As I write, the window is open, letting the sticky summer air of Carolina drift in, disturbed by a ceiling fan stirring it around to keep me comfortable. Sounds fall in that window as well — birds chirping and the low swell of the occasional car passing by. I took Mason to the diner across the street this morning for some daddy time, and he wowed the waitresses by saying “Thank you for the hospitality.” It’s good to take a day off.
In the last year, since I’ve been working for the NC Council of Churches, I’ve taken most Fridays off from there, but they have inevitably been filled with other things that needed to be done. Actually, there is no shortage of things that need to be done today either, but I’m taking a breath and enjoying the stillness anyway. Deanna and Mason are off to South Carolina to visit Deanna’s parents, and I’ll be living alone for a few days. I love my family dearly, and miss them when they are gone, but it will also be good to give my inner introvert some time to stretch out.
A couple of months ago I did a presentation called “Stumbling Toward the Light” at Warren Wilson College. It was part of a lecture series in which people examine vocation and leading in the context of their own life stories. As a songwriter, it was kind of amusing to be asked to talk about myself; most of the time songwriters are asked to quit talking about themselves! In keeping with their request, though, I took some time to look at a few segments of my life, with particular attention to the “corners” on my trajectory, where I was headed in one direction, then, for various reasons, turned in another. For each period of my life I talked a bit about what I learned from it, then played a song. It was a real gift for me just to prepare that presentation, and sharing it was even better.
I’m keenly aware that I am in such a “corner” moment now. I can feel the extra gravity of a tight turn, and I’m turning my gaze around the corner to see what comes next, as one naturally does when rounding a bend.
Last Monday I tuned in my resignation at the NC Council of Churches, where I’ve been working half-time for the last year as their Program Associate for Peace. I did so with a heavy heart, because I deeply respect the work of the Council, have been wonderfully supported there, and love the staff, who are people of integrity, compassion, skill and humor, to a one. And just to be abundantly clear, this had nothing at all to do with my recent civil disobedience arrest. The NCCC could not possibly have been more supportive.
When I took the job at the Council, though, there were two things that I could not have predicted — the first is that Deanna would feel a pull to return to grad school. She will be starting a Master of Public Health program at UNC Chapel Hill in August, and we are both thrilled about that. The program is ranked number two in the country (Johns Hopkins is one, Harvard is three), and everyone we have talked to who has been through the program glows when they talk about it.
This is obviously a big corner for Deanna as well, and a departure from her previous career as a teacher. As she and I have spent more time in developing countries in recent years, she has sometimes wished for the opportunity to make a more tangible contribution to addressing problems. We are excited that we will be able to offer compatible skill sets to that kind of work.
The second unexpected news was a lot less fun. Deanna’s mother has become quite ill with Stage IV abdominal cancer in at least six organs. Since Deanna is an only child, we are her mother’s primary support network, so we will be spending a lot of time with her parents as they live through this tough time and work through the many difficult decisions and feelings fundamental to that journey.
Both of those things mean that my family needs more time from me than my work at the Council allows. So in mid-July I will transition from being an employee of the Council to being a consultant for them. I’m excited to maintain some connection and to work on a couple of projects that were conceived of while I was there – an interfaith concert event in the fall at Duke and a student conference on community organizing in the spring.
That will be in addition to continuing to serve as the Director of PEG, performing and speaking, writing a book, working with an illustrator on another book, working toward a new CD (after the book), working with the AFSC Nobel Peace Prize nomination committee, being a dad and husband, etc. I’ll be open to spending a bit more time on the road than I have in the last year (though well shy of the calendar I used to keep), and that feels right, too.
So last Monday I turned in my letter, and it was as though I had opened the tailgate on a pick-up truck — beautiful and unexpected opportunities flowed into my life for days. Within twenty-four hours of handing in the letter I was invited to perform with Pete Seeger in New York in August, and with Wynton Marsalis in September. I was invited by Lyndon Harris and Sarah Hipp to join them in work on the Gardens of Forgiveness project. Within ten days I got a call from an old friend now in New Jersey asking me to come offer a Sept. 11 concert and reflection at his church. Another friend from the national Presbyterian Peacemaking office called too, asking me to speak in Indianapolis at the Big Tent conference, at which I was already booked to perform, adding in a half-hour presentation at the National Peacemaking Dinner. The other presenter that evening will be the Moderator of the PCUSA, Cynthia Bolbach — the “Presbyterian Pope,” as one of her predecessors used to say.
That was just in the first ten days, and with no public announcement. In a nutshell, I’m feeling pretty affirmed in this decision.
Now I will turn my attention to the family for a while, and to the book, and will spend a bit more time on the road sharing songs and ideas with people, trying to connect hearts and minds and challenge some of our cultural mythology about how to change the world, and whether or not that is possible. It’s a hard time in some ways, but profoundly exciting in others, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Thanks for being with me on this journey. It’s a whole lot richer this way.