Room of Failure

I recently caught a snippet of an interview where a person referred to her garage as ‘my room of failure’.   She went on to say:  “I look around my garage and see everything I’m not good at, all the items I don’t know where to put, all the hobbies that I never get to.  I look around me and all I see is failure”.

This resonates with me.  When I lived in Oregon our garage was incapable of holding the two cars it was designed for.  Over 20 years of raising children we collected family photos, toys, school craft projects, trophies.  Such accumulation carried emotional ties that I wasn’t ready to sever by giving the stuff away or sending to the dump.

Eventually we moved to Massachusetts and carried much of our emotion laden stuff and general clutter with us.  It cost effort and money to do so.

Now we are in a house half the size.  We have a small basement and no garage.


While we downsized by 1/2 we still have too much stuff to store.  In addition to the emotion laden objects we also have my tool bench.  Another area of failure.

I’ve accumulated tools that for the most part I don’t know how to use.  Those that I do know how to use (screw driver, ratchet set, drill bits) often have missing pieces or are jumbled up in boxes.  When I look at my tool bench I’m reminded of what I can’t do or can’t find.

A professional organizer would tell me that disorganization and emotional clinging gets in the way of my living in the now.  An organizing guru (they seem to be everywhere) recommends the following steps:  Make a list of what I love (keep);  what I’m somewhat emotionally connected to (take a photo of my kids 3rd grade painting and get rid of); what I need (screwdriver, pliers, drill) and what I don’t (that box of empty picture frames, 30 year old hockey skates and box of slightly used coffee mugs).

As my jumbled, cluttered basement goes, so goes my life.

The pros say that as we jettison our stuff we begin to feel lighter emotionally.  As we donate, put in recycling or into the dumpster we make room for our heart, mind and imagination to expand.

On a spiritual level I know this to be true. When I do make the time to de-clutter I sense that my heart and soul open up.

Within me there is tension.  A part of me that wants to accumulate and hoard.  Another part that wants to let go, get rid of, make space for.

Which part of me will win?  Depends on the day.

How about you?



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How to Heal a Nation

We lament the loss of civility in our culture.   Our current political season offers many examples but is not an outlier.  In the early days of our nation John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were locked in a particularly nasty campaign for president.  Jefferson questioned Adams sanity and Adams raised a rumor of Jefferson fathering illegitimate children.

If mudslinging is part of our political and social psyche it isn’t the entire story.  A few days ago we remembered the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11th.  We remembered our collective trauma in seeing so many innocent people murdered.  We remembered too the beauty that arose from the ashes,  as strangers and neighbors across this country reached out to one another with countless acts of kindness.

Cindy McGinty lost her husband on that day.  In the years that followed Cindy says: “My community loved me back to my feet. I think of the neighbor who mowed my lawn for eight years. The taxi driver who took me on countless errands and refused to take my money.”

We think of Jo Jo Esposito the Staten Island fireman whose battalion lost half of its members on 9/11 .  He’s become a surrogate father to the children of several firefighters, including his own family members who died that day.  ‘There’s no manual that prepares you for this”, he said, “you simply try your best to do the right thing.”  Over the course of 15 years this surrogate dad has walked brides down the aisle and attended graduations and birthday parties.   He did it out of love for his friends.

On the anniversary of 9/11 we remember the trauma and all that was lost.  We remember too how it also brought out the best in us.


During this uncivil political season it serves us well to remember the positive lessons from 9/11. The antidote to fear and coarseness is simple kindness.  The reminder that we are all in this together.  That our strength as a nation is in the quality and depth of our character, our  capacity to take care of each other.



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No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.


Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.


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Being a Dad

25 years ago I became a Dad.  Prior to having a child I was somewhat ambivalent about fatherhood.  My own family of origin had left some wounds that I didn’t want to pass on to the next generation.

I knew however that I had married a woman who would be a great mom. I figured she’d compensate for the baggage I’d bring.  In time Tricia became pregnant and we spent those nine months getting ready, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

When our daughter was born I was all in.  Holding her for the first time I was not prepared for the emotional bond that I felt.  This infant with scrunched face and mottled skin was ours.  I offered a silent prayer asking for divine help in being the best dad I could be.

In time we had two daughters.  I was a guy who grew up with a brother. What did I know about raising daughters?

My wife Tricia told me that there were several key things that daughters  need from their Dad: To tell them that they are beautiful, strong, smart and can achieve anything they set their hearts to.  I would add to the list:  to show up, to be available, to be their advocate and to love their mother.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do.

Have I made mistakes?  Many.  Just ask my family.

But I also made many intentional choices to be a healthy Dad.  I’ve tried to pass along positive lessons from my family of origin and intentionally with the help of a therapist sought to leave some baggage behind.

One of the best things I did was to join a Dad Support Group, once when our girls were little and again when they were teenagers.  Each time I relied upon the wisdom of other fathers who were each trying to be the best, most loving dad they could be.  Together we pooled our wisdom, learned from our mistakes, laughed with and prayed for one another. I know I’m a better father because of these men.

My take away from being a dad is to say that each of us as Dads and Moms do the best we can.  None of us is perfect and we need to be gracious with ourselves, our spouse and our kids.

Above all we need to keep showing up and to the best of our ability be the most loving parent we can be.

Now our daughters are 25 and 22.

photo of Harrop Family

I look at the choices they’ve made and the courage they’ve shown and find that they regularly inspire me. All these years later, since I first held them and looked into their scrunched faces, I’m still amazed by the depth of the emotional bond I feel.


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Oldest Dance Step

In the Bible there is a dance step known as the ‘not me shuffle’.  The dance goes like this: God calls us to step out in faith.  Our response? ‘Are you kidding me?’

Moses was called by God to speak a word of challenge to the Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go!’  Moses responds: ‘You can’t mean me!  I stutter.  I can’t string two sentences together.  How about sending my brother Aaron?’

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet to his own nation.  He knew that prophets get their butt kicked.  Jeremiah responds: ‘I’m just a boy. Surely you want someone with more experience.’

Sarah said she was to old. Mary said she was to young.

How about you?  Ever felt that God was calling/nudging/prodding you to move in a new direction or speak a word of truth?

Often I revert to the ‘not me shuffle’:  “I’m not smart enough, faithful enough, brave enough, good enough, ______.”

Richard Bach captures our reluctance well: ‘Argue for your limitations long enough and sure enough, they are yours.’

In contrast, God argues for our potential.  God sees strength where we see weakness.  It seems that God enjoys bringing out the extraordinary in that which seems ordinary, even wounded and broken.  We are invited to dance not away from but with our Creator.

photo of dancing feet

When I was fifteen years old, I sensed that God was calling me to be a pastor.  Me?  I knew I didn’t measure up to what I thought a pastor should be … notably serious guys in suits who spoke in oddly stilted language of ‘thee and thou’.  That wasn’t me.

Yet, I couldn’t shake the idea that God was calling me.  Imagine.

In college I pushed the boundaries, asked lots of questions and explored other faiths.  The call however remained…as if God were saying, ‘I choose you’.

Between my junior and senior year of college I had a conversion experience, a reaffirmation that the call I sensed at fifteen was still at work.  Forty plus years later I still sense God’s holy nudge.

With all my limitations that great mystery we call God continues to speak into my life and guide my path.  Sometimes  it is only in looking back that I can see I’ve been accompanied with every step.

The invitation of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we are invited to see ourselves and others through God’s eyes.  Full of wisdom, beauty and strength.  We are called to stop arguing for our limitations.

What might God be calling/nudging you to do, to become?

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Antidote: Peace of Wild Things

Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~ Wendell Berry

photo Ipswich River

Last week feeling overwhelmed by the darkness of political discourse and the horrific images of yet another act of gun violence in our nation, I retreated  to the river.

The Ipswich is a gem just 15 minutes from my house.  With a few friends we slipped from one world into another.  Unplugged via canoe and kayak we moved with the water.

Soon we fell silent as we opened ourselves to the mystery and beauty of nature. Our companions?  The whistle of a hawk, the prehistoric screech of the Great Blue Heron and the slap of a beaver tail…letting us know that we were approaching their home.

We paddled slowly allowing the busyness and tension of life to slip away, at least for a time.   As the poet writes, ‘we came into the presence of still water, the peace of wild things’.  And indeed, for those moments, we rested in the grace of the world and were free.

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In Praise of Moose

This past week I walked a portion of the Long Trail in Vermont.  For five days I backpacked with my cousin Tom from Lincoln Gap to the base of Camels Hump.

Nine years ago I took up backpacking in the mountains of my then home in Oregon.  For several years I packed with friends in the Eagle Cap Wilderness along the Idaho/Oregon border.  We climbed and camped at the 12,000 foot level.  I thought I knew what tough packing was like.

But the Long Trail is different.  The tallest peaks I climbed were in the 4000′ foot category.  But instead of the gradual switchbacks of a broad Oregon mountain this trail is essentially vertical.  Climbers scramble over glacial boulders and a twisted labyrinth of roots and stone.  Going down is no easier than up.

Photo of Tom on Long Trail

On the Long Trail you have to be mindful lest you fall. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn would likely praise the Long Trail. He’s all about being present to where you are:  ‘When you walk know you are walking’.

The Long Trail heightens your senses.  On one of the few relatively flat stretches I entered a mix of forest and wetlands.  Scattered along the trail were perfect piles of moose droppings.

Moose droppings or the colloquial ‘moose shit’ are perfectly round balls of one inch in diameter heaped in impressive piles along the trail.   Walking my senses were on alert looking for a moose in the flesh.

photo of moose crap

I didn’t see a moose.  Only the tell-tale sign that I was in the land of moose.  I know this  because I was not simply passing through.   I was fully present to my surroundings, my antenna was up my senses on alert.

Like the good Buddha Baptist that I am, I knew where I was.  I was on the Long Trail.  I was walking through the home of moose.

The Long Trail is not for the faint of heart.  It focuses ones attention.  It makes you feel fully alive.  The trail reminds you of where and who you are.

Be distracted at your own peril.




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