Annual Christmas Letter

December 10, 2015

We’ve been lighting Hanukah candles this year. No, we’re not Jewish, but there’s a desire within us to celebrate the light and hope that reaches deeper and broader than our own Christian boundaries. With the recent acts of terror in San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Paris, Lebanon and many earlier in the year, we are so well aware of the violence and the fear, and our need for healing and peace. We are also thoroughly convinced of the goodness of the human spirit and the desire for mutuality that unites us.

In 2015 we’ve intentionally lived into that generosity of spirit by opening our home to travelers through Airbnb. We began listing our spare bedroom in March and had our first guest in April. Since then we’ve hosted nearly sixty women and men from all over the globe: China, Taiwan, India and Malaysia; Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Netherlands; Brazil and the USA. We’ve welcomed Christians, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, and “Nones.” It has been our joy to listen to an impromptu viola recital by the principal violist in the Malaysian Symphony orchestra, a man originally from Hungary, as Harley sang along. We played cards, Scrabble, and other board games with young people, one couple who wanted to share their 2nd anniversary by getting to know their middle-aged hosts playing a hysterically crazy card game. We talked gardening with a master gardener (also a pastry chef) and the social implications of technology with a couple who worked for Google and routinely drove driverless cars. Mostly we’ve been practicing hospitality, a spiritual practice that spans generations, faith traditions, and ethnicities. For us, it’s been a symbol of peace and a tangible step into hope.

The Airbnb adventure was a response to Wendy’s half-time employment. She needed something new and adventurous, and we both needed something that would make us keep the house clean now that we had to give up our housekeeper. We appreciate the little extra cash, but, more importantly, it’s been a way for Wendy to keep her head above the waves of depression and grief that came as she slowed down, redefined herself, and discerned what God was doing in her life.

For Wendy, it’s also been a time of learning. In continuing education, she did two week-long training programs in conflict mediation and religious fundraising. She also discovered MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and has been addicted to learning in many disciplines. In the last twelve months, She’s completed online courses taught by renowned professors in well established universities: Moral Foundations of Politics (Yale), Sustainable Development (Columbia), Advertising and Society (Duke), Marketing in a Digital Age (University of Illinois), Terrorism and Counterterrorism (Universiteit Leiden). And today she started, “Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World” (University of Copenhagen).

Her work with Monmouth Presbytery has continued half-time as General Presbyter. The adjustment to part-time work means that her time is primarily focused on the routine and the crises. She hopes that 2016 will enable her to work with the presbytery in developing some new emphases in congregational development.

While Dwayne was ordained an elder when we were in Texas, this year he was asked to serve actively on the session (board) of the Allentown Presbyterian Church. In addition to music, governing, and worship leadership, he has been active in small group leadership. Actually we both have. This year we hosted three small groups; two during Lent and one in the fall. It’s another way we love to share our home, our friendship, and our faith.

Dwayne changed companies at the beginning of the year. He was “bought” by another contracting company to do the same FEMA work he’d been doing. So, it’s a change, but it isn’t. He still has the long commute to the basement every morning, so work life has been pretty stable for him.

He has been working a great deal. There always seems to be a new “roll out” in the next month. Yet he still finds time for pet projects, like installing a weather station in the back yard. Do you want to know the precise weather at our home? Just bring up (or the app) and you can see the stats as well as a video feed of the backyard. Dwayne also worked on a push notification app for students to access the crowd-sourced information at He got interested in that when we were monitoring Kate’s process applying to Ph.D. programs this spring.

Kate applied to seven highly competitive programs, and we were so proud that she was wait-listed at Yale. Imagine our disappointment when she didn’t get in! We were dreaming of her and Ben and the dogs being close enough for a day trip. Despite the disappointment of not beginning Ph.D. work this year, Kate and Ben made a major move to Fort Collins, Colorado, this summer. They are now adjusting to a real winter. Ben is working as an electrician’s apprentice, and Kate is working part-time for the University of North Texas remotely and volunteering as a lab assistant at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Having just completed another round of Ph.D. applications, we are hoping and praying that having her “foot in the door” in Colorado will pan out into an acceptance either there or in California.

We’re sad, though, that we won’t be able to see Kate and Ben this Christmas. We did get to take a week in August to visit them in Fort Collins. We drove through Rocky Mountain State Park, toured a local brewery and the Celestial tea factory, and got to see their home. We also saw them in April when we took a trip to Texas for Dad and Penny’s wedding on April 25th.

Looking forward to 2016 … we see few changes, but, then, we are always amazed by what life brings. What we hope for is peace. We will keep working for that through our church work, our community involvement, and by building relationships with our house guests. Of course you are always welcome to come visit … friends and family always take priority in booking our guest room! We won’t charge you AND we’ll still bake you a scrumptious banana bread, cinnamon rolls, or pound cake.

We wish you a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, a blessed holiday season and a joyous new year!

Bailey Christmas Letter 2014


December 20, 2014

Today it’s finally beginning to feel like Christmas. Snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, and peanut blossoms are among the dozens of cookies sitting in the kitchen waiting to be divvied up between Warren, Long Island, Texas and New Jersey. Actually, the Texas shipment is already on its way, and we are packing up for an early Christmas dinner with Matt and the Long Island gang tonight. It’s a good day to write to our friends and family to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous New Year, as well as catch you up on what’s going on with us.

It looks as if 2014 was mostly a year of preparation for the transitions coming up in 2015. Earlier this week, we hosted a holiday luncheon for the staff of both presbyteries. It was a day to mark the ending of Wendy’s work with New Brunswick Presbytery, and to celebrate the work of Monmouth Presbytery as we tread into the undoubtedly difficult, yet hopeful, future of the Church.   She announced in September, that she would be ending the Regional Presbyter position and continuing with only the Monmouth half of the job on January 1. The other half will be filled with … well, we’re not quite sure yet … first some writing projects that need to get out of her head and into print, perhaps some consulting, and definitely some pulpit supply. She will also continue with her larger church responsibilities including her work with the board of directors of the Board of Pensions to which she was elected this summer.

General Assembly was in Detroit this year, which enabled us to reconnect with our Michigan friends. Most notably, Wendy was able to officiate at Katie Moser’s wedding on the weekend following GA. Speaking of weddings, we also got to travel to Houston a few weeks ago so Wendy could officiate at one of Kate’s good friends, Rachel Conger. Both were gifts of the heart for Wendy. She has always loved to do weddings, but to bless the marriages of the young women she feels are “like daughters” is sheer joy.

Kate and Ben have been married for more than a year now. We were able to fly down to Texas in May when Kate graduated with her Master’s Degree in Linguistics at UNT. This fall Kate completed seven graduate school applications for Ph.D. programs … so she’s now on pins and needles waiting for acceptance letters this spring, so they can prepare for a major move to the east coast, the west coast, or the mid-west. In preparation, Wendy and Kate took an “ivy league tour” in late September. To spend a week with her only daughter driving through the colors of a New England autumn is as close to paradise as Wendy can imagine (though, maybe not so much for Kate). Two of the four schools didn’t make the cut, but she’s still applied to three universities within a half-day drive of our home in New Jersey … so, while we’re trying not to get our hopes up, we sure are rooting for the east coast schools!

Serendipitously, the Ivy League tour was scheduled for the same week as Bradley’s baptism. The baby was born in June to Mike and Amanda … we are now great aunt and uncle on Wendy’s side of the family. What a cutie! He will definitely bring hope and joy to Christmas this year! Other transitions are with our parents: Dwayne’s mom and dad made a permanent move to Florida this summer; no more snow birds. Wendy’s dad has bought a new house with Penny; they are planning an April wedding in Texas.

While change is the only constant in the tech industry, Dwayne is still working from home on a contract with FEMA. He enjoys work, but gets his joy from the theater and his church work. This year his big role was “Norbert,” a not-too-smart, cheating husband/toll collector in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. No, it was NOT type casting, though he did a great job of playing a real jerk J. Dwayne’s parents were able to come see one of the performances; as residents of a trailer park (albeit not the trashy kind) in Florida, they laughed hysterically through the whole show. This fall Dwayne was in the cast of Secret Garden, which was also the very first show he and Kate did with the Baytown Little Theater. Singing those songs again brought back many memories. We still miss our friends at the BLT.

Dwayne’s church work includes team teaching a Monday study group, occasionally leading worship as a liturgist or with the music team, serving on the presbytery Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM), and this year he began serving as a grader for the ordination exams. The week after Christmas Dwayne will be the lay leader at church and get to introduce Wendy as the “guest” preacher.

All in all it was a good year.   We’ve been married for 35 years now and we cannot imagine it being any other way. When we got married we had hoped to take a honeymoon to the Maine coast, and we finally made it this year. We trailered JoJo and the Red Baron (yes, our motorcycles have names) and stayed four nights at a remote bed and breakfast across the bay from Acadia National Park. We were able to ride the park roads, eat at our “local” lobster shack and drink blueberry soda, and enjoy the quaintness of Maine. It was as perfect as we had imagined. But by the end of the week, believe it or not, Wendy was actually tired of lobster!

We are grateful for each one of you who has blessed our lives and we wish you all a very blessed Christmas and all the best for 2015!


Fourth of July Affirmation

Just wrote this for my Facebook status and thought I wanted to share and save it here …

Happy Independence Day!

Let’s celebrate by affirming that democracy is most powerful when people are protected from the ills of poverty and educated well so they are able to participate in government with critical thinking, reason and community values, and have equal access to information.

Let’s also honor this day by confessing that we are not living up to this fundamental premise of our nation: when the wealth gap is larger than it has been since our independence, when the power of our government is concentrated in an oligarchy of the wealthy few, when mass incarceration imprisons black men at a rate far greater than whites, when we deny rights to pursue happiness for those who wish to marry their beloved who happens to be of the same gender, when we create voting processes which exclude particular classes of people …

God bless America … Yes, God HELP America reaffirm our values of Liberty and justice for all people: help us repent of our own injustice, help us take responsibility for these systemic inequalities and discuss the complexities and challenges of change.

On this day, we honor those who have fought and sacrificed for the causes of equality, justice, and basic human rights for every one, especially the “least of these”. We honor those who vote according to these values over their own personal advantage. And we honor those who speak out against injustice even at the risk of their own lives.

Happy Independence Day!

The Myth of Control

The following article was published in the Mar/April 2011 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant.

I confess … I am one who likes to be in control.  Ask Mary or Mike who rents the car when we travel to denominational events?  They’ll tell you … it’s me.  I consistently volunteer to “serve” my fellow presbytery staffers, frankly, because I like to know that I have control over where we’re going and when we’ll be there.  Being “out of control” is my biggest fear.  The thought of losing control of my mind, my body, my health, my career, my marriage, my kitchen, my …. fill in the blank … is often the subject of my most vivid nightmares.

For close to a quarter century I’ve been preaching that none of us have control over our lives, that trusting God to love us and care for us and provide for us is the basis of faith and the assurance of the Gospel.  The truth is I never preach anything I don’t believe, and I have always believed that God would take care of everyone and everything … except me.  I trust God to work miracles in your life, but mine?  Well, that’s a different story.  And, I’m being brutally honest here, I don’t trust that God will have MY best interest at heart, or do things MY way … so I convince myself it’s better for me if I keep control over myself and my life.  But, my friends, we can’t.  Being in control of our lives … it’s a myth.

On Sunday, September 5, around noon God revealed this truth to me, the painful way.  Dwayne and I were riding our motorcycles through the hill country, just outside of Boerne.  As we came to what we later realized the locals call “dead man’s curve”, I slowed down and leaned to the left.  I leaned so far my bike was scraping loudly against the pavement, and sparks were flying.  I was going too fast for my Yamaha cruiser to make the curve.  I set the bike up a little, so the scraping would stop, but that spun the bike off the pavement.  As soon as my front wheel hit the sandy gravel of the road’s shoulder, the bike and I parted ways; I was tumbling, spinning, rolling towards the ground.  For what was probably only a fraction of a second, but seemed to me like an eternity, I realized I couldn’t stop what was coming.  I was rolling, and I had absolutely no control over where I would land, what I would hit, or how long I’d be rolling.

It was a couple months later, as I was journaling with a group of pastors at Pat Clark’s house, that I realized: that eternal fraction of time was a pivotal moment of faith for me.  What I thought would have been the scariest moment of my life, was, in fact, the time I was most at peace.  It may have been the gracious gift of adrenaline running through my veins, but in the very moment I felt totally out of control, I experienced the all-consuming grace of God.  I felt loved; I felt the providential arms of God enveloping me; I had faith.

The myth of control is really just that … myth.  All of us are constantly tumbling through space like I was around dead man’s curve.  But God sends us what we need when we need it.  The first man to stop and see how I was doing said, “Good thing we don’t call it ‘dead woman’s curve’!”  I laughed.  The second couple to stop had gone to high school with the first man, and they were reconnected after close to two decades.  I am amazed by what God does.   That’s what Christians do.  We trust in and are amazed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.  We trust that no matter what curves the road of life brings us, God is in charge and provides everything we need – even if it’s not what we want.

I didn’t want to wipe out that afternoon.  And I don’t like the lack of movement in my shoulder that may remain with me the rest of my life.  I don’t like it, and I don’t have to like it, but even these things are God’s gift.  The wipe out was fear confronted and overcome by the power of the Spirit.  The shoulder is more than an inconvenient impediment in raising the elements of communion or pronouncing the benediction … it is a sign of my own mortality, and my utter reliance on God’s graciousness.

I confess … I still like to be in control … but I also realize that relying on the power of the Spirit of Christ is so much more powerful and lovely and amazing than anything I could ever imagine on my own.  Thanks be to God!

JoJo and the Faith Bubble

this is a reprint of an article that was published in my column “Wendy’s Baileywick” in the May/June 2010 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant,

As many of you know, I took up a new hobby in June 2009. Last year at the clergy retreat, I learned a lot about motorcycling from one of our new pastors, Jonathan Murray; this year I’m riding my own Yamaha V-Star 950 to ChoYeh. JoJo (I know it’s silly to name your bike, but JoJo DeMoto even has her own facebook page!) and I have traveled over 6,500 miles together now … and I’ve learned a few things about myself, about God, about life.

I’ve learned that rain is wet and can hurt when it’s pelting against you, even at a moderate speed. It’s the little things, the everyday things, that become real when traveling without doors and roof. I notice more. Bugs die with every trip I take, and they have very colorful insides. The wildflowers not only look awesome riding along highway 105, you can smell them when you’re coming up to a field. And the nature of the pavement beneath my feet is in conversation with me as I ride – gravel, potholes, bumps, heat, slickness, puddles, railroad tracks, hills, curves – all of this is so much more a part of life on a motorcycle.

I’ve learned that there really is more joy and purpose in the journey than there is in the destination. On the bike, it’s not unusual for me to ride more than a hundred miles and go nowhere … just a loop … for no purpose other than the joy of feeling the wind and enjoying the scenery. Dwayne and I will ride from Baytown to Kountz for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall that offers homecookin’ and welcomes bikers from all over East Texas. Oh, and biker establishments know something about hospitality, not only by providing convenient motorcycle parking, but in welcoming everybody, no matter how you’re dressed, what kind of bike you ride, or how bad your helmet hair.

I’ve learned that life is dangerous. It’s not just rain that hurts traveling at 65 mph; pebbles, cigarette butts, and dragonflies can all leave a bruise. On the bike, though, we have to live in expectation of the unexpected … the shredded tire on the highway sliding into my lane, the driver texting on her iphone and drifting unaware, the piece of lumber falling out of the truck ahead of you, the car too much in a hurry to stop and look both ways at the stop sign. In motorcycle safety class we learn to continually anticipate what could happen, and to plan an escape … a swerve to the left, the shoulder on the right, cover your brake, don’t forget to think of the accelerator as an option.

In the end, though, accidents happen. In the biker world we don’t talk about “if;” we talk about “when.” Every motorcyclist will lay down his or her bike at some time or another … it’s inevitable. And even the best helmet and leathers can’t guarantee your safety. Ultimately, my life is in God’s hands. I am keenly aware of that every time I push the ignition. Some think riding a bike is too risky … it is. But all of life is risky.

We don’t feel the rain, or the cigarette butt, or the rock hit our cars, but, undoubtedly, every car faces those same obstacles. The roof, windshield, and doors keep us better protected; the AC and heated leather seats keep us more comfortable; and the radio, CD player and cell phone, keep our minds occupied with other things … but the risk that someone will swerve into our lane is just as real, and the pavement beneath our tires is just as hot.

Riding my V-Star has made me aware how much we live in a bubble that keeps us from fully experiencing life as God has gifted us … the bubble of protection, of comfort, of sameness. Our cars are bubbles; for some of us our neighborhoods are bubbles. And, let’s be frank, many of us look for the church to be our bubble. We look for a low-risk, and comfortable faith … we protect ourselves with “Sunday Best” dress and conversation, we comfort ourselves with familiar liturgy and faces.

My hope is that as I take to the road on my V-Star this spring and summer, that we can all challenge ourselves to get out of our congregational bubbles and make our faith as real as the wind in our face or the rain on our chest. My hope is that we learn something new, be hospitable to everyone, take a risk, and enjoy the ride God has in store for us.

Merry Christmas from Dwayne & Wendy

December 6, 2013
N 32° 57.67’, W 75° 17.05’

We are writing to you from someplace in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and New York City, the sea stretches out before us, the sun peaks out of the billowing clouds, and Christmas carols ring out all over the ship.  We are on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest and largest vessel, the Breakaway, as VIP collectors of art, guests of Parkwest Gallery.  That means we’ve spent a great deal of money on art over the years.  We never thought of ourselves as “art collectors,” but we’ve frequented art auctions on cruise ships for almost 15 years now.  We love hearing the stories of the artists and seeing their unique perspectives. On this cruise we met four artists, one of whom is Peter Max, 1960’s pop artist.  This ship is a tribute to Max; he designed the mural painting of the hull, and much of the featured art on the ship is his.  We’ve been enjoying the pampering, buying more art, and making friends with other collectors in the US and Canada.

This trip is a serendipitous ending to a year of celebration.  The first half of the year was consumed with preparations for what Wendy dubbed “the wedding of the century.”  Kate and Ben were married on June 22nd in Denton, Texas.  The wedding was not only beautiful but perfectly reflective of our daughter and son-in-law: classy with an authenticity which was delightfully light-hearted yet deeply relational.  The light-heartedness was evident as the newlyweds danced to Kermit The Frog singing “Rainbow Connection.”  The importance of the relationships in their lives was signified by their wedding rings being passed to each guest so that they could “warm” them with good thoughts, prayers and blessings.  We are so thankful for the numerous family and friends who joined us in Texas on the 22nd and/or in New Jersey for the Meet the Newlywed party in our backyard a week later.

It was a hugely transformative year for Kate and Ben.  Not only did they make marriage vows to each other, but they both started new teaching jobs in the fall.  Ben is teaching middle school math in Plano, Texas, the school district he graduated from.  Kate is a Teaching Fellow at the University of North Texas.  As she completes her Master’s Degree in Linguistics, she is teaching Technical Writing to freshmen and sophomores.  We love hearing the stories about their students.  And we are very proud of both of them.

It was only a few days after the party in New Jersey that Wendy’s family gathered at the Spiritualist camp in Connecticut to scatter her mom’s ashes.  The setting was beautiful, overlooking the Long Island Sound.  We all missed Mom, as well as Ben’s grandmother who died this spring, at the wedding, but we are confident they were present in our thoughts and prayers.  Dwayne’s grandmother, Twila Gustafson, also passed away this spring; she was 96 years old.

Wendy spent the past year delving into the family histories of Ben and Kate.  No, they don’t seem to be distant cousins, even though both families have a similar history and roots in western Pennsylvania.  It was a year, though, of collecting dates and names, and researching through  She published a book for the newlyweds that shares as much information as we have for up to eight generations.

Work for Wendy continues to be both challenging and fulfilling.  Now a year after hurricane Sandy, the shore churches are well into a routine of recovery.  The future of the Church, though, continues to be a stressful issue for congregations and pastors.  Wendy is determined to continue to plant seeds of faith, and to help the people to be prepared for whatever God has in store for us next.

Dwayne continues to work from home doing website programming for FEMA and other government agencies.  His work took him to conferences this year in San Francisco and Portland.  He presented at one conference in Washington DC in August.

We wish all of our friends and family a wonderful holiday season.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Dwayne & Wendy



5020 Crosswicks Hamilton Square Road, Hamilton, NJ  08620
(609) 298-2496

The One that Got Away … And the One that Didn’t

I am a Peter Max fan. Max is the first contemporary artist I had ever heard of. I remember his pop-art designs of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Who didn’t have a Peter Max trapper keeper in junior high?

20131203-164719.jpgHis career shifted out of merchandising and more into fine art as he moved into the 1980s and further.

We collected our first Max pieces a few years ago, when we acquired two hand-embellished lithographs: both are iconic Peter Max, the umbrella man and blushing beauty. Last winter we were able to collect our first acrylic “unique work”. It is also iconic … Lady Liberty. Peter (can I call him Peter now that we’ve met?) is a New Yorker. His studio overlooks the Hudson River. In 1976, he started painting pictures of the Statue of Liberty. Six years later he became a leader in raising the funds for her renovation.

In the world of art collecting, every collector has a story of the one that got away. Yesterday, we were highly disappointed that we were not able to win the bid on either of the two works we wanted.

20131203-165930.jpgOne was a painting that was reminiscent of his older style, and one that was painted within the last month or so. Honestly, the one of the “sage” on the beach was out of our price range from the get go … We requested the other be auctioned, but there was too much interest in the piece, and the bids for it were out of our price range within a minute or two … things can run fast at an auction.

We won’t acquire another Max this trip, but we did win the bid this morning on a bronze sculpture (remember me saying we were out of wall space?) by the artist we met last night, François Bouchiex.

20131203-171314.jpg He was introduced as the last of the surrealists. A contemporary of Salvadore Dali and Marcel Moulee, he worked with Picasso. Surrealism often leads to dark and grotesque images, but there is another stream which is more fanciful and optimistic. Bouchiex self-describes his paintings as “jolly.”

Our sculpture is bronze, and it’s called “Liberty”. It includes a number of the images, the iconography, of Bouchiex. The windows are the windows of his apartment through which he views the world. He also tries to capture the music of the songbirds he heard as a young boy growing up in the countryside of France. This work features the violins and the bird. Together the sculpture reaches tall like the hand and torch of lady liberty …

Art Collectors

We are on a free cruise. A couple of months ago, Dwayne got a call from Park West Gallery asking us if we’d like to go on a free cruise. At first we thought it was a sales scam. What kind of hard sales would we be subject to? After turning down the first offer, they came back with an offer for a VIP cruise out of New York on the NCL Breakaway. Seriously? Had we spent that much on art that we were being offered a free cruise? Clearly, we had.

Our first art purchases were in 1999 on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of San Juan. It was a celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. Some like to play Bingo while sailing, some like to lie in the sun, some like to spend time in the casino, some like to pub crawl … Me and Dwayne? We enjoyed the art auctions. First, we got free champagne. More importantly, we got to hear stories about artists, and we learned about art and art collecting. (A whole lot more interesting than learning to fold towel animals.)

We lived in the Detroit area from 1987 through 1998, so we were familiar with the Park West Gallery name. The original location is in Southfield, Michigan. As avid NPR listeners, we would often hear the gallery owner, Albert Scalione, invite listeners to the gallery. Collectible art at accessible prices. This is art for the middle class … After all, their “audience” was frequent cruisers … Like us.

We’ve cruised almost annually since 1999. Each trip we looked forward to the auctions … and the more we “collected” the more “accessible” the works seemed to be. No, the art wasn’t getting cheaper, but our idea of a “value” changed as we grew into middle-age; as empty nesters working at the height of our careers, we became more and more desensitized to the opening bid … and we were much better able to predict the value of a painting.

A couple weeks ago, as I was telling people about our upcoming cruise, a friend said, “you never told me you were an art collector.” Actually, I had never thought of myself as an art collector. Art collectors have more money, they are more snobbish, they know more about art … then I thought of the paintings hanging on our walls … The sheer number of framed pieces Michael and Terrie helped us uncrate and hang on our walks when we moved to New Jersey. Yes. We are clearly art collectors. We have a style we like, we’ve collected some obscure works as well as some of the masters. And, we are running out of walls.

Last night, one of the other collectors asked if this was our first VIP event. Yes, it is. “Were you intimidated when you first got the invitation?”, he asked. Yes! I remember thinking … I’d be in the wrong class, they don’t understand we’re not in that category, and what would I wear? Now that we’re here, I realize … Art collectors are just like us. Some have more funds available, some less. Some are more pretentious, some less, some have been collecting for decades, some are brand new to the art world. Mostly, we’ve found another group of friends … And this experience has been great so far. We not only have private VIP auctions, but we have presentations about painters, and we get to meet the artists!

The NCL Breakaway is a new ship who’s hull was designed by Peter Max (see the photo above) … Guess who we met the first day? Peter Max!!!! Last night we met the surrealist painter, François Bouchiex. Tomorrow night? It’s still a mystery, but I’m sure hoping for Linda LeKinff … She’s the first artist we started collecting. I’ll let you know.

The Big Deal About My Family

Thirteen family members were sitting in the front row of the 12-step meeting as Cheryl* told her story on the first anniversary of her sobriety. Husband, children, good friends, siblings, aunt and uncles … every one of them shed tears that night.

A year of sobriety is a time for great celebration. We were told only one in thirty addicts make it 365 days, because it takes a whole lot more than showing up to meetings; it takes working the program. If you’ve ever been to a Weight Watchers meeting you know how it goes. We have great motivation at the beginning, but after awhile we start to take short cuts. And we begin to think that we can do it OUR OWN way. Humility is the most crucial characteristic we need to develop in order to help us overcome the addictions in our lives. Humility is, after all, the first step … I am powerless … Cheryl was able to do that … not without acknowledging the higher power she calls God … a God that has been physically present in the love of her family, friends, and the many people God placed in her life.

Addiction is a family disease … That’s what I learned when studying and working in a chemical dependency unit of a leading hospital for a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education during the mid 1980’s … I have been aware of this for nearly three decades, and I was keenly aware of it that Sunday night I sat with the family. My family is integrally affected by addiction. On one level we were all affected by Cheryl and her behavior while under the influence, but on a much broader level we all live in the addicted family system, and we had for generations. Those of us who aren’t addicted to chemical use, might be addicted to food, or behaviors such as shopping, gambling, sex, or hoarding. Those who do not identify an addiction are probably still impacted by the “stinking thinkin” … the all or or nothing, right and wrong, black and white thinking. We are all pretty adept at avoiding conflict and seeing the crazy as normal. To be fair to my family … we’re not unusual. We live in a culture which suffers from the same stinkin thinkin. (think Congress)

In my family, we value love and relationships, but we have a difficult time accepting love. We are highly committed to each other, but we rarely talk about our emotional pain, spiritual doubts, or authentic self. Our telephone conversations and family dinners focus outside of ourselves … We share “news” or talk politics (with some trepidation), we poke fun at each other and make jokes … When it comes to sharing what we’re really grateful for, or how we feel about mom’s death, or how difficult it is to work in highly dysfunctional organizations (yeah, that’s a dimly veiled reference to the denominational Church), we fall short. Not only because we don’t know what to say, but because we don’t know how to respond when someone else shares. We try to fix it … we hate seeing each other hurt.

Ok, please realize that I’m projecting my own perspective here. And I’m writing this today because I believe we’re changing. I’m changing. Maybe, in part, as a result of being there for each other during Mom’s illness and death. Also, in part, because of Cheryl’s addiction. In fact, I noticed a huge change in my own heart that night at the twelve-step meeting.

That night I didn’t answer I was “fine” when I was asked if I was ok … I said, “I will be.” This was not just a hope for the future, but an acknowledgement that the evening was difficult for me and all of us. As I sat with the thirteen, surrounded by more than 100 others of various ages, genders, and walks of life who were attending the meeting that night, I had an acute awareness of our common brokenness. Our oneness in our struggles. It was a humbleness, a transforming humility, that rose up in me … that broke me … that is healing me.

The whole group was genuinely grateful for the family’s presence that evening. After the meeting we all stood in a receiving line; each person came forward to congratulate us … including me … for Cheryl’s progress. It took me a long time to make sense out of this. I wasn’t the one working the program, I wasn’t the one coming to meetings, I wasn’t the one calling my sponsor or facing highly difficult emotional barriers. That was Cheryl. When one man mentioned how much he appreciated our presence, “It was nothing,” I thought, “we’d all be there if it had been any one of us.” And I cried. We’d all BE THERE if it had been ANY ONE of us. That’s what families do …

It was not a big deal … No, It WAS a big deal. That is the foundation of unconditional love. As a family, we don’t do a great job being emotionally demonstrative, but we will always be physically and/or spiritually present. We will not see things from the same perspective or worldview; we will not be aligned politically; we will not agree with each other’s choices; we will be Christian and non-Christian and Atheist; we will be traditional and non-traditional families; we will like some of us more or less … But, WE WILL BE THERE. We will sit as family in the front row and support you each other no matter what. That’s what our family does. That’s what I love about my family.

*Most twelve–step groups are “anonymous,” therefore I have changed the name of my family member. This is not meant to be anyone’s story and reflection but mine … However I recognize that we are all intertwined. So, to my family … I love you. You are a big deal in my life.

No Flag at My House

You won’t see an American flag flying in front of my house … not even on July 4th … for the same reason I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag. It’s not because I hate my country or I don’t value or appreciate American ideals … In fact, it’s precisely because I DO. I am passionately supportive of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion … I believe in the right and responsibility to think, act, and speak critically of ourselves, our values and our ideals. I am a proponent of democracy and of the rights of the marginalized to speak and be heard. I believe in a system of governance which is of the people and for the people … I am an American, and I see the world through my USA lenses. I celebrate our gifts as a people and the sacrifice and contributions of so many for the benefit of living in a land in which I am free to speak and write of both our blessings and our faults.

My allegiance, though, is not to a government or a people … its to ideals … Ideals that I know as signs of the kingdom of God … Ideals which I believe are rights of ALL people, of all faiths and of no faith, of all races and nationalities and tribes. On this Fourth of July, I celebrate the liberation of a people and pray for the liberation of all people. I smile at photographs posted on Facebook and appreciate every nook and corner of our land from sea to shining sea. And I pray … i pray that we learn to live symbiotically with our natural environment … that we find ways to live sustainably, and that we will have glaciers and waterfalls, meadows, mountains, farmlands, rainbows and sunsets to photograph for generations to come. I love our people … and our diversity … I love that we have welcomed the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee … and I pray that as my ancestors arrived on this continent both before this nation was birthed and through this last century, we continue to be a blessing to all those with dreams beyond themselves.

On this “independence day” though … I also lament the non-kingdom-like values our nation holds. Our independence has grown into an avid individualism that puts personal freedoms above “the common good.” Our freedom has led us to a capitalistic “survival of the fittest” which is creating a huge gap in income and wealth and is marginalizing our majority … the middle class. Our morality seems to be based solely on economic gains and our consumerism is a cancer that will devour us, if we don’t take intentional steps to fight it. Our laws and policies are biased by our polarities and political platforms … This will be our demise if we cannot find a way to work together for the common good.

July 4th, though, is a day on which we hold high our dreams … Not just our American Dream, but our human dream of prosperity which reaches beyond the borders of the USA and to every tribe and people of all continents. A dream of human fulfillment … More than the pursuit of happiness, a realization of purpose, of work, of contribution, of health, of education, of community, of diversity and hope …

You won’t see a flag flying in front of my house today … because I am afraid of an empty nationalism that is blind to our imperfections. Because I won’t sing “God Bless America” as if God’s blessing shouldn’t also be with the Egyptians and Syrians and Afghans and Russians and Brazilians and Iraqis and Kenyans and Chinese. I love my people, I love all people. On this day and all days …