First Flight – and a glimpse of gifts
David R. Weiss, Wednesday – 8:30 p.m. (MN time)
Over the ocean, somewhere south of Greenland. Almost exactly halfway through the first 4150 miles of leg 1 to Amsterdam. (We will cross the midpoint while I am typing.) outside my window I see the leading edge of the wing illumined in the dark. That’s DARK to you. Stars, light haze, and a brilliant moon behind me.
In the terminal I was doing my best Jodie Foster from Contact: “I am good to go. I am good to go. I am good to go …” Then I realized, when Gate G9 – the gate clearly indicated on my boarding pass – was still largely deserted 45 minutes before my departure – that maybe I was not quite “good to go.” So I checked the flight board and found that my flight was actually departing from G4. No one told me. I was where I needed to be in plenty of time to stand and wait for another 20 minutes before it was my turn to board.
So, here I am, in 25J: good to go, gone and went. Half way to further than I’ve ever traveled in my life – and when I get there (Amsterdam), I’ll still only be half way to where I’m going. Yikes.
Outside, the air temperature at 38,000 feet (11,600 m) is -80 F (-62 C). You have to admit, Krystal, that makes even Minnesota seem toasty!
So I go bearing gifts. I feel a bit like Santa Claus (or Leo Treadway, at least!).
For the Bishop I have our love offering received at the luncheon on March 10, plus three cards filled with our signatures. Also, two framed photos for him to display at the Centre. One photograph shows our church building – a tangible reminder that there is a church, bricks and mortars, but also people and prayers, here in Minnesota that supports his dream for a Uganda with safety and dignity for everyone. The second photo is an image of the poster I brought with me from Luther College when we came to stand with St. Paul-Ref the day she was installed as pastor on the inside while Fred Phelps marched with his pickets on the outside. The image is Anita’s stole, bursting with bright flower blooms and a quotation from Zechariah: “For we have heard the God is with you, and so we wish to share in your destiny.” It seemed so fitting back in 2001. And it seems just as fitting to carry with me to the Bishop today.
I also carry with me three beautiful multicultural icons (like those the adorn the entrance stairwell to our church). They will become a gift as well to the Bishop, perhaps for the Centre, perhaps for his home. And, for Mary his wife, whom many of us met when she was in Minnesota with the Bishop back in 2011, I carry a beautiful-beyond-words glass pendant designed specifically for her by our own Lisa Mathieson. I daresay her breath will be taken away. Both by the beauty, but also by the deep affection it symbolizes. I know what it means to have a spouse – a woman with her own dreams – willing to support a calling that threatens to remake life for both of them. I know this mystery from the other side, and so I present this gift to Mary with my own wife Margaret in my heart knowing the difference that such love makes.
For Andrew, the bishop’s program manager (and the point person in arranging my visit), I carry another framed copy of the Zechariah poster. Andrew is in his late twenties; he worked part-time for the bishop as a student in high school. Later, as a young man with a college degree and a job in business, he discovered that his association with the bishop made him a target in the workplace. Now he works fulltime at the Centre, setting aside his own dreams until Uganda’s dreams seem closer at hand. Andrew has a three year-old daughter. For her, I carry two vibrant picture books. Somewhere in the world right now is a gorgeous bedtime story about nighttime arriving around the world, one place after another – and one of the sixteen or so places mentioned is Kampala, Uganda. Whoever you are is a warm gentle tale about children around the world … each different in so many ways – and yet each the same in so many ways as well. They are simple stories for a three year-old, but they already foreshadow the values the drive our common hopes.
And for Moses, the man who will be my driver, I also bear gifts. I have known Moses, though only in a virtual way, for two years now. He received an e-mailed copy of my Ugandan Anthem when I first wrote it in February 2011 – and he arranged several singings of it in Uganda. We have traded sporadic e-mails since then. Like me, Moses is an Ally. Although his solidarity has been more costly than my own. Over the past two years, as a result of his public participation in the campaign to oppose the Anti-Homosexuality Bill he has lost his job, seen his wife lose her job (as a result of his visibility) and seen his children taunted at school because of their father’s willingness to oppose hate. I had hoped to meet Moses when I went to Uganda. When I learned that he presently scrambles from one odd job to the next (he has helped out with several American-made documentaries that have filmed in Uganda) I quickly asked to hire him as my driver for the week so that I could direct a little money his way while cementing a friendship that now seems likely to last a lifetime.
But the gifts. Moses will get yet another framed Zechariah poster and a used cell phone to replace one that was recently stolen (it serves basically as a mini-laptop, especially helping him to chase down jobs as quickly as they appear). And each of his three children will get a small gift. For Hellen (1), Global Babies: a simple board book with a sing-song rhyme about babies around the globe. For Andrew (7) a harmonica and a beautifully illustrated Children’s Picture Atlas (yes, there is a global theme here). For Tracy (11) a simple dream-catcher, a coin purse made in Guatemala with a small circle of world children embroidered on it, and Children Just Like Me, an amazing UNICEF book with detailed photographs and descriptions of the lives of children around the world. Lastly for Moses and his wife, I am taking a small stone unity candle holder, the abstract image of a couple facing each other, holding hands, and holding a candle flame between them. It matches one that Margaret and I have. And although Moses and his wife are practically young enough to be our children, they, too, are together dreaming a new world. And so it seemed fitting to build a bridge of a shared flame of hope between our homes.
Lastly, I bear a pair of gifts for Rev. Mark Kiyimba a Unitarian pastor in Kampala that I met when he spoke at Unity Unitarian in St. Paul in the summer of 2011. Because his church runs a school and orphanage for children who have lost their parents to AIDS, I was able to get a donation of ten well-used but still very kickable soccer balls from the Hamline Women’s Soccer Team. And I carry a love offering to him that was sent to me by a UU church out in Pennsylvania. When they learned from Rev. Mark of my upcoming trip, they asked me to carry a gift to him from their congregation.
I don’t know when I have ever carried such a treasure of gifts – and mostly to people I have never met. I feel generous beyond measure, and humbled by the generosity that I am allowed to carry for so many others. Already my heart is full. From here on, my cup runneth over.
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). He and Margaret have a blended family of five children, five grandchildren, and assorted animals that approximate a peaceable kingdom. A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at http://www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”