Current Events

An Open Letter to the Prowler At My Gate


We were both surprised. Me—driving fast, fifteen minutes late for my yoga class. You– at my gate with your bag over your shoulder, expecting an empty house.

I have to hand it to you though. You were smooth. As I rolled down my window, preparing an icy, “May I help you?” you were ready with an offensive move.

“Excuse me, ma’am” in a voice as smooth as butter, “do you have a light?”

“No,” I spluttered, and drove off.


In the time it took to get to the end of the long driveway and drive back home, you were gone. My German shepherd was panting. My mini dachshund was barking frantically, his snout quivering over the side of the canyon, where you’d undoubtedly fled.


The sheriff told me you’d been casing the house, noting my schedule. He said crime was way up, mostly due to prisoners being released from the county jail because of over-crowding.


You didn’t look like a recently released prisoner, with your tidy dark clothes, your well-tended appearance.  Neither did you seem like a homeless person, not desperate, lost or despairing. In fact, you seemed to have it all together.


Which is what made me feel calm later. Surely such an intentional person would henceforth decide to leave my house alone—with its large German shepherd and gate. Surely it is my neighbors in this small canyon neighborhood, the ones without gates or dogs, who have the most to fear from you.


What I really want to say though is that our brief encounter brought me a gift. And I didn’t realize it until this morning, almost three weeks later.


I’ve been wondering why my heart is broken, why I can’t shake off the news. Why pictures of men, women and children herded up by Isis haunt my thoughts. Why photos of the exploded airplane in the Ukraine and the deadly rockets in Gaza settle like a gray fog in my chest. And this morning I realized why.


When you appeared outside my gate, my sense of security cracked. I felt vulnerable.  For the first time, I knew someone had been watching me as a predator observes it prey. You were waiting to take something from me.  And though I am well protected and realistically quite safe, I felt the anxiety of being the focus of another’s targeted desire.


And the ordinary people of the Middle East, the Ukraine, the Gaza strip– they are completely caught in the maelstrom of others’ violent desires. Unlike me, they have no defenses. Unlike me, they are not protected. They are not safe.  They are helpless as the ruthless advance their aims.


So your unwelcome appearance at my gate cracked me open to a deeper level of awareness, and I thank  you. I trust that you will not return.  I hope my deepened compassion abides.




Boyd, Iron Fence and Gate, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Posted by admin in Current Events, spirituality

The Not-So-Near Death of A Mini Dachshund and Events in Ferguson

R-20110118-0006.jpgLast week I was anxious and sad. Although I kept going with ordinary life, I feared our old dog was dying. Mysterious yelps, sudden bulges, listlessness and clouded eyes reminded me of every dog I’ve had that died from cancer. I held off going to the vet, avoiding bad news. Finally when a tennis-ball-sized swelling appeared overnight, I took him in. The vet lanced the abscess, gave him antibiotics, and today he’s skittering around like a puppy.


I should have known better. I’ve worked for years on facing fear. But I’m taking the episode as another lesson in assumptions.  Because I assumed he was dying, I delayed going to the vet, causing him extra pain and jeopardizing his health. Assumptions cloud our judgment. They blind us to truth. They get in the way.


I’ve learned this lesson before. In addition to experiencing it in life, I was trained to notice assumptions during my spiritual direction internship program at Bread of Life. Walk down the ladder of inference, we were told repeatedly. Try to get to the level of concrete details.  Do this not only for yourself, but with your directees.


What did you notice? What did you see? What feelings did it trigger in you? What did you say or do in response? From this foundational level, grounded in observable experience, one can carefully create a safe container within which to search for truth.


As I’ve watched events unfold in Ferguson since the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown, I’ve grieved for the absence of such a container. Many factors are at work in the tragedy being played out, but I believe the destruction has been magnified by the speed of people’s unconsidered responses.


The facts about what actually happened are unknown at this point. Conflicting stories are being told. Information is being released in small, disconnected bits.


Into this factual vacuum, emotion, assumption, judgment, and fear have rushed. Using strategic and partial bits of information, all sides have made pronouncements, presenting their points of view as if they were facts.


Around the country, on city streets and at kitchen tables, the violence continues, as we square off against each other, not even knowing, exactly, what we are fighting about.


Into this maelstrom stepped Captain Ron Johnson, now overseeing security in Ferguson.  Johnson, a commander in the Missouri Highway Patrol, grew up in the area. His first step was to walk with the protestors through the streets. “We are going to have a different approach and that approach is that we are in this together. I am here to protect and serve everybody.”


Johnson removed the heavy riot armour and SWAT trucks that had so enraged the citizens. He met with residents on the streets. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he told a young man with a red neckerchief. “Just like you and me are doing.  We’re talking. We gotta start with me. And we gotta start with you. We’re gonna be alright. We’re going to continue to talk.”


Unfortunately, violence has continued to escalate in Ferguson.  Peaceful protests have turned violent. Riot armor has returned to the streets. A curfew has been imposed.  Looting continues. Last night the police command center was attacked. The governor has called out the National Guard.


On Sunday morning Captain Johnson attended Greater Grace Church and spoke to Mr. Brown’s family and the congregation. “My heart goes out to you, and I say that I’m sorry. We need to pray. We need to thank Michael for his life. And we need to thank him for all the changes he is going to make.”


I’m following Captain Johnson’s advice. I’m praying for the people of Ferguson, for Captain Johnson, and for all of us, praying that we will open our eyes, ears and hearts, listening for truth, listening for wisdom, listening for guidance about how to heal our brokenness and live in peace.



Burial, Walter Gramatte, 1914, Germany courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Posted by admin in community, Current Events, spirituality