The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, December 7

That's How The Light Gets In...

All Souls Church, Unitarian
My friend, Darryl says, “Wanna check it out sometime?” He's been going to a Unitarian Church on 16th Street. It's a tall steeple one and got organized in 1821 when the United States was still a young country. 

We make arrangements for the Sunday following the election...on a day when the nation is deeply divided.

I'm stunned to see the place packed. It's not what you expect to see in a church these days. Usually this place holds about 1500 people on the main floor and wrap-a-round balcony. But on this particular Sunday, it's bursting with about 2000.

Even more, I'm shocked to hear the minister's sermon...interrupted by a standing ovation lasting several minutes. 

Never have I seen or heard such a thing. It's unbelievable to see so many people roaring their approval.

What stirs such deep emotions is the minister's call for the congregation to be true to its history.

As best as I can recall he says, “We are people of sanctuary. We have given support to gay and lesbian human right seekers, war resisters, run-a-way slaves and more. For all of them, we were a place of sanctuary. 

"Now there's coming a time when we may need to be preparing again...for immigrants, refugees, Native Americans, Muslims, people of color, trans-gendered people and others who are dispossessed.”

I feel like I'm in the right place and glad to add my own applause to the cacophony.

A few Sundays later the worship service is centered on hope. A Blues singer belts out Leonard Cohen's marvelous song, Anthem. 

Leonard Cohen Performing
"The song took ten years to write. There's not a line in it that I could not defend. I delayed it's birth for so long because it wasn't right or appropriate or true or it was too easy or ideas were too fast or too fuss, but the way it is now, it deserves to be born.

It stands for something clear and strong in my heart.

The meaning in the chorus is the background of the whole record: 'Ring the bells that still can ring.' It's no excuse for this dismal situation...and the future is no excuse for abdication of your own personal responsibilities toward yourself and your job and your love.

Ring the Bells that still can ring. They're few and far between, but you can find them.

Forget your perfect offering.  That's a hang-up that you're gonna to work this thing out. This situation does not admit to a solution of perfection. This is not a place where you make things perfection - your marriage, nor in your work, nor in your love of God, nor in your love of family or country.

There's a crack in everything.  The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together – physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind.

That's how the light gets in.  But that's where the light gets in, and that's where resurrection is and that's where the return to repentance is...with the brokenness of things."

Maybe it's just me being in this place at this time, but the song brings a lump to my throat. When I glance at the woman next to me tearing up, I join her. I think our emotions come from a sacred place.

Leonard Cohen is most known for his song, Hallelujah.  It's been sung around the world by many pop-artists. Its enigmatic lyrics give a pause to everyday. Learn more about Leonard Cohen.

This time the sermon is not interrupted with cheers, but it's timely for a nation divided and losing hope.

The minister re-frames the quest for hope. He says that hope is not like waiting for a gift to be wrapped up with a bow and dropped in our laps.  Rather hope is active. It's something we give our lives to each day and week, month and year. I'm thinking - to make the nation a kinder, gentler and more just place to live one step at a time.

It's just like the Old Testament Prophet, Micah, urged so long ago – “What does the Lord require, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”

I write this post in hopes that it might give you opportunities to think deeply.

After all, living is more than household projects, emails and deadlines. We need encouragement from one another and a new vision of a nation healing old fears, suspicions and hatreds. 

Together we do what we can with what we have.  And we create hope.  

Wednesday, October 19

What A Day - October 18, 2016

I'm grateful for my garden apartment. While I was still in Ukraine, I saw it listed on a real estate blog.

Wow,” I thought. “I can live in the city and still be close to nature.” You see, while my apartment is a 16 story concrete building, it's less than a block from access to Rock Creek - a park that snakes its way through the District and up into Maryland farmland. It's a refuge from concrete and asphalt for many animals and fauna. 
My apartment looks out on a patio through a floor to ceiling glass doors and side panels. 

I can see flowers in my small garden and a beautiful dogwood tree. It's a perfect spot to enjoy morning coffee while my pair of cardinals sing or the humming birds check out the feeder. 

A couple of Springs ago, a mother duck hatched her brood here.  What a sight to see - Little fluffs peeping after one another - until the animal rescue came and returned them to Rock Creek.

I often say with a smile, “Life is easy on Veazey,” It's a rhyme in honor of my street – Veazey Terrace. “Life is easy on Veazey Terrace.” It's a wonderful place to live.

But then today happened.

It's about 7:45 am. My alarm has already gone off and I'm still under snooze control. Suddenly I hear a loud crash and a clatter. What? I'm uncertain about jumping out of bed to see what is the matter. 

Actually, I have an impulse to pull the sheets up over my head and stay safe
Now I hear a sloshing sound from the bathroom. I call out, “Hello!” And again, “Hello!” There's no response. What could it be?

I walk towards the door and notice blood on the floor. “Oh my, what's happened?” I poke my head half-way out of the doorway and suddenly see in my bathroom a full grown deer.  

He's big.  He's taller than I am with those antlers towering overhead. In a flash, he spots me. 

Quickly the frightened intruder turns leaping across my living room through the shards of glass while dripping blood on the floor. One, two, three bounds and then a jump. He's gone out through the huge hole in what was once my solid plate-glass door.

Wow, what's just happened,” I think. I scan my living room. 

Broken glass crunches under my feet. I step over to my hallway entrance and dining area. Walls and floors are smudged with blood. 

I take a closer look at the bathroom. It looks like a crime scene. I'm in shocked.

I make two calls. I reach out to my friend Sally for support and contact the building management for help. Both respond quickly, thank goodness. With friends near, I transition from shock to clean-up mode. It'll take most of the day. Blood dries quickly and cakes on hard if you ever need to know.

Apparently the deer had found his way to the strip of land that runs along the patios on my side of the building. Workmen coming for repairs spooked the deer. He ran down the strip of land to the last patio...mine. It's a dead end with no way out.

The deer must have seen the reflection of the dogwood tree in my glass door thinking it was a way back to Rock Creek.  So with a leap and a bound, he cut his way into my apartment.

I'm feeling grateful when I consider all that might have happened. What if he had turned into my bedroom instead of the bathroom? What if he had lashed-out at me?  What if he had slashed through the living room instead of leaping outside again? 

Sure it's a mess. But it can be cleaned up and the glass door can be replaced. I'm safe.

What an experience!  I'm very aware of how life can change in a moment.  While life is not always easy on Veazey, I still can enjoy my morning coffee on the patio and listen to my cardinals sing.

But what about the deer?  When you think about it, it's people, like me and my kind, who have intruded into his space.   

I wonder if the cuts were deep?  Did he survive?  As the repairmen arrive with new glass,  I keep thinking, "I hope he makes it."   

Saturday, July 2

Remembering Legacy and the Lafayette Urban Ministry

I belong to a club. It has no bi-laws and no regular meetings.  In fact it only has three members. We're the club of the LafayetteUrban Ministry Executive Directors – Ron Elly, myself and Joe Micon. Over the years we have remained friends keeping in touch with occasional meetings, emails and phone calls.

Last week we lost one of our members. Ron Elly died. He had been battling cancer for a long time, but at 76 years, cancer finally took him from us.

I was invited by the family to share my thoughts at his funeral in Lafayette, Indiana. In a whirlwind of a flight from Washington, DC, I share this eulogy...

July 1, 2016

Thank you for inviting me to be a part of celebrating the life of Ron colleague in ministry and friend. Our lives intertwined through our work with the Lafayette Urban Ministry and our friendship grew over the years. During my last extended stay in Lafayette, we began having regular coffees together. No agenda – just a little reminiscing, laughter and friendship.

On Monday the phone rings. There's no premonition of the news it would convey. I learn Rev. Ron Elly died.

A wave of sadness slides thru my soul. “Oh no,” I mutter or something like that. I knew he had been battling cancer, but still the news hits me hard. Memories flood my consciousness. “Oh Ron, you're a good one. You made such a big difference. We'll miss you.”

For some reason, I find my thoughts returning to a bible verse from the prophet Micah.
What does God require?  Do justice.  Love kindness.  And walk humbly with God

I first met Ron on the pages of the Green Book as I was interviewing for a new job with LUM. For those who may not know, the Green Book was a strategic report on the Lafayette Urban Ministry prepared by Dr. Jim Davidson, a sociologist of religion from Purdue University in collaboration with Ron Elly, Tom Hull, Don Nead and a host of others from the staff and board of LUM. 

Dr. Davidson analyzed strengths and weaknesses and importantly saw great opportunities for LUM.  Oh yes, It was called the green book not because of some deeper metaphorical meaning, but simply because its cover was a bright green.

I learned about Rev. Ronald Elly on those pages...recruited by Presbytery from Seminary in Louisville Kentucky to Hope Chapel – a small Presbyterian congregation on the south side of Lafayette. Here lived some of Lafayette's poorest families and most marginalized people.

The year was 1967. It was an activist time. Churches were beginning to realize that they would have to see beyond their stained glassed windows and get involved in their communities. 

It was a time to connect with the marginalized. It was a time to correct racial injustices. The government was launching a War on Poverty. The times they were a changing and social justice was in the air.

Ron saw an opportunity at Hope Chapel. He felt that it was well positioned for renewal as a Servant Church – loving neighbors and doing justice in the world.

Unfortunately, leaders at this congregation did not share his passion for a Servant Church. They wanted to recapture a more traditional model for church life - One that served their own members and not so much the community. They balked at Rev Elly's ideas...Unfortunately.

Or was it fortunately. God does work in mysterious ways. Sure there were plenty of false starts, disappointments, conflicts and heart aches. We can only imagine the anxiety that Ron and Ellen must have felt as Hope Chapel back-tracked.

But Ron had persistence. Amazingly he didn't loose hope. Something new was beginning to happen in Lafayette, Indiana and Ron's ministry was at the heart of it. I'm not sure he realized it at the time, but looking back we see it clearly.

Ron was brilliant in his ability to gather people together. He was always out in the community. First through the NDP (Neighborhood Development Project) he reached out to Presbyterians and then to Methodists and quickly to a broader ecumenical circle. He had a knack for identifying people with a social justice gene and then he got them involved.

All of us, where would we be if not for Rev Elly's ministry? We have lots to be grateful for and so much to celebrate.

By 1971, the idea for a Lafayette Urban Ministry was taking shape. More people got involved. Seven churches became charter members. And in January of 1972, it became official when Dee Tritschler moved and Les Gaylor seconded a motion to create the Lafayette Urban Ministry and call Rev Ronald Elly as LUM's Pastor Director.

It was exciting times. Work with youth as well as a transportation program expanded. A Centralized Emergency Fund was created to help with emergency needs. Work on racial justice took off through an Integrated Hands Program. A Hispanic community festival was organized thanks to LUM securing additional church funds. Participation as well as budgets increased. More than 20 congregations were discovering new ways to do Church.

But Ron was not to remain Pastor Director. He sensed a calling to a more personal ministry of pastoral counseling. Soon hundreds of people were able to sort out troubling issues because of Ron's guidance. Imagine the renewal in their lives and the difference Ron's pastoral counseling ministry made. Many recall his deep concern and wonderful kindness to this day.

Still Ron Elly is and always will be the birthing parent of the Lafayette Urban Ministry.

Among his many gifts, he gave us vision. He taught us that through persistence, prayer and faith, many good things are possible. We can see beyond stained glass windows or self-obsessive lives. Ron's vision gave us hope and has already changed Lafayette.

It's true...isn't it?

Because of his vision, we catch glimpses of a servant church. Now churches, secular organizations and all people of good will are regularly engaged with the poor and embracing the marginalized.

They walk for hunger
They counsel at an immigration clinic.
They volunteer at the homeless shelter.
They support the Food Finders Food Bank and give away bags of groceries.
They write letter to legislators pleading for a social safety net.
They work on community task forces.
They give to the Good Samaritan Fund. 
And more...
It's like we are echoing the words of the prophet Micah. Do justice...Love kindness...Walk humbly with God.

Indeed, Ron, we recognize what you have accomplished among us. You leave a living legacy and we are most grateful. We thank God for all blessings... And today, we, especially, thank God for you. Amen

Thursday, May 26

Dubrovnik, Croatia - Paradise On Earth

“Pearl of the Adriatic,” enthused George Bernard Shaw after his visit.

“Those who seek Paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik,” he said.  
View of Old City from my Guest House
It's easy to see why
UNESCO deemed it a World Heritage site in 1979.

I'm staying at a guest house overlooking the Old Town of Dubrovnik. 

The view is amazing. Don't you agree?

But the world almost lost it. My host explains the terror during the 1991-92 siege. 

Mortars from surrounding hillsides hit nearly 80% of the roofs. His mother and family struggled for water and food just to stay alive.

Street life during the year of the siege
Hearing him and seeing the intensity brings history of this siege, like the others that inflicted the Balkans, into an embarrassing awareness. 

Frankly, I know little about the flood of warfare that engulfed the Balkans in the 1990s.

Walls in a museum pay tribute to the men whose lives ended during the siege
A YouTube search helps to fill in my ignorance. I start watching a BBC documentary.  Here's the Link - The Death of Yugoslavia. 

Slowly, I'm beginning to understand what happened after Tito's death and xenophobes gained power. The worse of fear and suspicion and hatred took over. Crazed leaders manipulated the people resulting in Hell on least for a time.

Meeting a young child along the way
Today I'm walking the wall that encloses the Old City. Much has been restored. Investments from abroad and the hard-work of the people is bring the luster back to the “pearl.” It's a wonder although if you look closely, there are still scars and need for on-going work.

They tell me it's about a 2 hour trek, but at my speed, I'll double it.  

Whatever, I think it's a glorious day to be exploring “Paradise Restored." 

Let's go - up and down and around

Can you spot the few roofs that have NOT been replaced?

Church stands proud  and sea glistens 

I wish that was me in a  kayak 
See the different roof colors.
 Nearly 80% had been destroyed

Dubrovnik is a living city alive with daily life

I talk with this man about his garden
Former fishing and trading harbor,
now serves tourists

Fortification scared from war

Mesmerized by the crystal clear water
Colors of Paradise

Saturday, May 7

Kotor Climbing

I  missed  the morning bus, but never  fear, I'll get another.    I have an extra 6 hours in Kotor.  GREAT.

I  look around.

Before me is a mountain cradling a church about two-thirds to the top.

It's a vvvvvery long way up, but I say to myself, "now or never."   Let's go...

Steep incline and 1001  steps 

BIrds sing and flowers bloom along the way

How far did I get?   Let's just say that I didn't get to the top.   But then again,  it's not a race to the top... is it?

Take time to see the sights and smell the roses or in this case
the iris!

Tuesday, May 3

Balkan Art Opportunities

Sometimes an art opportunity enters my mind, but so do lots of thoughts.  Then it taps me on the shoulder - pay attention! And then, it introduces me to another artist.  Here's what happens...  

I'm wandering through the old town of Kotor, Montenegro. I'm relishing the atmosphere.  Cobble stones under foot and 18th and 19th century buildings stretching before me, fill my mind with painting ideas.  

I'm enjoying every twist and turn of the streets.  Or I should I say, more accurately, alleyways.  In some places I stretch my arms from wall to wall.  It's narrow and so old Europe.   

As I'm ambling along, I happen upon an art gallery.  Surprisingly, the proprietor is a water-colorist.  Many of his works are on display.  We start talking art.  It's an unexpected pleasure.  Soon he has me at a cafe across from the gallery buying me a cup of espresso.  He sits me down to a tutorial on ink drawing with bamboo pens. 

What fun.   Art has grabbed me! 
I spend the rest of the day taking pictures.  Here are a few that could become paintings.  I'm thinking you can help me decide.

Just send and email back with your first choice and maybe a second.  The one with the most votes will become my subject.  In a way we will do art together.

What do you say?  Give it a try and send an email of your choice(s),  Each is labeled below.

I look forward to hearing from you...really.  

Number 1

Number 2

Number 3

Number 4

Number 5

Number 6

Number 7

Number 8

Number 9

Number 10

Number 11
Number 12

Sunday, May 1

Tito's Train

At every station along the way, an attendant stands at attention
and signals the train onward
Here I go for a journey on the Tito train line.  It leaves Belgrade for Bar  Montenegro.   Unlike the luxury cars of Tito's time, passengers sit six to a compartment.  

The seats are covered in plush velvet though no longer prime time.  Think shabby and somewhat stained.  It's an old old train.  Still I'm not here for luxury, but rather the spectacular scenery that lies ahead.  

It's named for Tito since he had it built during his 35 years as leader of Yugoslavia and used it frequently.  

Concrete forms criss-cross the mountainside.  
It was a big public work project as you can see the immense amounts of cement used to stabilize the track's slice through the mountains.  
Yesterday I attempted to visit  his grave site,  but it was locked down.  I didn't get to see much - just the outside of a memorial/museum building.  

After all It's Good  Friday,  according to the Orthodox calendar, or as they say in Serbia, Heavy Friday.

I had promised Neshko's father that I would honor Tito by going.  

He tells me that he owes his good life to this leader.  With little education, he always had work and raised a fine family. On several occasions, I enjoyed his hospitality.  His son, my friend Neshko,  has a graduate degree and now works for positive social change in Macedonia.  Many say that Tito made communism work.  I'm sure there's a shadow side too, but the people of this region talk about a lot of good. It makes me curious to learn even more.  

The train ride connects a land locked Serbia with  the coastal mountains.  One hour into this 10 hour trip, I've passed through 14 tunnels.   I know, cause I'm counting on the back of my ticket. Just a little obsessive compulsive - huh?

Outside,  I'm slowly leaving the city and entering a mixed area of ex-urban living.  
Notice the clusters of newer homes - all with red tile roofs.  See the more traditional villages and fields lush with Spring life.  And then there're nasty belching industrial stacks.  Where's the EPA?

I'm thinking this scene will become a watercolor
Within a couple more hours,  I enter a rugged mountainous area thick with forest.  A few isolated homesteads dot the hillsides.  Two men tend several dozen bee hives.  There are no other houses in sight - so very interesting.  

The tunnels keep coming at me.   I count over 50 now. In total I'm told there will be over 260.  It's beautiful.  My train compartment window frames each landscape.   I'm captivated.  Enjoy a few as I'm doing.... 
Notice the aqua blue colors in the water

As I enter Montenegro, granite peeks through the forested mountains

Clouds are marvelous 
Underneath a high tressel a river zig-zags towards the sea

Imagine living in such a beautiful place
Do you know what this might be?  The signage says 1921,
I'm clueless.
By the way, I stopped counting tunnels after about 4 hours.  My total was 123 - although I nap for about 20 minutes.  I guess I'm not so obsessive compulsive after-all.