Connections: Sabbatical 2018
June 4-September 3
Extended Version for the Website
Among many things, sabbatical was a time for me to reflect on my spiritual life. I had been noticing for some time that my prayer life was in need of being “de-professionalized.” That is, every time I prayed, even privately, I was still Pastor Dave. I was having difficulty experiencing prayer in any way other than in connection with my role. I didn’t come up with any great answer to this during sabbatical. But going back to some basics has helped. Simply being still in God’s presence, without words, is very healing.
Hebrew and Greek Studies
The study aspect of sabbatical gave me a valuable insight, namely, that a number of things I always do, outside of sabbatical and on a regular basis, are restorative. So, this summer I just kept on going with my Greek study of Mark and Hebrew study of the Psalms (see the list below).
Fender American Professional Stratocaster
On June 12, I drove to Mass Street Music in Lawrence and bought an electric guitar. I’d never owned one. I also bought an amp and headphones (the marriage saver!). This has clearly opened up a new world for me. I am not a trained musician, so I have limitations. But I can easily lose myself inside a song or songs (just ask Carole), in refreshing ways. It’s been fascinating to use my ear, chord charts, the website “Ultimate Guitar,” and the numerous pre-set and spontaneous sound combinations in the amp to learn iconic guitar riffs and leads from my youth (which are just as stuck in my head today as they were fifty years ago). These include songs like Chicago’s “Call on Me” (not a stand-out guitar part from Terry Kath on the recording, but quite complex, built on major and minor ninth chords and slipping easily in and out of half-step key changes throughout; I found a phaser effect on the pre-sets which sounds pretty close), and David Gilmour’s powerful solo from “Time” (Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, 1973; he likes to bend strings). Of course, I’ll never give up my acoustic, and so I played that lots too (between John Gorka and Dan Fogelberg, that’s about half the songs I know!).
Mennonite Disaster Service, Bloomington, Texas
In late July, I drove to Bloomington Texas to volunteer with Mennonite Disaster Service. Bloomington is about 800 miles south of here and 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. It has Gulf weather. What I was soon to discover was that perspiration management would be a major factor in my week.
Homes and businesses in Victoria County Texas had been damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Harvey last year. When I arrived, the several MDS homes were anywhere from 50%-80% complete.
The town of Bloomington is a largely Hispanic and low-income community. How MDS came to be involved there is an interesting story. What I heard is that, soon after the storm, the many relief agencies and services met to divide up the work and resources. Bloomington was at the bottom of the priority list. Representatives from the Bloomington community left the meeting angry and frustrated, because they always seem to be last on everybody’s agenda. On their way out, they met the MDS representatives going in. The MDS people saw that the Bloomington reps were upset and stopped to talk with them. When they explained what had happened, the MDS people said, “You sound like the kind of people we like to partner with. Let’s stay in touch.” So, as it turned out, MDS got the opportunity to work in Bloomington.
I had worked at MDS projects before. What I really liked this time is that I got to meet all the families whose homes we were rebuilding. The house I worked on most was for a man, Ernest, who uses a mechanized chair because he is missing three limbs (not injuries from the hurricane). Ernest had never lived in a house where things were easily accessible to him with his physical challenges. He was so delighted that we were putting cabinets and shelves and appliances and sinks and wall outlets all at heights he could easily reach. He was also very happy that we were rebuilding on his grandmother’s property; although she is now deceased, she remains very dear to Ernest.
The crew I worked with were great. The largest group of volunteers were from two Methodist churches in Winchester, Virginia. It was wonderful to get to know them and work together. They were truly inspiring and kindred spirits—one of the wonderful opportunities MDS affords.
At Ernest’s house I did some dry wall inside, but mostly I worked outside on siding and soffit. Because of the heat, we tried to work so that we followed the shade around the outside of the house as the day progressed. One day that worked pretty well, but on the others it didn’t.
Now about that perspiration management. It was 100 degrees and 75% humidity every day. We began work at 7:00 a.m. By 8:30 I was soaked. I don’t mean damp, I mean dripping. I sloshed about until our break at 10:00. Fortunately, our unit house was right across the street from Ernest’s. So, I went back to my room, changed completely into dry clothes, and hung up the wet stuff on the line outside in the sun. At 12:00 we came back to the unit house for lunch. I changed again, put the now dry dirty clothes from 10:00 back on, and hung the newly wet clothes on the line in the sun. At the 2:30 break, I again changed complete, swapping the next set of wet dirty clothes for a previous set of now dry dirty. This is how it went for six days. I drank two gallons of water every day but I was always thirsty and I never used the bathroom until the evening. The crew leaders were very concerned about us and always encouraged us to take breaks and drink, drink, drink. On two afternoons, the unit director Don came around to each house project with kids’ push popsicles for us workers. You would have thought he was giving away blank checks the way we swarmed around his pick-up when he arrived. At night, I walked around the unit house to keep myself from falling asleep too early—I was afraid I’d wake up at 4:00 a.m. and not go back to sleep.
I highly recommend to everyone, if you have a chance to volunteer with MDS for week, it’s well worth it. I’m not a skilled builder but I was able to contribute. The people we helped continually expressed such grateful surprise that we, complete strangers, would come from all over the US to be their partners and assist them in rebuilding. In a time when we need opportunities to rekindle our hopes for humankind and see God at work in the world, MDS is an inspiration.
I wrote a total of maybe 20. It’s harder than it looks. I did some sketching of them on rice paper. That’s way harder than it looks! Here’s a sampling:
June 4, 2018
Windless space lacks all
need to impress; just holds us
June 11, 2018
The full moon above,
caribou and the blue whale—
Earth fill’d with migrants.
June 22, 2018
How much seeing past
becomes not seeing at all?
August Biking (8/11/18)
Breathe with your mouth clos’d.
Gnats—no problem; grasshoppers
scratch all the way down.
That’s my reflections on a summer of sabbatical. There was activity and there was peace; peace like that abundant and symbiotic and timeless meadow at Kanopolis, with the full moon above.
It was good to go and its good to be back.
Spiritual Life Center, Bel Aire
New Jersey, with Carole, Laura, Connor, Collin, Katie, and Josh; to see Carole’s mother
South Texas, MDS
Kanopolis State Park, time of retreat
Central Community Church, Wichita
Wichita Indian United Methodist Church
Pleasant Valley Church, Sedgwick
Berlin Baptist Church, Berlin, New Jersey
Heartland Friends Meeting, Wichita
Hebrew Texts Greek Texts
Isaiah 5:1-7 Philippians 2:1-11
Psalms 19, 27, 9 Mark 13:1-37
The Book of Joy His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop
Your Leadership Edge Ed O’Malley. Kansas Leadership Center.
A Way Other Than Our Own Walter Brueggemann.
From Whom No Secrets Are Hid Walter Brueggemann.
We Were the Lucky Ones Georgia Hunter.
Stretch Out Your Hand Tilda Norberg.
Ashes Transformed Tilda Norberg.
Backstory Preaching Lisa Kraske Cressman.
Tattoos on the Heart Fr. Gregory Boyle.
The Sun Does Shine Anthony Ray Hinton.
A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax Bill Arnold and John Choi.
I worked on maybe fifteen, everything from “Healer of Our Every Ill” to “Free Fallin’.” See the narrative above.