As some of you know I began my working life in the other Washington (Washington, D.C.) by serving as the lowest of the lowliest of staff members for a Republican Congressman from Seattle. At the time I had been taking classes in political science and had received college credit for working as an intern on the campaign. When the election was over, when the votes were counted, recounted and counted again it turned out that Joel Pritchard had indeed won the election by the smallest of margins.
As the congressman’s staff began to be assembled they asked if I would consider moving. Not having any other good plans I said yes. And so it was that in a small store room upstairs in the Longworth Building (a room fondly known as “the cage”) I learned to run a tabletop offset press and work with Redactrons, magic typewriters invented by Evelyn Berezin and fueled by magnetic card and tape readers which, when given enough input from the operator, produced form letters.
This was a time in Washington State politics when Republicans were seen as the more progressive and thoughtful party taking seriously our role as care-takers of the environment. Nationally this time marked the beginning of the Watergate scandal, the revelation of the Christmas bombing of Cambodia, and an attempt to close down the United States Public Health Service Hospitals, one of which resided in the First Congressional District of the time. Each of these issues generated hundreds and hundreds of letters and postcards; each one received a letter back in the mail.
As I think about some aspects of our current presidential elections which border on circus entertainment laced with an undercurrent of hatred, intolerance and violence, I also find myself reflecting on that election so long ago when a few hundred votes made all the difference in a rather obscure congressional election.
That our voices and votes make a difference also made itself known in our democratic precinct caucus the Saturday before Easter where the presence of two supporters of one candidate made a large difference in the number of delegates accorded that candidate.
Our particular precinct had the largest turnout in Lake Forest Park and impassioned mini-speeches were made on both sides. Minds were changed one way or the other. Together we stood side-by-side with our neighbors in a state of civility with common purpose. Given what I have witnessed in the news in various states I found our time spent in the caucus to be refreshing, invigorating and hopeful.
As we walk together through this election cycle I find I have the urge to tattoo the words of Diane Ackerman down one arm and up the other: “I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace.”
Will you join me in this effort? Will you make yourself a messenger of God’s humble mercy, peace and wonder?
Blessings + peace, Laurie
Lent. It seems like a quick trip this year. Because Easter is a “movable feast,” dependent on the phases of the moon, we will celebrate Easter quite early this year — March 27 to be exact.
Most years we have a few more weeks between Christmas and the beginning of Lent in which to contemplate various spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, or service.
I recently learned that the Roman philosopher Seneca who lived around the time of Jesus endorsed a kind of Lenten practice with these instructions: “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ . . . There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item — that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practice our strokes on the “dummy;” let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.”
That is one way to think about it and in every other way poverty is a burden when one does not have a choice in the matter.
One Tuesday morning in February Ruth Jewell and I spent four hours volunteering at Our Common Ground, the hospitality ministry of the Regional Church’s new church start in Everett called Our Common Table.
Our Common Ground and Our Common Table rent space, a large sunny room with tables and chairs, from Evergreen United Church of Christ.
Four mornings a week Our Common Ground opens its doors to those who have no homes, who sleep in their cars, who need a place to rest, a phone to use, a clean pair of socks, companionship.
For these hungry and thirsty guests gallons of coffee are made each morning; bread for toast, as well as peanut butter and jam are usually in plentiful supply.
At Our Common Ground hunger and thirst, toast and coffee and peanut butter and poverty all mix together along with bad choices, bad luck, prison time, parking tickets, addiction, mental illness, abuse, a shopping cart filled with plastic bags and belongings, sleeping bags, blankets, layers of clothing and a sweet tempered dog.
And gratitude . . . As Ruth and I helped clean up more than one person shyly looked at us with sidelong glance and said, “Thank you for coming.”
This year my Lenten practice is go to Our Common Table on Tuesday mornings and sit still. It will be my practice to listen to the ramblings of confused minds, to hear the stories of addiction and violence and to also to notice the immense generosity of those who have nothing and offer what little they have to others: humbling to be sure.
Blessings + peace,
Pastor Neil Allen
I am blessed to serve as the pastor of Queen Anne Christian Church, an amazing community of wise and thoughtful people.