Archives for the month of: January, 2009

Reflected Garden

There’s a story, possibly apocyrphal, about a luxury hotel in New York that started off its Christmas decorations with a giant tree made of poinsettia plants. Later in the season, when plans called for a live tree with traditional decorations, one of the executives involved with the project asked, “Why don’t we give the poinsettias to a homeless shelter? The residents could sell the plants at Grand Central Station and make a little money for the holidays that way.”

Phone calls were made, arrangements decided, and the next day hundreds of poinsettias were delivered to the shelter, where the director graciously accepted the donation on behalf of the men who lived there, one of whom was asked to say a few words on behalf of his fellow residents. Instead of smiling, he looked nervous as he began. “We appreciate what you’ve done—but would it be okay if we didn’t sell them? We got together, you see, and realized we don’t get much opportunity to give to other people. What we’d like to do is give the poinsettias to the commuters.”

I liked this story the first time I heard it, years ago—and now I’m getting to live it out. One of the pains for me of reduced circumstances is always having to watch what I spend—and this includes what I can give. I’m curtailed in my ability to make extravagant—or even moderate—gestures. But since my photography show, which was funded by friends, has been up, I’ve been newly “rich” in a variety of ways—some sales, exceedingly generous acclaim, personal affection, and photographs worth something. Now I have something valuable I can give—and that has been a gift.

Note: “Reflected Garden” appears in my photostream at

Escape Is Possible

I’ve spent the day grinning—at the TV, which I have set on MSNBC. I can’t get enough of the smiling faces, the crowds already gathering and it’s not even Inauguration Day yet. I can’t get enough of people from near and far voicing their pride and their hopes. I can’t get enough of Luke Russert telling about high school students who have cut school to be in D.C. this week. I can’t get enough of Pat Buchanan quoting Martin Luther King. I can’t get enough of Chris Matthews saying, “I’ve lived in Washington a long time, and I’ve never seen so many radiant faces.” And all I can do is grin (like an idiot, some might say) and know that I have seen glimpses of the glory of God.

Iranaeus, an early church father, got it exactly right when he said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Today I’ve been seeing people more fully alive than perhaps ever before. I’ve been seeing people both risking hope in the future and joy in the moment. I’ve seen diversity as people together, not just next to each other. And something important about the glory of God: it can’t be contained—not on a mall, not to an Inauguration—and we can be mirrors to show it to each other. By the hundreds, by the thousands, by the hundred thousands, by the millions. Yes we can.

Note: The photo “Escape Is Possible” can be seen on my photostream at

Ooh . . . goodie!

“It’s my party, and I’ll— if I want to.” When my photo show opens Sunday, it definitely will be my party—and I don’t know what I’ll feel, what will happen. I don’t think I’ll cry, but anything is possible.

When I got to St. Gregory’s this morning, Paul, my curator and friend, already had the framed photographs stacked along the wall. The signature that had seemed so large and garish last week was just right. The matting, in tones of blue and gray and tan, was perfect. I didn’t tear up, but I was stunned: I had done this.

For reasons of space, we decided not to hang three pictures. They’ll be available, just not on the walls. As we kept at it, deciding which photograph went where, a larger pattern started to emerge and small groupings revealed their own internal logic.

While we were working, the controlled chaos of St. Gregory’s Food Pantry, which serves free food to more than four hundred families a week, swirled around us. Occasionally a volunteer would stop and say, “Oh, I like that,” or ask a question. A couple, who like many of the other volunteers were originally recipient beneficiaries, were delighted when I invited them to come to the Sunday opening. “Of course you’re welcome.”

All in all, it was a grand preview of what looks to be a grand day—and I came home and very consciously overdosed on Diet Pepsi (caffeine) and Oreos (sugar), just enough to bring me down. The poet T. S. Eliot wrote that ”human beings cannot bear very much reality.” It’s not knowing what to do with happiness that I think threw me a curve ball.

My job now is to get my eating back on the straight and narrow. One day of being mindful and careful can turn around the slippery slope that I ran the risk of courting when I consumed two-thirds of a box of Oreos. As I satisfy myself with wise choices and precision in terms of what and how much, I can be here now—and there Sunday, and quite possibly surprise myself with how much reality I can bear.

Note: The photograph “Ooh, Goodie” appears on my photostream at