bodies of water collide.   Regardless, the crabs, coquinas, "sand fleas" and various other species are neither full time aquatic dwellers nor full time dry land dwellers.  They depend upon this mix and change.

Another realization came to me Tuesday evening.  Again, this is nothing new to a regular observer, but it bears noting.  Every wave bring sand, silt and a host of microscopic entities onto this environment of the shore.  Each receding wave carries with it matter and material that had been on the shore for at least some time.  Hence, there is a constant and relentless change taking place this narrow ecosystem.  Things are being added and removed all the time.  Any shell hunter can see this after a tide change on an early morning walk along the beach.  What wonders have been wrought from the deep overnight?

We have the same sort of ecosystem in fresh water environments -- just not as dramatic or visible.  We certainly are aware of amphibians, who are capable of living and being at home in either aquatic or land environments.

I am a theologian who is also trained as a scientist.  I love all things scientific, but I am most knowledgeable in the areas of biology and psychology.  I have never had a problem reconciling biblical theology of creation and the reality of evolution science.  They are apples and oranges -- two sides of a coin.  Without both sides, there is no substance.  Two realities coexist and interact in a dynamic very much like the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico upon which my feet were resting Tuesday evening.  The debates that drag on in symposiums, the floors of legislative houses of government, church pulpits and conventions, and endless media events are only there because we are convinced that someone is right and someone is wrong.  Balderdash!!!

The coming into consciousness of our species of hominids was also a moment of God investing Self to awaken us to the reality of Spirit.  Our emerging capacity to love is the strip of shoreline between sensate reality and the unconscious but equally real depths of Spirit (or what we call spirituality).  The self of homo sapiens must have both these "sides" or we lack structure and wholeness.

My wife worked with a colleague in Kansas City who would often make a statement about something and postscript it with, "and that's what's wrong with the world."   It was usually quite humorous , and I would often ask what was wrong with the world on a particular day from the perspective of that colleague.

If I were to say, from my perspective, what is wrong with the world, I would definitely begin with our failure to live successfully in the "ecosystem" of our shoreline.  We have attempted to live totally in the reality of our physical environment and scientifically verifiable data systems.  That's totally "dry land" folks.  It's important, and it is essential for us to be conscious and engaged as community.  However, it is less than half of our total reality.  In fact, it is only a small portion of that totality.  Our being and capabilities emerge from the depths of Spirit and the environment of Divine reality.  It surrounds us, and waves of Love continually wash over us to provide substance and depth to our being.

Oh, and it is a constantly changing and shifting environment.  New elements are introduced and ones no longer serving us or needful to us are drawn away.  It is a constant interchange and exchange.  Resistance to change?  It is simply our willful nature demanding to be left alone in the dry land of that which we can physically grasp for definition.  Soon enough, however, it disappears, falls apart or has to be left altogether.  Death is the great awakening to our return to the "sea" of Divine Love.

The barrier islands in this area of Florida are also important for one kind of marine life.  Siesta Key, St. Armand's Key, Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island are environments where sea turtles come ashore annually to create incubation nests in the warm sands along dunes and lay eggs.  The mother returns to the Gulf.  When the newly hatched young emerge from the nests, they instinctively make their way to the shoreline and into the warm waters of the Gulf.

This analogy fits St. Augustine's words of deep wisdom many centuries ago.  "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in you, O God..."  We cannot be whole until we are balanced and equally comfortable in the reality of our conscious, daily lives and the reality of the True Self...who we are in God.  How do we know what this looks like?  For us who are called Christians, the person of Jesus is the embodiment of living that "shoreline" reality....both worlds.  He did that so we might be awakened to our nature and true home...the balanced place.

Give it some deep thought.  Totally one place or the other is not who we are in this state of life.  We are both.

My love to you,


11 May 2012

How It Will Be

How can good news be mixed with a grieving process?  We live in a reality that is truly larger than the one encompassed by the physical senses.  The issue is how much we allow ourselves to be present to the reality that is accessed through our right brain hemisphere (intuition and imagery).  If we can balance the sensate reality with the intuitive reality,  we have experiences not unlike the folks we encounter in biblical literature -- capable of seeing the Divine at work in the created order around us. 

The facts of my previously shared time table regarding my shoulder joint replacements have been documented in Kansas City and at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.  I did truly get good news when my surgeon saw me just three days ago.  It was much better than even he had hoped for.  HOWEVER, there is an underside to all this that sank in as I moved from the moment of celebrating the removal of that damned immobilizing sling.

I now have a "Reverse Shoulder Joint Implant."  This was developed by the very surgeon that did my replacement at Mayo.  It was designed for the very kind of shoulder I ended up having -- virtually destroyed.  When the rotator muscles/tendons (called the "rotator cuff") can no longer function to move the joint through its external and internal rotation patterns, something has to replace them as the "driver" muscles.  It is the deltoid muscle...the cap one feels over one's shoulder.  Normally, it assists in abduction, not rotation.  The reversing of the positions of the ball and and socket changes the physics so that rotation can happen.  The bad news in this?  The best one can expect in terms of rotation is about 65% with a reverse implant.  Put your outstretched arm straight out in front of your body.  That is a 90 degree rotation.  It is only 50% of your maximum rotation.  To get to 100%, simply keep raising your arm until it is straight up.   The 65% range is about where the second shelf on a standard kitchen cabinet is located.  That will be me on the right side from now on.

Okay, fine.  If that were all there is.  Because I fall into the category of "the worst cases to come into shoulder surgery at Mayo" (Dr. Sperling's words), there will always be the danger of compromised bone and tissue being weaker and not bonding as thoroughly with the implants.  For the next six months, I can lift no more than 5 lbs in my right arm.  After that?  No more than 25 lbs.....ever....the rest of my life.  For a guy like me, that's harsh news.  No more push-ups, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, military presses, bench presses.....name it.  If it is pushing, pulling or lifting much more than 25 lbs in that arm, forget it. 

I just names some exercises and routines that are normal for me when I work out.  In addition, I love to canoe, kayak, row and do outdoor activities that often call for engaging heavy pull, drag or push movements.  The response when I mentioned those things?  "What you have now is the latest technology and the last opportunity for you to have any normal, daily utility with that shoulder.  Don't push it, or you will lose that...there is nowhere else to go."   That sank in fully about 7pm Wednesday evening, as my wife drove us from Tampa International Airport to our home in south Sarasota.  I cried.

Today is a better day.  I walked a bit over two miles, which is my first long, unaccompanied walk since the last surgery.  My arm is tired simply from carrying its own weight, and a bit sore.  But it is working.  I have two periods of physical therapy that I do on my own -- having been tutored by the PT folks at Mayo on Tuesday (one of the appointments).  They are designed for stretching and engaging, not strengthening.  We bought groceries yesterday, and I purposely looked at the weight of the product I would get from the store shelves and place in my right hand.  Today, I let Duchess tug just a slight amount on the lead as we walked...holding it in my right hand.  It's the little things that suddenly matter.

I joined the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Healthplex Wellness Center today.  As fortune would have it, the Healthplex Center is across Clark Road and a bit down from our condo development.  It was part of my long walk to sign the membership documents and get a thorough tour.  It is a great place.  All the folks working there are degreed in exercise physiology or physical therapy.  I meet with one of them on Monday for an assessment.  I haven't been allowed to do any kind of qualitative exercise since the first surgery on 20 January.  It is now time to rebuild my cardio-vascular fitness and endurance level. 

I may never power lift again, but I will plan to meet all challengers in hiking up Bear Butte in South Dakota come August.

Much love,


10 May 2012


It has been long enough since my last blog posting that I don't even recognize the formatting for creating this.  It has changed -- A LOT!  I am earnestly hoping that I don't lose what I am putting together. 

Another truly new aspect of all this is that what you are reading is a combination of my typing on the keyboard and voice dictation using Dragon, Naturally Speaking.  Today marks the first time I have used a computer keyboard since 19 January.  More about that in a bit.  I purchased and installed "Dragon" about a week ago and am still learning the nuances of the program.  I must say, this is one really cool program!  I plan to use it with some regularity even as I regain the use of my right hand and arm over the coming weeks.  I highly recommend looking into this product.

I have been a priest and theologian for 34 years, so one might expect to read what I am about to write.  However, I will preface by stating that, a year ago, I might not have been able to write what you are about to read with the depth of sincerity and love with which is will emerge from inside me to the printed page.  It is phenomenal.

My retirement from active parochial ministry is the result of a journey that I no longer rehearse -- even in my own head.  It had several twists, turns and experiences that were both joy-filled and deeply painful.  I had not originally planned to retire prior to age 63, but that didn't happen.  I was not yet 61 on 30 June 2011 -- the day of my actual retirement.   I tell folks that now the Church pays me to stay home.  I am truly thankful to my wife, my spiritual director, my colleagues and friends for timely counsel and loving hearts.

Home is where the heart is, and the heart moved quite a bit.  Retirement did not originally include even the possibility of a move.  That possibility emerged literally two weeks prior to my last day as Rector of St. Andrew's, Kansas City, MO.  What began as an investigation into a condo (already built) ended as a contract on a not-yet-built townhome in a condo development in the south part of Sarasota, FL.  The contract was signed on 27 July 2011.  The construction of the building in which our townhome is located began in mid-September.  Our Lee's Summit home went on the market for sale on 4 August.  I began having trouble with my right shoulder around that same time.   All three of these journeys intertwined and demanded attention over the next 8 months.  Oh, and our younger daughter finalized plans for a 23 June 2012 wedding during last summer.

I am a guy who works very well under pressure and can multi-task with a fair amount of ease.  I am generally not intimidated by complex and rapid changes during a typical work period.  The U.S. Navy Submarine Corps prepared me well for fast paces.  The eight+ months between the end of July and 8 April (Easter Day) happened, and I am here writing about it.  This is where Grace, love, friendship and trust come into confluence.

One cannot rehearse a spiritual transition.  It simply must be experienced.  One cannot adequately relate the experience.  It simple presents itself in the moment.  None of us are the same persons we were this time last year.  Suffice it to say, the shift for me has been both surprising and large-scale.  Here's a synopsis of the timeline:

1.  Both my wife and I are native Floridians....multi-generational natives.  Both of us were raised with the Gulf of Mexico as a big focus of family life.  For both of us, its waters have always seemed somehow medicinal.  Neither of us considered coming back to Florida when we left at the end of 1992 for me to become the Dean of St. James Cathedral, South Bend, IN. 

2.  When we signed a contract (much to our emergent surprise) for a townhome in Sarasota on 27 July 2011,  we knew that, for its purchase to happen, we would have to sell our Lee's Summit home BEFORE closing on our townhome.  Everyone knows that the housing markets are very tight, and sales of homes are slow.  Even our agent cautioned us not to anticipate a timely sale.  Our house was (is) in great shape and very marketable; but the economy is what it is.  Thus, we began this journey with some trepidation.

3.  Both our selling agent and the folks handling the purchase of our townhome are wonderful folks. we literally fell into warm, helpful, courteous and truly dedicated professionals in real estate, marketing, financing, construction and advisory specialties. 

4.  As I entered retirement, I regained my old and familiar contemplative mode of prayer and daily Regula (Rule of Life).  It was enhanced by experiences with the Oneness Blessing Community and some strong, insightful spiritual direction.  Insights and deepening came in ways I did not expect...but which blessed me deeply. 

5.  I had undergone a total replacement of my right shoulder on 6 October 2010.  The orthopedic surgeon in Kansas City that did this work is one of the best.  I would go to him again in a heartbeat.  I recovered quickly and did much better than expected in physical therapy and final mobility.  I was a "star patient" according to my KC surgeon.  I was happily moving on with my new titanium shoulder joint when I began having pain and loss of mobility in early August 2011.  Well, I was doing a lot in the house and yard to get us and keep us ready for a buyer....lots of heavy work.  Even slowing a bit did not decrease the pain.  In fact, it continued to increase.

6.  October 2011:  Banner month.  One early morning in mid-October, I was quietly and deeply centered in contemplative space.  It was sometime in the early dawn of the day.  From somewhere (not my own ego) came the absolute assurance that our house would sell by mid-January 2012.  Like Bill Cosby in his comedy routine about Noah and the Ark, my response was, "Yeah, riiight."  Not a graceful reponse, but truthful (and that WAS my ego).  The next week, I saw my orthopedic surgeon.  This began a month of scans, xrays, tissue aspirations and conversations to determine why my shoulder joint tissues were deteriorating and the implant failing. 

7.  November 2011:  The fluid aspirations that have been carefully cultured produce no bacterial activity.  My surgeon is stymied by this...as are the colleagues with whom he consulted.  He and I have two after-hour conversations.  The concerns are grim.  Am I allergic to the titanium....or the material used to enhance the bone's attachment to the implant parts.  Whatever is going on, the muscles and bones of the joint area are being compromised.  It looks like the socket implant device is coming loose from its place in the glenoid process.  My KC surgeon wanted to send me to Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN to see the orthopedic surgeon considered to be the best shoulder surgeon in the country.  I concur...now really concerned.

8.  December 2011:  I'm in!  Dr. John Sperling's office at Mayo Clinic surprises me with a call.  He wants to see me.  Can I be there on 5 and 6 December.  You bet!  I go!  It was two days of intense testing, deep tissue aspiration and evaluation.  Our house still hasn't closed.  We get weekly photos of the progress of the building in which our future home will be.  Nervous?  Not as much as one would expect.  I insist the house will sell.  Folks around me?   'Sure, someday.'   Monday before Christmas:  A call comes from Dr. Sperling himself at Mayo.  The cultures came back positive.  I have a rare bacterial infection that happens in less than 1 in 1000 shoulder replacements.  It is illusive and lies deep within the tissues.  Yet, it does slow, steady and utter damage.  Surgery must happen and a complicated regimen of treatment must begin.  Surgery is scheduled for 20 January 2012.  GREAT! (Not!)   Our family is gathering for Christmas out of town (my first Christmas trip in 35 years).  Our house is showing but no offers are coming in.  We might hit it lucky with weather in Florida.  The completion date changed from mid-March to early April 2012.  What the hell....we'll take the 20 day gift.

9.  MIRACLE....January 2012:  On January 7, a couple looks at our house.  It's the nineteenth showing since coming on the market.  Typical of the rest, they see it, we are told they might be interested.  Nothing comes of it until 12 January.  The couple wants to see it again and bring their two children.  They see it at 3pm.  My agent calls us at 7:15pm.  They made an offer!!   Be calm.   We receive the offer by email and hunker down at our breakfast nook table.  Looks okay, but we need to respond with some needs of our own.  We fire a counter-offer to our agent at 9:10pm by email.  She tells us she will present it to their agent in the morning.  Friday:  nothing all day.  Maybe they don't like our counter.  This could go on a while; or they could simply back out.  Be calm.  6:30pm Friday evening, our agent calls.  They want the house and completely accept our counter offer!!!   Holy Moly!!!   Be calm.  We need to see a contract, which won't be ready until the next morning.   Saturday:   The contract arrives by email attachment.  We read it, annotate it and have an attorney friend look it over.  It is in order.  We sign.  They sign.  THE DEAL IS SEALED!   Our house sold on Saturday, 14 January.   THE MIDDLE OF JANUARY!   Was I not given this insight in mid-October?  It is good to trust the Spirit.

10.  Six days after the contract, we are at the primary hospital of Mayo Clinic.  I am prepped for surgery.  It is a long day of waiting as Dr. Sperling is delayed with two complicated procedures in front of me.  My surgery begins at 5:45pm and is completed around 8:25pm.  The news is tough to take:  The inside of my shoulder is a wreck from the infection.  My rotators are shot (his words) and irreparable.  The bones of both the glenoid and humerus are compromised and weakened.  The implants were removed .... the glenoid socket implant simply lifted out by hand -- it was that loose.  Spacers are inserted to hold the areas of implant.  They have an additional purpose.  They are specially designed with an antibiotic that will slow-release over 4 weeks.  Plus, a PICC line was inserted in my left upper arm.  I will have to have a daily vascular infusion of another antibiotic for six weeks.  My Lenten discipline begins a full month prior to the actual season of Lent. 

11.  February 2012:  A whole month at home.  Outside contact is minimal.  I wear a stabilizing sling to keep the shoulder joint quiet.  What the hell.  I couldn't move it anyway...no joint structural support.  St. Luke's home health visits twice a week.... once with the person who delivers my weeklysupply of infusing syringes filled with antibiotic, and once with an RN who checks the PICC line, changes the external tubing and checks my surgical incision.   I run a small fever and my iron count is low.  All part of the game of fighting infection.  I now want to forget February.  Oh, we got a date for closing on our sold house:  8 March.  I got a date for the second surgery at Mayo:  20 March.  We got a date for closing on our new townhome in Sarasota:  3 April.  Say, can you make that any tighter?

12.  February Addendum:  My work this month was to get all the details worked out for March and April.  I spend LOTS of time on the phones.  Mortgage writers, contractor,  moving and storage, where we will live between 6 March and 4 April (the first date is when the move out is scheduled; the second date is the planned move into our new home).

13.  March:   Fast .... REALLY fast month.  All systems somehow fall into place without a hitch.  This is, again, Grace at work. The PICC line comes out on Friday, 2 March.  Yes!!  Packers arrive just as planned on 5 March.  We are packed that day and loaded on 6 March.  Our stay with friends in Lee's Summit begins on 5 March.  This is truly a gift of love for us.  Keeps us right where we need to do business and keep the engines of the journey working.  8 March, 9:00am:  We sign all the closing documents and go eat breakfast.  10:00am:  they sign the same documents to close the purchase of our house.  No longer our house.  11:00am:  we pick up the check that will allow us to close on our new home and get it in the bank....Quick!!  Done.  Praise God and thanks for all the prayers that have ascended!

14.  19 March:  Day of preparation for surgery at Mayo Clinic.  A number of appointments and pre-op work.  Surgeon is ready.  20 March:  I am at the main hospital again...I go into the operating room around 3pm.  Surgery is over at around 5:30pm.  Dr. Sperling talks to my wife.  The news is mixed.  A special reverse implant system is in place successfully.  My shoulder is truly a wreck...among the worst he has seen (that's saying a lot for his level of work and international reputation.  He designed the reverse implant I now have).  His words are stern:  In order for this to work, the shoulder must be immobile for six full weeks.  My elbow must also be immobile.  My hand must be restricted.  I can put nothing in that hand heavier than a sheet of paper.  If the implant materials do not graft to the bone in this six week period, there will nothing he or anyone can do further.  My shoulder will be useless.   Damn!!!!  Hard, hard words. 

15.  Prophecy:  We return to Lee's Summit on Friday, 23 March.  Our host, my dear friend Don, has just returned from a month of special retreat.  He is a man of deep prayer and mysticism.  His wife has been our hostess since 5 March, as we stayed at their home.  Don has been working in his basement office all morning.  Taking a break, he finds me sitting on their back deck.  I am in some pain, snugged up in this damned uncomfortable immobilizer sling.  Sullen and still suffering the affects of surgical medications and anesthesia.  Don is my brother by choice....older, wise and quiet.  He tells me he has some words for me:  This next seven weeks will be a journey of true significance.  It will be holy work I must do, for Spirit wants me to learn during this time.  He doesn't know what.  It is my job to ask and discover.  That's it.  I MUST be obedient to this process.  Don's look is stern but full of love.  He means what he says, but he is simply the vessel of words.  A prophet speaks.

16.  Last days:  A two day trip to Panama City Beach, Florida begins on 25 March.  We stay with my wife's brother for six days.  The recovery is beginning.  Pain is less.  I level off and begin decreasing the prescribed dosages of pain medication.  I hate what narcotics do to my ability to think and interact with my environment.  My head begins to clear.  I take charge of making arrangements for the next visit to Mayo...now firmly scheduled for 9 May.  We leave Panama City Beach on 1 April and complete a seven hour drive to Sarasota....our new "home town."  The next three days are a blur.  Monday of Holy Week:  tour of our townhome, now complete and ready for occupancy...an orientation to the development and resources.  Our guide and mentor, Roberto, is a true professional.
Tuesday of Holy Week:  We close at 11am at an office in Venice, FL....about 20 minutes south of Sarasota.  We are again homeowners!!  Wednesday of Holy Week:  United Van Lines truck arrives at the pre-agreed time of 8:30am.  Our household goods have been in storage in Sarasota since 8 March.  They are delivered and placed where we want them.  Not a scratch.  Nothing broken.  Everything in very good order.  Our first night as full residents of our home in our new town is this day.  No window treatments (they had been ordered and were on the way), so I look out our second story bedroom window at the sky.  I know some of these stars by name.  I watch them move placidly across the night sky.  My friends from times in the Black Hills of South Dakota with my Lakota friends.  Mitakuye Oyasin:  We are all connected!

Next:  "How It Will Be"

My Love,