Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pilgrimages in 2013

Tonight I met with the graduating seniors with the Presbyterian Campus Ministry (PCM) at the Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, talking about the upcoming pilgrimage to Hadrian's Wall, taking place the last half of May 2013.  The School of the Pilgrim will accompany them on this journey! There are seventeen of us going as we walk from west to east, discovering and re-discovering the journey we are on in our hectic lives.

Buen Camino!  Brett

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Coming Out PIlgrimage


I woke up at 3:00 a.m. in the well-used Community Center of Bernal, New Mexico, for the first day of my recent pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico. After a quick morning prayer and stretching exercises, and a delicious meal of breakfast burritos, my companions and I set out on the road to Las Vegas, the first leg of our journey to Chimayo, by 5:00 a.m. It was chilly outside because the sun had not risen yet. The sun rose a few minutes after 5:30 and within a half hour started to warm up the earth. Why Chimayo? The sacredness of Chimayo among Christians comes from the very earth itself that is said to have healing powers, whether one comes with physical pain, emotional needs, or spiritual wounds. I, along with a band of 31 other men of all ages, walked over one hundred miles in five and a half days. Even though I went on my first pilgrimage over 13 years ago, and have been on many religious pilgrimages since then, the first day of a pilgrimage is the most nerve racking. I openly wonder if my aging body will be up to the physical challenges, and if my spirit will shun or embrace the mysteries that I will encounter along the way. Each morning, questioning my sanity, I knew that I could only complete it one day at a time, one step at a time, to quote my 12-step friends. Pilgrimage begins simply with the first step forward, followed by another, and nothing is ever the same.

Seventeen years ago I awoke early one morning and began my coming out pilgrimage. Though I had long imagined what it would be like coming out, the very act of coming out of my closet brought both unbridled joy and literally scared me to death. It was these polar opposite feelings that effectively stopped me from leaving the closet's narrow, loathsome confines. I was paralyzed emotionally, wanting to embrace the emotional, relational, intellectual, spiritual, and physical attraction to men, yet could not accept being gay because I believed society's and my church's hateful condemnations against the "homosexual lifestyle." To keep my mind from dwelling on being gay, I busied myself with the academy where I worked, the denomination I served, and the family I loved, to fend off any rumors that I could be gay. But one morning, after a year of counseling and months of strategizing, I simply left the house I shared with my wife and kids, and moved to a small studio apartment, never to return. Even though I was consumed with fear that I would lose my place in the institution of higher education where I worked, be defrocked as a minister, and lose my family, I nonetheless could no longer live the lie I was trying to live. I wanted and needed to live life as fully "me": a dad, professor, writer, pastor, partner, and pilgrim who happened to be gay. As pilgrimage starts with a step forward, so does coming out. And nothing is ever the same.

I live a pilgrim life, both as a Christian pilgrim and as a gay man. I live in the amazing parallels between these two movements of body, mind and spirit. Both pilgrimages start from a beginning point; are more about the journey than the destination sometimes; use stories as a way to navigate the way forward; require taking good care of ourselves; and lean forward toward reaching a destination and a life radically reformed. The close parallel of an actual pilgrimage and coming out is more than mere metaphor: an intentional pilgrimage provides concrete, tangible, markers by which one can discern where one is located on the map of coming out.
The Beginning Point: A pilgrimage is privileged opportunity, because not everyone gets the chance to go on an actual pilgrimage due to a lack of time, money, or other practical impediment. It is also an extreme challenge physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. To walk twenty-miles, day after day, is not part of my normal routine. As a white Presbyterian pastor, I am the loco gringo (that's my pilgrim name), who speaks little Spanish among brothers to whom it is their first language. As the stranger from North Carolina, I am the guest, not the host, and I am honored to be one who goes on pilgrimage with them. From the start I immerse myself in the deep waters of the rich, dark, mysterious Catholic life of northern New Mexico. I am inundated with new sights, prayers, rituals, and songs (in Spanish). While my body is weary my mind is wide-awake, keeping me from getting a good night's rest before I begin an actual pilgrimage. What keeps me awake are "What If?" questions demanding my attention: What if I get a blister on the first day of pilgrimage? What if I stumble and hurt a knee or pull a muscle? What new spiritual insights will I receive that will change my world as I know it? What will be different about me at the end of pilgrimage?

The day I decided to step over the threshold of my self-imposed closet was simultaneously horrific yet exciting. I was horrified at the prospect of leaving all I had worked for: a happy family with a wonderful wife I loved, and two adorable children. I was working at my dream job at a major university, and was ordained a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Yet I was putting it all in jeopardy because I simply was not completely happy with my life. I felt incomplete, like I was living a lie. In this configuration of being "family" I could not fully give myself to a relationship in which I could be wholly myself. I was excited about the prospect of no longer wasting energy in holding together the closet of gloom, and giving myself over to other life projects (being fully myself) that eluded me. The pilgrimage of coming out meant that I could embrace the person God made me to be whole-heartedly for the very first time. But how would I be different in being unapologetically me? Would I recognize myself? Would my family recognize me?
The Journey: The first day of the pilgrimage is all about the physical for me, with my mind and spirit lagging except to buoy my exhausted body. Bernal to Las Vegas is roughly 20 miles, and fairly flat. The cool morning air gave way to New Mexico's dry heat. Walking over a mountain pass would not come until day three, which is good because by then I was almost fully physically adjusted to the act of walking many miles. I began to adapt my life to the rhythm of the pilgrimage: every morning begins with thirty minutes of silent contemplation, which I throw myself into, listening to the syncopated rhythm of many shoes hitting the soil with a full moon casting an eerie shadow. Later, in English but more often in Spanish, we sang songs of praise to God the Father, "El Senor," Christ the King, "El Christo Rey," and Mary, "Madre Maria." As a Protestant, I fumble through the recitative prayer of the Rosary, learning to keep up with where we are with the bead count by my last day.

Unlike the pilgrimage to Chimayo, I do not remember the day I put myself into a closet. The closet was already fitted and built around me before I was aware of it. From the first day when I was twelve years-old and realized that I was attracted relationally, emotionally, physically, and intellectually to boys my age, I was stuck in not knowing what to do with the new sensations and feelings in me. There were no stories on television, movies, children's stories, or young adult books to help me navigate through this sea of new feelings and thoughts as a young boy who was gay. After years of therapy, struggling with a sense of abandoning my family, fearing reprisal from my denomination, I left one morning after breakfast, never to return back to the house-as-home. That night I moved into a rented one bedroom studio apartment in Chapel Hill, NC, not too far from the children. I was excited yet scared, wondering aloud at times, "My God, what have I just done!" The heavy, complicated lock on my gay closet fell off the closet door. I took the first few steps, and soon miles, away from the shadow existence of a claustrophobic life into the bright sunlight of hope.
Stories: Over the six days of being together on pilgrimage, there was plenty of time on the road and off the road to talk with one another about what we missed about home, gather in small groups to discuss the conditions of the trail, how our bodies were faring, or dreaming about a hot shower (and a cold beer) aloud. While we awoke at 3:00 a.m. and were on the road by 5:00 a.m., we were off the trail and sat down wherever our feet landed, massaging our sore limbs and lancing blistered feet by 1:00 p.m. or a little later each day. "No pain, no gain" made more sense on pilgrimage. On the pilgrimage, in between the first thirty minutes of silent contemplation, and another thirty minutes of praying the rosary or singing songs, there was always time for talking. We share stories of either previous pilgrimages, or gossip about people who had been on pilgrimage before but were not able to be with us this time. While Facebook makes sharing personal stories on a one-to-one basis difficult, pilgrimage provides a precious opportunity to share intimate stories of life. On pilgrimage I find people more willing to share stories of profound vulnerability, to sigh deeply, because they know they will most likely not meet the other pilgrim ever again. We share stories of a love life gone awry; harrowing tales of inclement weather on previous treks; the "good, bad, and ugly" parts of family life back home. I listened intently to stories from those who walked this trail before, wanting to hear which is the longest day for walking, or the height of an upcoming mountain pass we would be crossing. Stories bind us together as a community of brothers.
The stories of other gay dads, married, with children was the only way I could navigate my way out of the closet. I studied carefully how society at large and the Church in particular reacted to out gay men, learning from others how I might be perceived and treated in my community. I devoured David Leavitt's The Lost Language of Cranes, empathizing with the closeted gay father figure who would find solace in the dark confines of adult movie theaters, as he secretly envied the open life of his gay son. I freaked out when viewing the dramatic British movie "Hollow Reed," as the gay dad and his partner try to save the life of his young son who was being physically bullied by his former wife's boyfriend. While there seem to be plenty of stories of single young men, stories of gay dads were rarer. Perhaps I need to create an "It Gets Better" series of gay dad stories for dads who are in the process of coming out as an emotional map.
Taking Care: After a long day -- 3:00 a.m. wake-up call, walking, eating great meals, participating in worship along with morning and evening prayers, and showering--there is always time at night to check feet for blisters and ankle sprains, shin aches, and knee problems. There are people pre-assigned on pilgrimage to carry a medicine bag full of ointments, bandages, moleskin, and Ben-gay cream for sore limbs. I watch the care and healing touch of Roger who gives me a new understanding of brotherly love as he massages a foot, carefully threads a needle and then lances a blister, applies a bandage to keep the wounded site clean. On this pilgrimage, two men unfold a massage table, in which all pilgrims are given the gift of a massage of thigh, shin, calf muscle, and feet with cocoa butter. All we have to do is bring our towel to spread on the bed itself, and the magic begins! By the end of the pilgrimage young men take care of the feet of us "older men," a practice they learned from their elders.

Along the coming out pilgrimage trail it is important to take care of ourselves as we walk along harrowing stretches of darkened roads, the once-comfortable hiding place of the closet falling down around our ears. While counseling is helpful through this crisis of change, it is extraordinarily helpful to have others who have come along a similar pathway to walk with us. Bandaging bruised egos, and reminding ourselves that another person's crisis is not our problem simply because we're "out" is a great help. Lancing a blister, where we keep butting up hard against those who call our "lifestyle" sinful is a gift. Pulling out splinters from the shards of the wooden closet of hate I used to live in makes moving forward easier. And a massage is simply icing on the cake.
Reaching Destination: Throughout the weeklong pilgrimage to Chimayo I depended upon rituals, prayers, and songs to buoy me along the way, helping to redirect my attention from my tiredness to realizing the beauty around me as I walked. I gained insight to the audacious nature of God by simply realizing that Jesus himself was a pilgrim throughout his known ministry, never owning a home but living life on the road, depending upon the goodness of others. The late-Brother Roger of Taize rightly called Jesus the Pilgrim God. There is nothing so magnificent yet disheartening as getting to our destination. The morning of our last day together, walking nine miles is incredibly bittersweet. I know I'll never walk with this exact band of people again. I won't have the opportunity to sing the songs we've been singing all week with my friends. I'll miss someone preparing every meal for me throughout the week. The confraternity of men happens but for a brief moment in life, then disappears. It is illusory the rest of the time. Over one hundred and sixty people walked over one hundred miles over five days, up and over mountain passes, through chapels and churches, in the hot northern New Mexico sun. At El Santuario de Chimayo we enter the small sanctuary itself, half filled with cheering and singing pilgrims from other parts of New Mexico, with the Mariachi-like band playing "Que Viva Christo Rey!" An official of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe places rosaries from the Camino de Santiago de Compostela around our necks. Various crosses, images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and other memorabilia are gathered in central place during our closing Mass together. Go in peace.

I'm now out of my once constrictive closet. The boards, nails, screws, and locks were left in garbage cans along the way. I self-identify as a dad, a pastor, a writer, a professor, a partner, and a pilgrim who is gay. In my daily prayers I quietly voice my gratitude to God for making me who I am. I love who I am today. Still ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I now work at another university, teaching ethics and world religion to new students every semester. My children are grown. My former wife and I are friends, and my partner and I live in the countryside with our dogs. And now I write several blogs on my stories of being a gay dad, my letter to those in the closet to come out and move on. Perhaps take time to swim in the ocean of full acceptance, where the water is just fine. The pilgrimage of coming out is arduous but richly rewarding in the end.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pilgrimage of Life at Univeristy Presbyterian Church!

I've begun teaching "Pilgrimage of Life" series at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, NC.  We started Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, and will continue for the next five weeks!  Come one and all!

Friday, June 29, 2012


Finally made it to El Santuario de Chimayo!  We woke up in the Church's gym in Santa Cruz (1 toilet, 60 men), and munched on a quiche, with a bowl of cereal to sate my appetite.

There's a lightness to my footsteps we I walk to Chimayo. There was good conversation among the pilgrims, happy that we had "made it" (almost).  There was a nine smile stretch between Santa Cruz and Chimayo. We passed many churches, houses, and restaurants along the way.  We took a novel turn into old Chimayo (town), a section I had never explored.  And, like clock work, we made it to our destination sooner than we were scheduled to arrive.  Throughout this pilgrimage we walked faster than we had to, and my feet and legs felt it.

So we sat outside with the men's group we were shadowing, and the women's group we met in Santa Cruz.  As is the rule of pilgrimage, there is no fraternization between men and women's groups, so girlfriends and wives, sisters and aunts could not interact with any of the "men's folk."

Finally, we were given the "go ahead," and we made it to the Sanctuary.  Walking into the Sanctuary, we pass by a smaller statue of Mary, carved in the 1400s in Spain and brought to the "new world" int he 1600s, and housed in the Cathedral in Santa Fe. A kiss of her gown, or a gentle kneel was done by all of us. 

Inside the Sanctuary, there is much singing as each group makes it into the small space. NOW we can reach out and touch, hug, kiss, and fraternize with one another. Gias are lined up in front, along with the musicians and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Each group goes up to the front, and one by one we receive yet one more rosary from Spain's Santiago de Compstela.

Back in our group, we then file out, passing by the small chapel that houses the hole with the holy soil, with a variety of crutches and Santos lining the wall.  Out back, there's a nicely arranged gathering spot, with a large gazebo with stone benches around the gazebo.  A huge tree used to shade this spot. From each group, the crosses were brought together, as were the pieces of the heart and images of Mary.  The soil was distributed in the front of the gazebo and blessed.  There was a Mass that was celebrated, with the Chancellor from the Cathedral celebrating and preaching the homily, saying nothing that was memorable.  Few priests have done this walk. Archbishop Sanchez, who recently died, was well remembered as a friend of the pilgrimage. 2 hours in the sun is where we sat as the Mass went long.

Afterward, we gathered our bags, hugged and said our good-byes.  Joseph Sanches (from a previous pilgrimage) picked me up and dropped me off at the airport where I would pick up my rental car.

More on the afterthoughts of the pilgrimage coming up.

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

3 Things About Pilgrimage: My Testimonial

What I shared on the night of testimonials on Friday, June 1st:

1. Remember, that your first pilgrimage is like your first kiss: you never forget it.  Whether it has been a good or not-so-good or easy pilgrimage, one never forgets the pilgrimage nevertheless.  My first pilgrimage was to Chimayo, by way of Costilla, and I've never forgotten it.

2. About scallop shell--which we are now wearing around our necks: the scallop shell (from the Camino de Santiago de Compostela), is a reminder that we are to share, give-and-receive, with an open hand along the pilgrimage.  The open handedness of the scallop shell is a constant reminder that we share life together on pilgrimage;

3. The scallop shell is a reminder of our baptism.  Coming from the water, it is a constant reminder that we, who are Christians, are children or people of the "living water," namely Christ.

The scallop shell, as seen below, starts off with the fan fringe, with rows going toward the center.  Like the scallop shell, this pilgrimage began with five different routes that are bringing us together to one place, Chimayo.  We are one day away.

Trust me, fellow pilgrims, whether it was good or bad, you never forget your first pilgrimage...nor your first kiss.

Buen Camino!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 6: One More Mountain

They didn't tell me about the hill/mountain we would be climbing today, which is probably a good thing. Today was a 16 mile day--a little longer than the day before, but bearable.

We woke up after the group from the north already left for Chamisal.  It was a bittersweet moment, because this is the last day of our long walks.  Tomorrow would be an "easy" nine miles into Chimayo.  Breakfast went quickly, and I've got packing down to a fine art (took me forever on the first few days).  I've worn a different t-shirt each day, and smell pretty well.  Did notice a new blister today (sigh) on the ball of my right foot, so two blisters on this journey.  Not bad.  The double socks theory worked for me this time.

We were bussed to Chamisal, only to find the other group of men Peregrinos there.  Thankfully we were bussed further "up" the road.  We walked for a good distance before stopping at Las Trampas, with a church built in 1769.  I love this church and community, reflecting that when the Founding Fathers were in Philly thinking they were at the center of the US, while in NM (to be), there were Spanish settlers...and Indian Americans of course.  But the church was closed, with no one to welcome us, so no encuentros.

Then the surprise: straight uphill.  Zigzag pattern.  But uphill.  I fared well, but the joke was "up around the corner is the summit," and it never was. 

The beauty was to be found when we did reach the summit and saw the view of the valley where Chimayo was located.  Gorgeous.  Behind us were the Rocky Mountains' ridge. 

We walked to Cordova, a town where Vincent grew up (his grandparents lived here).  We walked by the Presbyterian Church of Cordova, and the men doffed their hats, and then we entered the Catholic church with their fascinating, hauntingly beautiful, and old Santos.  I marvel at these ancient relics that continue to remind us of the faith today.   This is so NOT a Presbyterian phenomenon.

Thankfully, Cordova was our last place today.  We walked to the post office and awaited the bus that would take us to Santa Cruz, where we would meet up with another men's group from the North and the women's group from ABQ.

The worship/Mass that night was celebrated by Fr. Ed.  It was great seeing him.  I also enjoyed the classroom where we slept, with the 1950 statutes of Jesus, Anthony, and Theresa of Avila.

We also welcomed the novice pilgrims tonight. This happens among all the groups. We are wearing white shirts, candles lit, and the cross on the floor, placed on the quilt, welcoming the new pilgrims with scallop shells around our necks and a hug for each pilgrim. Music that was played on the first night is played again, starting with "Let it be," by the Beatles, with focus on Mary. I learned of those pilgrims who walked 37 years (Roger), Charlie, who walked 13 miles and this was his last (trucker next year) who was proud his family was with him (sons, son-in-laws and grandsons); those who served prison time; those who were simply proud of their ability to walk thus far.  Kneeling and lying prostrate before the cross was part of the ritual.  Powerful, as always.  Lives devoted to Christ.

Finally: we had 1 toilet for 60 men.  Fascinating.

Buen camino!  Brett

p.s., a painting of the church in Cordova.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 5: Getting into the Pilgrimage

This much I know about pilgrimage: it takes me a few days to "get" into it.  Today, I got into pilgrimage.  It was no longer a physical challenge that would tear at limb and lungs.  We woke up late (4:30), getting a nice leisurely breakfast, without the usual rush because we would be walking 14 miles compared to days of 20-23 miles, which frankly are killers when they come all in-a-row.

The people who bused us last night from Sipapu returned and bused us back to Sipapu.  From there it was a leisurely walk to Placita, where we stopped at a beautiful chapel, where Gabriel's (a former leader) parents worship.  The chapel structure was mud.  What was unique was the floor was mud as well, and not pine as was the case with other chapel floors.  These structures keep cool in the hot dry heat of NM.  The Santos in this church were beautiful.  The corpus in this church was carved by Gabriel's dad who is in his 90s and is a Hermanos/Penitentes.

We then walked to the Morada, which has the customary figure of Jesus (life size) dragging a cross. This is the sign of a Morada.  Like all other Moradas, they sang songs and spoke primarily in Spanish.  The Hermanos are a 400 y.o. phenomena that started in Spain.  It is a federation of lay brothers (no sisters) who, again, are not divorced and not out and gay.  The do not evangelize: one has to ask to be a Hermanos (or Penitentes). Usually, sons ask the fathers to be a Hermanos.  There job is to support the Catholic communities wherever they are planted.  They too have their crosses and banners, come out and sing and kiss our gia.  If there is a cross outside the Morada, we pass by and touch or kiss it (I touch).

We climbed up a small hill through the back roads toward Penasco, entering the high school grounds where we slept last night by the back.  Lunch was sandwiches and delicious desserts.  Neither weight gained or loss.

But that was not the end: we walked to Chamisal today: another small chapel in a small rural town.  3 more miles from Penasco.

By the time we returned to Penasco (picked up by cars and vans), we were joined by another men's group.  They joined us for worship tonight at Mass with a priest from Nigeria who loves to preach.  He enjoys singing his way into the homily (parishioners know it will be good when he sings).  Though I found him self centered, others enjoyed his fiery oratory, ala Baptist preaching.  While the focus the other day was on himself (as was today), he finally talked about the kinship of Mary and Elizabeth, and the children within their womb.  The music from our group has been 2 guitars and an acorrdian.  Tonight we were joined by another pilgrimage group, in which they had a guitar from a mariachi band and knew how to sing on key.  It was grand.

Dinner was a love fest among pilgrims and the families who keep visiting.  This is part of the fun: the camraderie we experience after walking on several pilgrimages.

Tonight I got a massage: James (Brandon's dad) and Charlie Gallegos used cocoa butter to massage calves and shins...ah!

And bananas were plentiful.

A good day.

Buen camino!

p.s., this is the chapel in Chamisal!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 4: Up and Over the Hill to Penasco!

This was going to be a grueling day--the hardest one on the pilgrimage.  The reason it was hard because of the change in altitude: sea-level man here walked up to 11,000 feet above sea level.  Wo!

We started off without breakfast, leaving Mora's High School gym at 5 a.m.  We stopped at a lovely chapel for a snack and "encuentros' or visit.  Breakfast was going to be at a beautiful Penitentes' Morada. Again, like so many of the Moradas, it looked like a Catholic gift shop set up in a small house, with a focal point of Jesus' bloody visage somewhere in the house.  Most people speak Spanish in a Morada.  I learned that to be a Penitentes, one has to ask to be one.  Penitentes don't evangelize.  And Penitentes cannot be divorced, and I would add "gay." They are usually sons of fathers who are Penitentes who are now members.  Bountiful breakfast on a cold morning, with a small fire in the fireplace.

There was an older gentleman from Colorado whose house we walked by on the way to Penasco.  He ran out with his camera and took pics, and soon was walking with us!  We got a convert!

The road up to Holman Pass was a winding zigzag path, dirt road, in a heavily forested area, with a creek running nearby.  Enrique kept walking too quickly, taking long pauses that made my muscles seize.  UGH!  So, along with my friend Marty (and his suggestion), we walked without the group, ahead of the group, so that my muscles didn't seize.  We walked before the gia, walking up over Holman Pass.  And lo and behold I got in trouble for walking before the gia (crucifix), even though we asked leadership if it was OK before we did it. Leadership is not going well on this pilgrimage.

From Holman Pass, the scenic vista was breathtaking.  Beautiful!  Getting over the Pass was beautiful too.

Our destination was Sipapu Ski Resort, where members of Penasco's Catholic Church picked us up.  Amen!  Mass was at 5, dinner after, and an early night to bed, with a promise of getting up late the next morning since we were walking only 14 miles the next day.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 3: Cold to Hot, to Mora

Amazingly enough, it was cold enough this morning that when we started the pilgrimage we found a water bottle with frozen water in it on the side of the road.

Up at 3, and off we walked at 5...or that was the way it was supposed to be. We waited about an hour this morning for the buses to arrive to take us to the jump off point for the 23 mile pilgrimage.  Sadly, the buses never arrived.  So we quickly made places in what vans, trucks, and minivans we had, and left Las Vegas, NM.

We were dropped off at a church down the road...of course, the church was not open at 5:30 a.m., and the person who was to open it up was not up and around. So, wrapped tightly in warm clothes, we were off.

Every morning it is a silent walk, which I so appreciate.  Of course, it is always coldest before the dawn, and this morning is no difference.  We walked into the darkness of the morning, seeing the sun rise slowly over the east.  Mountains before us.  Trees all around us.  Amazing to behold. 

We were walking quickly.  Enrique--Rektor--walks way to fast, even though he is getting the worse blisters.  He is 23 y.o., and it shows in his exuberance for leading the first time.  We keep making it to places faster than we should, throwing off the schedule, so we take more and more long breaks.

Lunch was visiting a chapel--an encuentros at a capilla--and we had bananas!  Finally.  I made much noise about this, and we had bananas from that morning on.

We walked in and among ranches and homesteads, cattle ranches one point we even walked among the cattle who were scared and running away from us.  Fun sight to see.

Much of our walk today was on dirt path today, making it easy on the shins.  Much praying of the rosary, with Mary and Elizabeth as our focus throughout much of this pilgrimage.  A fascinating feminine vision of the Holy.

Tonight?  Mora!  And great green and red chili!

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 2: to Las Vegas! (NM)

Woke up at 3 a.m.  I could watch them turn on the light as I got little sleep that night.  Packing all the gear and getting in line in "Formation," starting off with Morning Prayer, stretches, and then breakfast, we are on the road by 5 a.m.  On the left is Starvation Peak and St. Rita's Church.  It is cold, because it is always cold before the dawn. 

We walked to Tetelote and the church there, along with another small chapel (capilla) up the road, taking two 10-30 min. stops at each place.  The food and drink is good, but the rituals of our stops takes time from the walk as we kiss the gia and banner of the hosting church or chapel, words of introduction, eat, drink, bless those who fed us, listen to the history of the people of the capilla, go to the bathroom, all before we can get on the road again.

Last Vegas, NM is NOT Las Vegas, NV.  It is a small historic town, with a charming historic district.  We stopped at an historic Catholic church that was not open, and then walked to the Catholic family center, where lunch was waiting!  Today we walked 19 miles.  Lunch was sandwiches, and dinner was spaghetti, which is always great for walking the next day (22 miles, carbo load).  The showers in this center was great.  I was the reader for that evening's Mass, in which the priest gave a decent homily on the life of pilgrimage and welcoming the pilgrim. Tonight we also had a talk by a deacon, talking about his work as a deacon in the Catholic church. The sleep this evening was solid as I was in the mood to catch up to last night's horrible sleep.

Highlights: seeing a Carnegie library in the middle of town; the Victorian styled houses; and getting Emergen C fromWalgreens.  Now if I/we only could get some bananas.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Starting in Bernal, NM

In the next few days I'm going to write posts from my pilgrimage from Bernal, NM to Chimayo, NM.  It started on Sunday afternoon, May 27, 2012 and ended on Sat. morning, June. 2. 

It was the usually sunny NM day, with the sky shaped like a blue bowl covering the entire horizon. The gathering of pilgrims happened slowly throughout the afternoon, with 23 of us joining together (though 30 had signed up for this path).  We met at the Bernal Community Center, home of the Bernal Blue Jays.  Outside Bernal was this Pedernal (of Abiqui) lookalike rock formation, a.k.a., Starvation Peak. It was a great marker to designate the beginning of the pilgrimage.

We said the rosary that night at St. Rita's Church, a saint whose background still remains mysterious to me.  She seemed to be abused by her husband, and saved--both physically and spiritually from the abuse--by the hand of God.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Morning Changes

Here's the change about to be experienced: I woke up at 7, leisurely, with cup of coffee brewed, dogs fed, morning news, computer on lap.

On pilgrimage? Up at 3:30 or so, moving by around 5 or 6, on the road walking until 12 or 1.  Quite the change.  Walking with no cell phone, no computer...detox!

Buen Camino!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

So the shoe (above), a Merrell shoe, is similar to the shoes that I'm going to wear on the pilgrimage to Chimayo.  Walking from Bernal, NM to Chimayo, NM.  Six days.  120 miles (or thereabouts). It should be a wonderful change of pace from what I'm currently living.

Leaving Sat.!

Buen camino!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wearing Walking Shoes in the Hot Days of Spring

I'm getting my feet ready for walking to Chimayo, NM.  I'll be taking the eastern trek this time, having taken the north and south trek path.  There are two more ways that I want to walk to Chimayo: the north and the one from Albuquerque. 

In preparation, I am walking around with my walking shoes.  I've had my shares of blisters, and hope and pray to the Holy One that this will NOT be a day after day experience of blisters.  I wear a pair of Merrell shoes these days (see below).  They work the best for my vote. I tried a lovely pair of Vasque, and they ripped my feet apart within a few hours.  Not days, hours.  Bloody blisters on the back.  Just not pretty.

Preparation: it matters.  Just like life: preparation matters.

Buen camino!  Brett

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Protest as Pilgrimage

I've been engaged in a protest pilgrimage against Amendment One in the state of North Carolina.  This amendment would make "marriage is between one man and one woman" as the only officially recognized union in the State.

I've been delivering and posting signs along the road, phone banks, handing out pamphlets; our dogs were on UNC's campus attracting young voters to vote against the Amendment, and tomorrow will be working at a polling place. 

Just like civil right protesters before me, protesting is a pilgrimage, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Buen camino!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Faith of All Colors

This was recently posted in Chapel Hill News in April, 2012.  It involves the pilgrimage I've taken with my world religion class at NCCU.  Enjoy!

Buen Camino!


As I rushed into worship at United Church of Chapel Hill on Palm Sunday, an usher gave me the morning’s bulletin and a palm frond.
I looked at the banana yellow center and vibrant green edge of the palm frond in my hand, and was slightly overwhelmed by the rush of memories: I’d been collecting these exotic leaves from a palm tree for over 50 years.
At Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood, N.J., I distinctly remember being handed a large palm branch, leading the other choristers down the central aisle of the church singing “Hosanna” at the top of my small lungs.
I cherished the moment of being able to shout in a sanctuary that was mostly cloaked in silence, dim candle-light, sleep-inducing sermons, and cringed during the singing of dirge-like hymns during the rest of the year. Thank God, literally, that there were stories of miracles and battles that kept my attention, with storylines that Spielberg and Lucas could one day replicate in a galaxy far far away.
Growing up in Maplewood as a young child, I was aware of primarily three “faiths”: Protestants, Roman Catholics, and those who were Jewish.
I knew where the various Protestant churches, Roman Catholic Church, and synagogue were in this New York City suburb. And granted, Catholics and Protestants are both Christian churches, but I was secretly envious when my Catholic friends took off from school for a high holy day of a saint, of left early for catechism. As for my Jewish friends, Hanukkah was an incredible gift-giving holiday, let alone the days they got to leave school too. I was oblivious to the fact that all the Protestant Christian holidays shaped the rest of the public school calendar, from Christmas break to Easter’s spring break.
What finally broke me out of this tripartite view of faith communities was education.
Moving out of Maplewood to Portland, Oregon introduced me to the faith system of Indian Americans who were the primary minority group in that region. Studying at a small evangelical college, a major university, attending two seminaries, graduate studies, teaching at a seminary, creating a non-profit – School of the Pilgrim – taking people on actual, intentional pilgrimages around the world, and teaching religions of the world at N.C. Central University (NCCU), has broadened and deepened my appreciation of the many ways people believe, love, live, embody, practice, breathe, and orient their daily lives.
Along with several students from NCCU, I’ve been on a pilgrimage of the faith communities in and around the Cary-Chapel Hill-Durham area. While it is still possible to grow up as a child in this area with the same three faiths that I grew up and around, my class has discovered the richness of vibrant faith communities right in our own backyard.
In Cary, we toured the Sri Venkateswara (Hindu) Temple of North Carolina, feasting our eyes on the intricate beauty of statuary, flowers, candles, and feasted on food that gave us a taste of a world faraway from barbeque. With the members of the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center in Chapel Hill, in our very sitting upon mats and pillows, we were taught contemplative practices that left us all wanting more time of silence in a world that is permanently driving in fifth gear.
At Durham’s Temple Beth El, we peered at the scroll open before us, mesmerized by the beauty of the language written, first communicated orally, that accompanies a people of faith to this very day. And in the coming weeks, the class will reflect upon our own Christian roots, as well as enter a dialogue with our Muslim friends in Durham as we seek to create common ground.
As I store and dry my palm frond, with plans of making ashes of it for next year’s Ash Wednesday, I savor the incredible diverse ways others celebrate, live, and are restored by their faith and sense of the Holy and eternal realities. The richness of the faiths, the religions, of the world is not far away in a distant land, but right here in our backyard. This colorful, dense, rich quilt work of faith communities remind me that there are many people making connections with other people, hoping to make this a better world for one and all.

Link to article:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Eastern Orthodox Church: Happy Palm Sunday

Yesterday was Palm Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Church, following the Julian calendar. While the world as I/we know it is based upon the Western Church's calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Russian and Greek, to name a few), are now in the beginning of Holy Week.

Prayers and blessing!

Buen Camino!


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Eastertide: The Pilgrimage Continues.

Eastertide has begun...the pilgrimage continues...the risen Christ is on his way to Galilee, his home community as the disciples dither in Jerusalem: He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you" (Mark 16:7). The pilgrimage moves forward. Christ the stranger meets up of disciples running away from Jerusalem on their way to Damascus...Christ the cook makes breakfast for hungry disciples who are fishing on the Sea of Galilee...the pilgrimage continues to unfold up to this very day and beyond.

Buen Camino,


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday...

Tonight there was a Maundy Thursday worship at United Church of Chapel Hill. While I savored the silence after all was said and done.

While I appreciated the singing of songs of sorrow, participated with grateful heart for the gift of Eucharist, what I missed was foot washing. Foot washing with water. A towel. The lowly foot without a sock on or shoe/sandal. Water that cleanses, makes us feel better, refreshed, ready for the journey ahead. The water of creation of baptism, of times past, present and future.

The journey continues tomorrow, Good Friday.

Buen Camino.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

Celebrated Palm Sunday today at United Church of Chapel Hill. Got my obligatory palm frond (check), which makes it Palm Sunday for me. Some churches make crosses out of the palm fronds, and others simply give out a palm frond.

What was a reminder was the Scripture lesson from 1 Sam. 17:17, regarding King David's slaughter of people living with a visual impairment/blind. It fit well with the incredible pairing up with the Blind Bartimaeus story from Mark's Gospel (Mark 10). While David slaughtered those who are blind, Jesus welcomes the blind into Jerusalem as he went riding a donkey.

Two sons of God, with a different reaction to people with disabilities.

Hosanna loud hosannas!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pilgrimage of Lent: Session Four

Fourth and last session: washing of the feet:

I. Evening Prayer and reading of the Gospel:

John 12:20-33

Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Jesus Speaks about His Death

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Part II:
We also brought in the Gospel reading of John 13:1-20, in which Jesus gives the example of foot washing. The entire group discussed the lowly foot and foot washing, which was a first for many in the group. We discussed our travel with Jesus, our walks with the Christ, the process of thinking which is as fast as we walk.

Part III. Conclusion with the Lord's Prayer.

Buen Camino.


Pilgrimage of Lent: Session Three

The third session of Pilgrimage of Lent:

I. We started with the Evening Prayer and the following reading from John's Gospel:

John 3:14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

II. The activity tonight was beautiful: candles. We brought candles from home and placed them around the cross, which still had the now-dried flowers from last week's session. This cross is on the table in front of us, the centerpiece of our discussion. There were large and small votive candles, all lit, near the nexus of the cross.

III. The discussion focused on light and the reading from the Gospel. We even discussed why Protestants use candles in worship. There was a lot of discussion about light and dark, shadows, and the beauty of walking in faith, even in the dark.

IV. Lord's Prayer.

Buen camino.


Pilgrimage of Lent: Session Two

This second session was based upon a reading from the Gospel:

I. We began with our Evening Prayer, with the following passage from John 2:13-22:

John 2:13-22

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

II. The opening activity was gathering flowers to decorate the cross. We discussed the practice of placing flowers on the cross on Easter morning, a practice done throughout Christendom. It can be a beautiful practice. Then we talked about the obverse of beauty, which led us into the discussion of what is not beautiful, which led us to talk about the Gospel passage above. The issue for our pilgrimage? What would we take or leave behind on our pilgrimage (actual and figurative)? I've been with people who've sent back lots when they were on pilgrimage.

III. Concluded with the Lord's Prayer.

Buen camino!


Pilgrimage of Lent: Session One

Over the last four weeks, I've led a series of lessons on pilgrimage during the season of Lent at United Church of Chapel Hill. I connected the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday with pilgrimage practices done on an actual pilgrimage, or the pilgrimage of ordinary lives.

The first session went something like this:
I. We opened with Evening Prayer, reading a litany that was "The Lord be with you," antiphon, followed by the Gospel Reading. This week the reading was Mark 8:31-38:

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

II. The opening activity for this session was building a cross. I explained that the cross of Christ was probably thrown away into the wilderness, or re-used again by someone else. People sell bits of the cross throughout the Holy Land. I like to say that the cross of Christ has been reclaimed by nature and is found in the simple wood of forested lands. With that, we went to the forested land around the Church and found bits of wood no longer than one's thigh and no thicker than a finger. We bound these bits of wood with natural twine and made a cross that was five feet long and 3 feet wide of gnarly brown wood.

III. The discussion was simple: What does it mean to follow the cross of Christ in our lives on our personal pilgrimage, based upon the Gospel reading. The discussion was incredibly rich, diverse, and deep.

IV. We concluded with praying the Lord's Prayer.

Now for the second session...

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Selma to Montgomery: A Pilgrimage

There is currently a pilgrimage taking place between Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. 50 miles in 5 days, 10 miles a day. This is an historic pilgrimage, repeating a civil rights march in the 1960s, first led by civil rights leaders like Shuttlesworth and King. The words, "We shall over come, we shall overcome...we shall overcome some day..." And so they have, and so they are, as all of us are who are for civil rights for and among all.

Witness the power of people walking together in peace, silently, against the violence in this world.



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Visiting a Zen Buddhist Retreat Center

Highlight of my Shrove Day? Accompanying my students from my Religions of the World (NCCU) class to the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center (Chapel Hill), as we learned to sit and be in contemplation, then to enter a time of devotion/contemplation. This is the essence of pilgrimage, and why I began the School of the Pilgrim: to accompany people as they leave their hour of "rush hour" into a time of pilgrimage to find their inward bound path. These students moved from their comfort zone to a new place, among a people they never met before, and experienced their "Aha!" moment (heard it a lot tonight). The School of the Pilgrim lessons continue to teach me.

Buen Camino!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All of Life's a Pilgrimage

Since Epiphany, I've been pursuing the pilgrimage of marriage equality in the US, from WA and CA, to NC. I've protested, raised debate topics, been engaged in healthy discussions, and worked toward the vote "no" on the marriage amendment in NC while states like NJ, MD, and WA legislatures have been pro-marriage equality. This culminated in a rally against the amendment in the state of NC this past Friday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Now the pilgrimage of Lent is about to begin. I'll be teaching a class at United Church of Chapel Hill (NC) on Lent and Pilgrimage every Wednesday during Lent, 6:45 p.m. Come and join us!

Around Pentecost, I'll be with the brothers and sisters of NM walking to Chimayo!

Buen camino,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Epiphany/Baptism of Jesus Sunday,

This previous Sunday was Epiphany/Jesus' Baptism Day at First Congregational UCC Church in Asheville, NC, where I worshiped with my daughter Adrianne. It was incredibly moving because we both recognized the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1) AND recognized that the Magi showed up at the manger scene in Bethlehem.

What made it most memorable was the invitation to "remember your baptism and be thankful," with a bowl of water in front of the sanctuary. What was memorable was watching my daughter stick her hand in the bowl and touch her forehead. This is the same young woman who I baptized when she was but an infant.

The journey of our baptism continues.

"Remember your baptism and be thankful."


Buen Camino!