I promise.

Here’s what I have. I ask you, my sisters and brothers, to hold me accountable, to add to this list, or to expand it in your own life where it applies.

Or ignore it completely. That always remains an option.

I want to go on record.

I promise to do my dead-level best to:

  • Love mercy
  • Do justly
  • Walk humbly with my God
  • Expand the Garden of peace beyond the borders of my own spiritual community whenever possible
  • Pray more
  • Love better
  • Do whatever I need to do to build stronger connections, maintain the bridges between us, and to repair the places that have eroded due to neglect and error.

I promise I will step in when I see injustice. I promise I will try to always stand on the side of the oppressed, the minority, the wounded, the suffering, and the wandering.

I promise I will help you find your words, perform your duty, carry your burden, and find rest.

I promise there is no such thing as alternate facts.

I promise you Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the people who voted for them, are icons, made in the image of God.

I promise I will always try my best to tell the truth, to call out falsehood when I see it, and to encourage others to do the same.

I promise to continue to mean what I say every liturgy “we pray for this country, its ruler, its people, civil authorities and armed forces.”

I promise to speak out against greed and injustice.

I promise to listen to your stories.

I promise to have “Lord, have mercy” on my lips as much as possible.cropped-mg_6828.jpg

 

Justice comes, eventually

But that which is broken cannot be unbroken, at least on this side of eternity. A few years ago, I wrote this post, and linked to this blog, and put my name next to those who were fighting for truth.

It took years longer than it should have, decades longer than is conscionable. But finally, after much arm-twisting and tearful pleading, they finally admitted what was just as true 40 years ago as it is today.

Donn Ketchum, M.D. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is an unrepentant, vicious and enduring pedophile. Thankfully the State of Michigan yanked his license four years ago, but who knows what he did in the 20 years between the time when ABWE should have told them what he was and what he did.

And he kept preaching and teaching at churches, shaking hands, kissing babies. Alongside of him, Mike Loftis and the other good ol’ boys in the fundamentalist Baptist mission organization tried to sell themselves as something else. And all the while they fed the beast behind the door, allowing Ketchum to remain uncharged, un-arrested, unnamed and unknown.

But we knew. Some of my friends knew more than they should have. (Remember, the tree of knowledge of good and evil was that thing we weren’t supposed to touch. It’s doubly bad when its poison fruit is fed to you by others. A whole lot of people should go get fitted for their millstones.)

So now the world knows. It’s about damn time.

I’m out of words to pray for this one. I’d like to be out of tears to cry, but I know that as I pour over the report and digest the scope of what he did to my friends, those girls with whom I played in the woods, rode bikes and dangled from the monkey bars, I know I will cry some more.

I pray for them the prayer of Orthodoxy, the Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.

I guess it’s better late than never.

Picking up rocks

 

 

Confession last week, just me, my priest and the icons. And all the things I drag with me.

This time, the lesson of this year’s Great Lent, it was resentment. It really wasn’t pretty.

I really should ask Fr. Andrew if Helo can come to confession with me. I guarantee he knows EXACTLY what I need to tell him, because whatever it is about that little dog and our SAR journey together, it reveals my character: constantly, in all its ugly glory.

(Aa could probably chip in too, but he comes to church, so if he’s really fed up, I guess he could corner the priest.)

Over the past few months, as frustration continued to build in my professional life, and training Helo in this new task of human remains detection did not take off as easily as I thought it might (read: felt entitled to), I found myself struggling with a creeping resentment.

Here’s the funny thing about that: resentment undoes any good you might have done, it adds fuel to anger, and just really makes you feel miserable. It is as emotionally untenable as picking up a good-size pebble and sticking it in your boot, then going on a lengthy hike.

As I drove away, back to TJTP which is nowhere near as fun as I wish it was, I thought about where resentment came from, for me.

I resented a whole bunch of things, and what they were will remain between me, God, Fr. Andrew and the saints who were listening in.

In general, though it was disappointment + entitlement – motivation. Whatever I thought I earned (read: entitled to have) and didn’t get, minus the motivation to either go reclaim it, get better or move on…

It was a mess. It made me nag my dog, badgering him to fix problems that were really mine, over-correcting him for mistakes he made because I sent him bad information. It made me sleep in too late, stay up too late, grumble too much and generally just not give a shit.

And I never would have noticed, or would have noticed much later, had it not been for Helo and his special nature, the way he tried to fill the void of the absence of leadership in our team. He did this by making decisions (incorrectly) or just flat ignoring me and my wasteful words and negative energy.

Saturday, a few days after this all occurred to me, I sent him out to find some of the stuff we find, this time on a longer training problem. I worked on handling me, more than him. As the heat rose on the gravel pit where we had placed the source, Helo chased it into the cool spots and up around the ridges, doing exactly what I asked him to do pretty much most of the time.

I worked on realizing that this is where we are. If we were supposed to be someplace else, that’s where we’d be. This was, as a friend told me the week before, the place where the universe wanted me for the higher purpose.

It’s where I’m supposed to be to be saved, to cook off the ego and the entitlement, shake free the rocks of resentment.

A few hours later, I was back in the gravel pit again, this time watching the boss work the same problem with her K-9. The problem had become much more complicated by time. The sun was higher in the sky, the scent more diffuse and harder to chase, but they got there. She remained calm, never nagged, listening and watching the dog communicate with her in the way they do–with flicks of tails or ears, changes in body language, a glance up, a nose down.

As she worked, I found a small white rock, worn smooth by the sand and the water and the years. I worried it with my fingers as we walked back to our trucks to finish the day. I carried it home in my pocket.

I will, however, be sure to keep it out of my shoe.

(Gratuitous photograph of Helo taken by my sister-in-law on a day when my character was particularly revealed. Sigh)_DSC0221

 

Why:

Sunday evening, I drove down some country roads in a neighboring county, ones I thought I hadn’t driven in a long time. But the further I went, things looked familiar, recently familiar. I realized I was there not long ago, on those roads riding shotgun in the big grey pickup truck with the SAR boss, a pack of search dogs in the back, walking those fields hauling gear on one of a growing number of searches in my brief SAR career. It felt good to know I was making progress, slowly but surely covering ground.

The question was asked tonight by the boss in our private Facebook group: why do we do it? Do we know why we are out there, weekend after weekend, morning after morning, training after training?

I absolutely know. In the past (nearly) two years, I’ve written about it a couple times, but I know that in these past months, those reasons have shifted and deepened, extended far beyond anything I contemplated in those first few months.

On the outside, it looks like it might have something to do with my dog. But the further we go, the less it’s about that and the more it becomes about the journey itself.

There are challenges, yes. A physical challenge: the work is demanding-climbing rubble, walking miles and miles and miles through heavy brush, under hot sun or in cold weather, early morning meetups at scenes, pages in the dead of night. The mental challenges of learning new skills: emergency medical response, making harnesses out of webbing, reading human footprints, not getting myself lost in the process of finding those missing (harder than you think!).

But this is spiritual to me. Search and Rescue, obviously, is about finding that which is lost. But it is also about the search itself, the act of being open to something to which you don’t understand. It’s about understanding, or at least getting closer. Every time I have gone out, it has felt like a prayer, one extended Kýrie, eléison. 

My life feels like it has always been about the search: figuring out the right questions to ask, looking for the answers. It’s been about looking for the connection – the place between the questions and the answers, the places of uncertainty, the places where the scars are formed, where the stories are written, the places where the image of God that lies within each of us becomes hidden or revealed based on the choices we make. SAR taught me that The Job That Pays is not terribly different from The Job That Doesn’t Pay -both are about the questions, the answers, the connections. It is about reaching out and taking hold.

In the past three months in SAR, I’ve taken sidetracks, wandered around, backed up and started again. My dog, the tool given to me for this work, no longer wants to find the living. Why I do not know. I can guess, but he can’t confirm. And it’s my job as his handler to take care of him, to act without ego or anger in his best interest. So we have switched to the mystery of the missing dead. He is happier. I am more relaxed. But before you ask the question–will that bother you, not rescue, but recovery? The answer is definitive: NO.

I believe I can do this. I’ve already seen the bodies in The Job That Pays. The sobs of the grieving at the scenes, those I have heard so so many times. I have gone from crime scene to charges to verdict to sentencing, faces becoming familiar in various stages of suffering all along the way.

If it is a difficult and necessary task, and you can do it, you absolutely should.

If this doesn’t make a ton of sense, I kind of apologize. It’s the middle of the night and I’m not sure why I’m not in bed. This post has been forming for a few weeks, taking shape in a few more rides in the pickup truck, a few dozen training sessions, hard decisions and now the question officially posed.

Why do I do SAR? To know. To learn. Because I can. Because I should.

I ask, if you read this, for your continued prayers. Not just for me, but for my teammates, for our pack of humans handling our pack of dogs, so many of whom have seen so much, so many of whom asked so many hard, hard questions to have them answered in ways no one wants to contemplate.

Pray for those who need our services, those whose icons are no longer where they belong, whose questions remain unanswered, whose connections to those beloved remain frayed or broken.

Kýrie, eléison. 

A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

Are we there yet?

In which I try not to step in it anymore

“The wise thief didst thou make worthy of paradise in a single moment. By the wood of Thy cross, illumine me as well. And save me.”

I will sing this hymn late next week as we move closer to Pascha. I have never needed to sing this hymn more than I need to sing it now. Lent is always hard. ALWAYS. You try to turn your brain more inward, make it function alongside your soul, make yourself one being: Mind/Spirit/Body. You try to clean up, clear out and make a firmer move toward holiness, toward becoming deified. You mean it.

And I meant it this year. I always do. But things are getting so damn complicated anymore. The Job That Doesn’t Pay takes up a good 12 hours a week, on average. Add that to the Job That (barely) Pays and it’s 40+ and the 6.5 hours of commute time to get to that one…sigh. I’ve been a bit busy. And recent events and ridiculousness are leaving my faith frayed to dangerous extremes.

I do guilt extremely well. It’s an aggravating holdover from my Western Christian days, the days obsessed with legal standing and paying debts and all that other crap. So I feel really really guilty about missing Lenten church services (for TJTDP) to get my stuff together for a search, and for missing last weekend for a 48-hour training. There’s going to be Lazarus Saturday skipped for more training.

The corrective to that guilt, though, was the live rescue of a missing person by a K9 on our team. This work with TJTDP is necessary and I need to do it. My dog’s good at it and it’s a skill we can share. So we’re getting over that right quick.

In the middle of all this, the actual obligations, my home state decided to wade into controversy up to its eyeballs. I tried very hard to hide under a rock and ignore it, but I found it discussed everywhere, by everybody. It was as inescapable as the wind in an open field, even in places I felt were safe. It’s personal to me because I know the people behind the bill, and I know their care and concern for the “least of these” extends only to those who are adult white males, married to women. They advised my old churches on how to hide child abuse. They lobby to keep states from cracking down on abuse in religious schools, colleges and mission organizations. They are getting fitted for their millstones. (And no, I am not sorry I said that.) They miss, of course, that the Golden Rule (and pretty much all the teachings of all the Gospel) is best distilled down to “Don’t Be an Asshole.” I know, it’s hard.

I found out one of my favorite humans in all the universe suffered a terrible loss. My heart broke for her.

So I hid this week, flat out. Skipped a Wednesday liturgy, where I knew the controversy would be hanging out at the potluck. I took my pup and went to a rubble pile. Nothing makes you “present” like trying not to fall into a jagged piece of concrete, rebar sticking out everywhere, looming up where you want to put your foot.

I guess I just found my analogy. This Lent has been an absolute disaster. And I have misstepped, over-stepped and caused landslides of anger in my own heart. I find myself now, as the thief, in the last minute, the midnight hour, trying to get it right. I am reaching out and reaching up. If you read this, and you are so inclined, I ask for your prayers over the next nine days as I approach the Feast of Pascha. Pray I might find a quiet place inside my soul to retreat, even when all around me seems to be going all to hell.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a very obvious sinner.

An icon in the ditch

Our team had a good week. We kept a search a “rescue” instead of “recovery.” Our dogs did what humans couldn’t. Thank God for that. Early Friday morning, two of our dogs and two of our handlers pushed law enforcement to extend the search for just one more run, one more time. And they brought an elderly man, suffering from dementia, to his family, to a warm and comfortable house in suburban Fort Wayne. The place he belongs was just a few thousand yards from where he would have probably died, had a handsome rescued German Shepherd named Tick not pushed through the brush, scampered down a ravine and found the man, in the dead, cold middle of the night, and told all the humans in the vicinity “he’s here!”

That’s what I wanted to write about yesterday and this morning. I thought about all the times I hide for Tick, how much fun I have with him, regardless of how tired I am, or how cold or hot it is, so that he believes that humans in random places in rubble piles or forests or buildings are the absolute bees knees.  I wanted to write about how Tick’s handler is one helping to turn my Helo into a fierce, feisty little search-beast.

That’s what I was going to tell you.

But as we had our de-brief this morning, and the handlers talked about how they walked and walked, through deep mud and brambles, and how they felt when they got to him, I realized this is a different story.

SAR is about humanity. It’s about icons. It’s about the image of God, what makes us of infinite value. It’s about our souls. It’s about helping, bringing home, about restoration, and hope.

It’s about taking great care, covering the wounds, warming cold limbs, bundling up, and touching softly. It’s about removing your own coat, taking your own time, expending your own effort. It’s about asking a name, looking in eyes, holding a hand and making one safe.

It’s about Mercy. Grace. Hope. Love. And it might not even matter why a person does this, but in that moment, it is about that connection. It is about human. It is about the Image. It is about Love.

It is about all of us.

 

(But K9 SAR is also about puppies. Here’s Tick.)

tick