Friday, September 30, 2016

Santa Fe Sabbatical 2016 - at the Puye Cliff Dwellings

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Puye Cliff Dwellings

An amazing and rich day—I set out to do some hiking and it became much more. It was a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual day.

The Puye Cliff Dwellings and Mesa are the ancestral home of the people we know today as the Santa Clara People. Today they live along the Rio Grande River in the valley below the cliffs in the Santa Clara Pueblo. Anyone who spends time in this special area knows about Santa Clara pottery. It is famous now and very expensive. But this isn’t about pottery.

            Once I turned off of highway 30 near Espanola, I traveled about seven miles to the Puye Cliff Dwellings visitor center along a winding, uphill road. The Jemez Mountains, cumulus white clouds against a brilliant blue sky, and the quiet, took away all my usual internal noise—all was well with the world and with me.

            Elijah greeted me at the small visitor center. Elijah is a resident of the Santa Clara Pueblo. He is a warm and gentle man whose love for his people, their history and culture is very apparent. His mother lives in the house that goes back many generations in his family; at least 500 years. As it turned out he would also be the guide on our tour to the mesa and cliff dwellings. Five tourists signed up for the tour. Little did we know, and that included Elijah, that something special would happen. Several vans pulled up from an area senior citizens center. About 25 people—older adults and a few of their grandchildren—exited the vans and climbed the steps to the visitor center. They were all native people, most of them from the Santa Clara Pueblo. They had come for the tour. Elijah knew most of them. He asked them if it would be ok if the rest of us asked them questions and if they would help him with the stories about their history and culture. It was wonderful to observe his interactions with “the Elders.” His respect and reverence for them didn’t require words. They rode up to the mesa, as we did, but they returned by van. The rest of us were led on a hike down a narrow (sometimes 12” wide) rocky path and tall ladders to the cliff dwellings and finally back to the visitor center by Elijah. Our group walked around the mesa, listened to stories about the Tewa-speaking people who had lived here for at least 15 centuries, saw artifacts from their time here, and tried to imagine what this pueblo community would have looked like in 1500. The elders added small pieces of their stories to Elijah’s. Several of them were speaking their native language—Tewa. Words fail—but being with the elders and their grandchildren in this setting made me very still. Their sense of the sacredness of this place and everything in it touched something in my center. I just breathed it in and knew I was in the presence.

            Before we said goodbye to the elders, we gathered around Elijah for his concluding thoughts. I noticed a man standing next to me that I hadn’t seen earlier. He was probably in his 40’s so clearly wasn’t one of the elders. He had come to make a few comments to our group. His name is James Naranjo. He is the Lt. Governor of the Santa Clara Pueblo. He wanted to thank all of us for coming to this special place, and especially the elders. Again, the sense of genuine respect was so apparent. After talking about the Santa Clara people and this place, he talked about the importance of teaching our children about love, respect, community and equality. He also talked about the importance of prayer and how we need to pray every day about these things so that someday we will all live in peace together. And then he said he wanted to offer a prayer for us as we all go our separate ways. He then began his prayer. He spoke in Tewa. I didn’t understand a word he said, but at a deep level I understood completely. When I began to tear up I knew I was part of something special—I didn’t see this coming! Now I understand what John Woolman, an 18th century Quaker from New Jersey, meant when he said—“I love to feel where words come from.” He said this after meeting with a group of native people in Pennsylvania and the chief offered a prayer in his native language.

            We said goodbye to the elders and to James. Elijah then led the rest of us down the face of the cliff on a narrow, rocky path to the cliff dwellings. We entered one of the caves, Elijah took our photos and then we descended down a very long ladder to a lower level to return to where we started.

As I drove away, I knew I had just been a witness to, and part of, a transformational experience. As I write this, the experience is still percolating within me—something happened, and my life has been enriched. How blessed I am to recognize that.  




Thursday, September 29, 2016

Santa Fe Sabbatical 2016 - Arriving

Santa Fe Sabbatical
September 29, 2016

Yesterday we exited I-40 West at Clines Corner, New Mexico. It is about 50 miles north to Santa Fe from here. We have made this exit many times since our first trip to Santa Fe in 1974. At the time we lived in Lubbock, Texas. It was about a six-hour drive from Lubbock. I think I always experience an internal smile when we start the last 50 miles north to Santa Fe. I’m sure the smile is visible on my face. For many years I have been drawn to this part of the country, especially Santa Fe and the surrounding area. It is eye-candy for me. The climate, colors, textures, architecture and the culture all speak to me.

So, yesterday when we made that final exit, and made the final assent to Santa Fe, a part of me felt like this is a homecoming. Driving north, the Sangre de Christo Mountains and the Jemez Mountains come closer and closer. Looking to the left Sandia Peak and the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque are clearly visible and look like a short walk although they are many miles away. I’ll be there early morning on Sunday for the mass ascension of hundreds of hot-air balloons at sunrise (part of the annual balloon fiesta). We won’t move in to our rented Santa Fe house until Saturday. Sarah is taking art classes the next three days at a large convention center, resort, casino, north of Santa Fe called Buffalo Thunder. It is on the Pojoaque Pueblo. While Sarah is in class, I will be hiking, doing a trail ride and, of course, taking hundreds of photos. More posts will follow.  

On the road heading north between Clines Corner and Santa Fe

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Morning Witness

Morning Witness –

Many mornings I sit in the dark with my first cup of coffee. When the weather allows, I sit on our screened porch in the wicker swing that belonged to my grandmother’s mother—we called her grandmother great.

I am a witness to the birthing of a new day. A chorus of birds, each singing their own unique song together, accompanies me as we witness the slow transformation of darkness in to light. Sometimes I feel like more than an observer. I feel like I’m a part of it—I am being transformed.

The words of Virginia Schurman, a ”Weighty Quaker” I met 20 years ago through the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Spiritual Formation Program, sometimes guide my meditation. At one of our retreats, Virginia led us in to a time of silence with this query—“Do you have a sense of new life coming?” Sometimes I also remember the questions Howard Thurman says we must ask ourselves—“Where am I going? Who will go with me?”

And so the new day begins. If I remain grounded, these three questions will guide my life today.  

August 22, 2016



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Open Carry... right here in my home community!!!

Am I on the set of “Gunsmoke”—I just came to buy groceries!!!

I put the 24 oz. box of Frosted Mini-Wheats in my grocery cart and headed for the checkout. I looked up and had a sudden adrenalin rush. Am I imagining things? Am I on the set of an old episode of Gunsmoke? Is that Marshal Dillon twenty feet ahead of me on the right? Where’s Festus; where’s Doc? Are we headed for the Long Branch Saloon to see Miss Kitty? As Frank on Everybody Loves Raymond would say, “holy crap.” I think I actually spoke those words. Right there in front of me was a guy (definitely not law enforcement) with a pistol holstered on his right hip. I came out of my shocked state and realized—this isn’t Gunsmoke (an old TV western for readers too young to have seen it); I’m in my local Kroger store—right here in Moneta, Virginia. This was a surreal moment; I felt totally unsafe. A day or two later I wrote the letter copied here to the store manager.


October 22, 2015

Frank Bryant, Store Manager
80 Westlake Rd.
Hardy, Virginia 24101

Dear Mr. Bryant:

On Friday, October 9th, I was shopping in your Westlake Kroger store. After finding the cereal I needed, I looked ahead in the aisle and was totally shocked. About 20 feet in front of me was a man with a pistol holstered on his right hip. He was clearly not a part of law enforcement but rather a citizen who has chosen to open-carry a handgun. To say the least, I had a surge of fear. I had three choices. I could leave my cart and leave the store; turn around and go down a different aisle, or go past him allowing a wide space between us. I chose the latter. There was young man at the checkout wearing a nametag that said Store Management. So, I said to him, “I just saw a man on the cereal aisle that was openly carrying a handgun.” “What is the Kroger policy about carrying a gun in the store?” He said, “our policy is that if it is legal in the county, you can carry a handgun in the store.” I paid my bill and left.

To say the least, I am disturbed by this policy. I have shopped in your store since this event. Every time, I constantly scan the customers to see if anyone is armed. Anyone who is armed is dangerous and it’s unconscionable that I have to be anxious every time I come to your store. As a consumer, I do have choices, even if they are not all convenient. Until Kroger develops a policy that allows all customers to feel safe in Kroger stores, I plan to do the following:

·       I will shop at your store as little as possible.
·       I will share this story with my friends and family.
·       As appropriate, I will send letters to newspapers about gun safety, gun violence and my experiences in area stores and other public institutions.
·       As much as possible, I will not patronize stores or attend programs in institutions that allow concealed or open-carry of handguns.

As a customer, how do I know this man had a permit to carry a handgun? As a customer, how do I know this man had a background check? As a customer, how do I know this man is emotionally stable? How do I know he doesn’t have problems with anger management? Perhaps Kroger will need to find ways to assure customers these questions have been answered if non-law enforcement people are allowed to carry handguns in your stores. Maybe Kroger will develop a policy that does not allow citizens to carry handguns in your stores; that policy would make all of us much safer.


Cc: Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce


Think about unintended consequences…              

Open and concealed carry of handguns in public spaces jeopardizes my safety. It is a public health/public safety issue. I follow news stories about gun safety and gun violence on The Trace. Try it yourself—you will be enlightened. Hopefully you will join the chorus of voices speaking out about the need for common-sense gun control laws that will protect us from ourselves.




Monday, September 21, 2015

Do I Live in a Spirit of Tragic Resignation or...?

Do I continue to live a life of “tragic resignation” or do I exercise my 1st Amendment rights and become an outspoken advocate for change?

            The morning of August 26, 2015, journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed during a live interview at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. Their killer, Vester Flanagan, ended his own life later that day. Alison and Adam were young, educated, productive professional journalists whose lives were cut short by gun violence. Our community is stunned and heartbroken. In just a few seconds, 15 shots were fired from a handgun. Alison and Adam were taken from us forever, and one of our community leaders was seriously injured.

            Those with eyes to see and ears to hear—pay attention. Gun violence in our country is epidemic. We hear about it and see it in the news almost everyday. All of us remember the high-profile incidents: Fort Hood mass murders in 2009, mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the recent murders at the AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the Virginia Tech mass murders, the mass murders in Columbine, Colorado, the mass murders at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, the murders at a recruiting office in Chattanooga, TN, the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Arizona, the recent execution-style murder of a police officer in Houston, the recent murder of a police officer in Illinois, the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a college professor in Mississippi murdered by a colleague who also killed his wife and took his own life. And these are just some of the shootings that make the national media. Closer to my home there are killings by guns that don’t make the national media. The murder of the ex-wife of a sheriff’s deputy by the deputy, the accidental shooting of a nine year-old boy by his brother with a neighbor’s pistol and, on September 5, 2015, a shooting near Charlotte, N.C. that left a 9 year-old boy dead and three others wounded. Does this make death and injury by guns an epidemic? Actually, it is endemic in our culture. If this many deaths occurred in so short a time through infection with the poliovirus, we would all call it an epidemic! We would be demanding that our elected officials do something; we would be demanding that the CDC and NIH take action; we would be demanding federal investigations and the firing of officials because of their incompetence.

            Sadly, we don’t treat the ubiquitous killing of our citizens by guns as a serious epidemic. The predictable response to gun violence is: “guns don’t kill, people kill.” This is a worn-out, hollow cliché. It needs to be restated as a more truthful statement: “People with guns kill people.” Our elected officials, many fearful they will lose votes in the next election, hide behind two responses: “I support 2nd Amendment rights” and, “I support improving and increasing our mental health system.” I agree with both of these responses. But, come on—surely there have to be common-sense guidelines connected to the 2nd Amendment; guidelines that protect me, my friends and family from the kind of gun violence that took the lives of Alison and Adam.

And blaming the widespread killing of our citizens on inadequate mental health programs is a major cop-out. First of all, this assumes that people who have diagnosable mental-health disorders commit most of the gun violence. This is factually untrue and those who take this position are disingenuous or uninformed. And second, it does a real disservice to people who have diagnosable mental illness. The overwhelming majority are not potential killers. When our leaders make these assertions, it places a cruel stigma on thousands of people who need mental health services—it is shameful. I would be delighted if our leaders committed many more resources to our mental health programs simply because it is the right, responsible thing to do. But connecting mental illness with gun violence is wrong and shameful. And, we all know the reality that follows the public statements made by most of our elected officials; committing financial resources to our mental health system gets little real support. It is as difficult as getting common sense legislation that addresses gun violence.

And here is the irony that really amazes me. Following a mass murder like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun sales increase. I suppose many of us buy the naive logic that the solution to bad guys with guns is to have more good guys with guns. Or, beware—the government is going to come get your guns; you better buy more while you can. That’s a little like saying we’re going to combat obesity buy eating more food! No matter the rationale that increases our level of fearfulness, the net result is an even greater number of guns in circulation in our communities.

There is only ONE common denominator that runs through all of these tragedies—GUNS. Guns are the weapons used regardless of whether the tragedy is the result of anger, rage, mental illness, terrorism, panic, fear, revenge or an accident.

Here are some of my assumptions about gun violence in our communities. These assumptions are not about gun ownership but rather about public safety and the proliferation of gun sales as more and more non-law enforcement citizens choose to arm themselves.

·      Anyone who is armed is dangerous.
·      Anyone who is armed is fearful.
·      Fear sets off internal physiological responses that override rational thinking.
·      An armed, fearful person is on higher alert; they may react from fear, rather than real danger.
·      I am less safe in public spaces when armed citizens are present.
·      I am more likely to be killed or injured by an armed citizen than by a “bad guy” or police officer.

      As a private citizen, I have a responsibility to do the things I can for positive change. I hope my example will speak to others. Here is where I begin.

·      I will actively support Everytown for Gun Safety and similar organizations
·      I will routinely advocate for public policies, at all levels, that reduce gun violence
·      I will NOT patronize businesses that permit customers or employees to carry handguns—openly or concealed—in or on their premises
·      I will NOT attend meetings or programs at institutions or organizations that allow individuals to carry handguns—concealed or openly. This includes places such as churches, schools, colleges and universities
·      I will actively lobby my elected officials to establish policies that reduce gun violence and protect the general public.
·      During election cycles, I will expect candidates seeking my support to provide thoughtful, deeply informed positions on issues about reducing gun violence. I will not accept bumper sticker slogans like I support 2nd Amendment rights, or we need to improve mental health programs.
·      I will hold my elected officials accountable for following through on the positions they pledged to take.
·      I will advocate for programs—beginning in elementary school—that promote nonviolent conflict resolution. In the long view, a cultural change from violence to nonviolence is required. This will take decades, but can begin now.

I do not suggest that we can totally end gun violence. But I do believe that we
can greatly reduce the current epidemic of gun violence in our country. I am enough of a realist to know that it will take decades to change our gun culture. But now is the time to face this challenge.