I have just returned from our annual trip to the family cottage in rural Nova Scotia. It was the perfect time and setting to reflect—on the summer just passed, on life itself, and on the intersection of my life with the world around me.
Three moments from the season’s headlines evoke personal reflections that seem worth sharing. First, there was the turmoil in Pakistan as Imran Khan was ousted as Prime Minister by an entrenched political system. Headlines in this country have focused on the geopolitical dynamics of the change in Pakistani leadership, but these accounts served as a reminder of how we must be wary of stories in the media that confirm (and even deepen) preconceived notions of other cultures and how we too often fail to dig deeper into the lives and communities of “ordinary Pakistanis.”
I have often written in this space about my many visits to Pakistan as part of the US-Pakistan Intercultural Coalition (UPIC). In my end-of-summer reflective mood, recent headlines reminded me not of the political turmoil in that place, but of the amazing, inquisitive, sensitive Pakistanis I have come to know (especially among its brilliant female population—often maligned in the US press) and how their engaged curiosity opened me to a deeper understanding of grass roots power and a stronger conviction that what we see and read in this country is not always an accurate reflection of life elsewhere.
My meandering mind also lit upon the passing of Frederick Buechner, and my very personal tribute to him in these pages and his impact on my life. My recollection of him that appeared in this space some weeks ago was deeply personal, but a much more universal tribute was written some days later by David Brooks in the New York Times.
My recollections focused on an encounter I had with the famed author and theologian when I was in seminary. Not included in my post then, but on my mind since, is the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of my ordination. A half-century of amazing experiences, molded and shaped in part by Buechner’s concept—that the place I am called to is that place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger converge—have formed an ongoing labor of love (what a great gift it is to truly love your work) and a long-running privilege to serve.
Just a few days after Buechner’s passing, the media carried tributes of another sort. Willie Nelson was lauded for his continuing efforts to write music and perform (as he would sing) “on the road again” as he approached his 90th birthday. I recalled my brief time with Willie: I had traveled to rural Nebraska to videotape his on-camera hosting of a film we were producing—Strong Roots, Fragile Farms—for the National Council of Churches that subsequently aired on network television.
A comedy of errors in communication rendered him totally unaware of the commitments that had been made to me, but in a hotel parking lot in rural Nebraska, with a video crew gathered in cornfield close by, he literally agreed to be videotaped on the spot, saving my reputation since I had already promised the network that he would be our on-camera host. I was a nervous wreck. He just laughed. Diminutive man; huge, huge heart.
The film speaks about the struggles of small farmers in twenty-first century America as agribusiness dominates our rural landscape, reshaping the lives of so many. This summer’s tributes to the famed singer reminded me of that intimate video shoot in that Nebraska cornfield. I’ll never forget his generosity and his grace. He was truly a jewel to me (and, no doubt, I am not alone) which is why his hosting this film carried with it such authenticity and power.
So now, as summer comes to a close, a new program year begins. It is a time for reflection and a time of gratitude. New challenges await and new opportunities arise—fertile ground for new memories that will continue to connect my individual life experience to the wide and wonderful world that surrounds me.