MUCH HOOPLA IS NOW OVER: gifts enjoyed or returned; bellies bulging & diets begun; ornaments hibernating again in basements & attics; parties & parades departed… and Earth settles into a long winter nap. But in the bleak mid-winter, with seeds and soil sleeping, Spring will soon cast off her blanket and rise once more to meet the morn. Peace, Dwight Lee Wolter
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19b
Eleven days after doing everything possible to save his life, the family decided to withdraw life support. A while later, someone came out of the operating room and said, “Jim passed away twenty-eight minutes ago, and he has already saved two lives.” Jim, like Jesus, was a donor.
After years of silence, the beepers of two people who had never met went off simultaneously. They needed to immediately begin a protocol for receiving a live-saving kidney. Their two lives were forever bound together by the sacrifice of yet another person they had never met, Jim, who had laid down his life for his “friends” so that they could pick their lives up again. The same is true for those who received his corneas and other parts of the earthly body he no longer needed.
In John 15:13, we hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” But laying down your life for others does not necessarily entail dying. We lay down our sacrifice of blood for transfusions. We donate our food for the bellies of people we will never meet. In church, we benefit from the sacrificial offerings of ushers, teachers, greeters, the choir and others who contribute to our survival. Just attending church is a sacrifice of the opportunity to stay home on a Sunday morning. We also receive the sacrifices of merciful, living, loving people who lay down their unreasonable demands; unrealistic expectations and harsh judgment.
We can lay down our life for our friends after our death. We can lay down our life for our friends before death as well.
Eternal God, in our living and in our dying may our love be a holy and sacrificial offering to the friends we know and the friends we will never meet. We pray this in remembrance of you.
It takes a village to raise a pyramid. The Congregational Church of Patchogue initiated this project to provide toilet paper for homeless veterans and domestic violence shelter residents. But we could not have done it without toilet paper contributions from the Fire Department; two Chambers of Commerce; the VFW; the American Legion; Temple Beth El; the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI); the Turkish Cultural Center; a few churches; the regional library; the Girl Scouts; the Alive After Five street festival committee; several children and parents from our church; many organizations,; businesses; and 1,500 individuals who contributed and participated in this sweaty and joyous event using 15,000 rolls.
Noteworthy, we received no corporate or foundation support or donations, although we did solicit them. Power to the people! Grants can be given and taken away and often arrive with stifling conditions. But they cannot match the power within 1,500 beating hearts and helping hands, each carrying a single roll of toilet paper.
Scores of lovely individuals created a team of hope, love, caring, sharing and empathy. Plus, at least two legislators (Democrat and Republican) agreed to sponsor a bill to change the laws that classify TP as a “luxury” that cannot be included in grant requests. Founded in 1793, we continue to see great community acclaim and support of our mission and ministries. We took it to the streets and it exploded into joy! This speaks loudly to our continuing relevance and vitality.
Frances Scott Key, author of the words to our national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. He was a lawyer and poet who found himself in a boat on the Chesapeake Bay during the highly unpopular War of 1812 in an attempted prisoner exchange of a captured British officer and an American physician. Key stood on deck with pen in hand, hoping against hope that dawn’s early light would reveal the United States flag still waving. Key penned a poem that does not glorify battle; but sees that freedom from foe must sometimes be fought for as it offers gratitude for unexpected salvation.
“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
In our country today, we face the dawn of challenges too numerous to mention. At dawn’s early light, will there be enough light to notice current threats to freedom that come from within us and among us? Will we find the courage necessary to increase the intensity of the light and to speak truth about what must be done without casting darkness on those who dare to disagree? I will entrust you to your conscience and conviction.
As for me and mine, I pray for a prisoner exchange between inertia and action. I pray that I will be courageous enough to allow my love of God to illuminate my love of country; and my love of country to illuminate my love of God. At dawn’s early light, may I proudly hail that not only is the flag still there, but so too is my courage, my country, and my abiding love of both.
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter
Watching Anthony Bourdain douse every episode of his hit show, Parts Unknown, in alcohol was always painful to witness. He spoke frequently and eloquently of his addiction, but always in the past tense, as if it was an historical event that happened to a person he used to be. But an addict’s addiction is never in the past. I have no idea what the toxicology results of his autopsy will eventually reveal; but I do know that Mr. Bourdain was an addict until the moment he died. Addiction is a terminal disease. Sober or not, you die with addiction as much as you die with the color of your own eyes.
Anthony Bourdain’s drug-of-choice was heroin. But moving from heroin (often called “dry goods”) to alcohol will, at best, delay the dire and inevitable consequences of addiction. I know that from personal as well as professional experience. Moving from “dry goods” to wet ones, Bourdain made addiction and self-destruction look like so much fun. He made nine straight hours of drinking and eating in a French restaurant with other men in their sixties look so jolly and innocent. His artistry and denial was so well-crafted that it almost made it seem to the addict writing this piece that I too could slosh and slip my way from one adventure to another without consequences. And that, sadly made his dangerous to people in recovery. He was a walking billboard for relapse or, if you were lucky, for relapse prevention.
Anthony Bourdain was a great artist; a seemingly sweet soul; and a fine journalist with a deep and insatiable curiosity about people. But he did not seem particularly interested in himself as an addict. In that regard, Anthony Bourdain’s life was, to its very end, itself a tale of Parts Unknown.
Take heart: Addiction is a treatable disease: it is for you, for me, for Anthony, for everybody. But once your drug-of-choice or even a “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need” substitute is imbibed… all bets are off. The relapse rate for addicts is astronomical. The deadly game of “Russian Roulette” using drugs to get off alcohol and alcohol to get off drugs is futile. This is true whether you are a graduate of Yale or jail; or you reside on Park Avenue or park bench. But there is hope ~ not for Anthony ~ but for those still living with addiction who can use his sad and beautiful soul as a cautionary tale for anyone who forgets the hell they came from, even for a minute.
A toxicology report will attempt to define the “how” of Anthony Bourdain’s death; but we may never know “why” a brilliant, handsome, famous, wealthy and beloved man died alone in a hotel bathroom with his neck in a noose. Denial, depression, addiction and loneliness will not be on the toxicology report; but they will be written in his book of life. For an addict in recovery, trying to explain addiction to those who are not in recovery ~ no explanation is possible. For an addict in recovery trying to explain addiction to others who are in recovery ~ no explanation is necessary.
And so, another addict bites the dust. Many of us in recovery fellowships have seen so much death with so much regularity ~ the shouting and shrieking and the shock have long-ago worn off. But the sadness and the love have not. Another brilliant writer ~ not Bourdain, but Shakespeare ~ once said, “The world ends not with a bang, but a whimper.” And then we silently and solemnly bury our own.
You have left us wounded and whimpering, Tony. That said, thanks for the life lesson that your death provides. We die alone but we recover together. Your show, as countless people have already said, was about far more than food. It seems to me, as a fellow addict in recovery ~ that your show was always about trying to find just one more reason to stay alive. Thanks for celebrating us. And now let us celebrate you. Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God almighty! Anthony Bourdain is free at last! Rest in Peace.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York, and the author of several books on addiction, parenting in recovery, codependence and forgiveness.
A CAROUSEL OF LOVE
I raised my daughter, Celeste, in Manhattan and we spent about ten hours a week in Central Park. She rode in the seat on the back of my bicycle through the park to and from school each day. Sometimes, on the way home from school, we ate sandwiches on park benches for dinner. On weekends, we entered the park in the morning with picnic lunches and emerges at night having also feasted on endless, free entertainment (not counting tips) and watched an array of interesting people speaking an array of languages. We had countless rides on the Central Park Carousel. My child climbed the “mountains” in the playgrounds countless times and I never forgot to keep a band aid in my wallet.
Now my daughter is married; has twin seven-year-old children and a three-year-old to round-out the army. She has a strong, centered and loving husband. They live in San Francisco now, about as far away from Manhattan as you can get and still be in the continental United States. I go to visit them 3-4 times a year, but it is never enough. Yesterday, they were in Manhattan, passing-through, visiting and staying with old friends in the city and making their way to a wedding in another state.
My portion of their lives this time was four hours. We met in Central Park at one of the same playgrounds where my daughter played as a child. My granddaughter climbed to the top of the same mountain that had been patiently waiting a generation for her. The skyline has changed but the sky has not.
My granddaughter looks like her mother and her mother looks like me. I know how that happens. Atop the mountain, my granddaughter licked her upper lip in the exact same way that my daughter licked her upper lip thirty years ago atop the same mountain. It was and is a sign of their internal excitement and inspiration. Same gesture. Different generation. Thirty years apart. I do not know how that happens. And I do not care.
What I do know, and what I do care about, at least at this moment, is that time circles back to scoop up its own children and places them, like fresh eggs, in the basket of eternity. And I do know that love does not hoard. And I do know that spirit does not end. And I do know that life takes no hostages and yet also spares no one. And I do know that we may be the center of someone’s universe for one inhale and one exhale and then they are gone. They may come back, but only to leave again.
Even the ones that stay, go. And even the ones who go, stay. The comings and goings; the gatherings and scatterings; the traditions and transitions; the introductions and conclusions; all take place as one generation hoists another generation onto the carousel, buckles them in with a flimsy belt that offers little more than the illusion of safety, and then the music begins, as does the creaking sound of life beginning to turn again; and then, suddenly and magically, we are laughing, loving, taking photos in hopes that the moment can be recaptured later.
A menagerie of people climb onto a menagerie of ornate carousel animals that go up and down and round and round but somehow also go nowhere, until a bell rings, and the music stops, and the carousel slows, until it too stops, and children clamor for more tickets to return to a circular moment of life that can never quite be recreated, but which can, at best, be remembered, until the memory also slows, and stops, so that another lip-licking, inspired and excited generation can take its seat on the carousel of love that is the only thing that will never truly end.
Dwight Lee Wolter
Did you know that toilet paper (TP) cannot be written into a grant request for domestic violence shelters, homeless vet shelters and other charitable organizations because it is categorized as a “luxury”? On Long Island, New York (in Patchogue, a national model for downtown revitalization) “The World’s Largest Toilet Paper Pyramid” (25,000 rolls of SCOTTS toilet paper, septic-safe and uniformity of size and density is a must ~ BTW ~ Kimberly Clark, the makers of Scotts are NOT supporters (such a pity!), so we are not “plugging a product”. The pyramid will have a base of 15 X 15 feet) and will be built, disassembled and distributed to the above-mentioned and other needful, worthy causes (food pantries, etc. We have solicited requests for those in need of this product. in only four hours (yikes!) at Alive After Five (a huge festival of 25,000 revelers) on July 19th between 5:00 and 9:00 pm. The pyramid building will be accompanied with dramatic lighting and live music. It addresses a very real need of under-served populations. This is a collaborative effort between the Congregational Church of Patchogue, the VFW, American Legion, LI Against Domestic Violence, the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, Medford Chamber of Commerce; Alive After Five, and (please!!!) contributors such as you! This is far more than a fun, zany gimmick (although trace elements of those abound). We are trying to help homeless vets, sheltered domestic violence victims and others gain access to a very basic, anything-but (pardon the pun)-luxury-item. Please help us help!
P.S. This photo is from a year ago appeal for Long Island Against Domestic Violence. This is NOT a religious event. We DO NEED only Scotts TP, unlike in this former appeal where other brands are pictured.
Dwight Lee Wolter
send checks to: Congregational Church of Patchogue / 95 East Main Street / Patchogue, NY 11772 / place TP Pyramid in the memo section. Donations are tax deductible.
I CANNOT ADD A WORD to the brilliant and heartfelt tributes to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pouring out throughout the land. But we will add 50 BELL TOLLS at noon at the Congregational Church of Patchogue: one for each year since his assassination. May Rev. Dr. King, Jr. rest in peace. And may we rest when we are blessed with liberty and justice for all.
Today is Saturday, the day after the crucifixion, and the day before the Resurrection. We are all and always on the cusp of getting nailed by someone or something and of being, hopefully, somehow resurrected. Most people, sadly, do not come down from the cross alive. Having endured blame, pain and shame; they often have wounded themselves as they are being wounded by others. It is a recipe certain death of body, soul or both.
They are then taken down from the cross upon which they were crucified by themselves and others, washed, put into clean clothes, and buried. A precious few, having once been resurrected, test their fate and trust their mind that tells them that for each crucifixion there is always another resurrection. There is an escape hatch for each self-destructive and each relationship-killing, Earth-killing and Christ-killing act. There is, they assume, a resurrection for each relapse and a new beginning for each end.
But voices from the graves of those we have loved and lost shout each night in unison that this is not true. Life, it seems, owes and promises us nothing but death. Is that depressing news? Or is it an awareness of how temporary and fragile life really is. And hope and faith in resurrection is no excuse for needless death.
Our lives, it seems to me, are a manifestation of grace. We are resurrected through our wounds. We are healed at the site of our injury. We turn to face the abyss and see light in the darkness. We endure. We gain strength. We take flight. We can join those who have perished ~ or we can learn to live from them. The supposed dead continue to speak and teach. This is resurrected life before death.
Love need not be resurrected. Hope need not be reborn. Faith has not gone anywhere. The sun is still in the sky, even when obscured by clouds of doubt and darkness. They are all here, waiting, for you.
Free use of a mobile shower unit; free haircuts for men and women; free flu shots; free blood pressure screening; free blankets; free toiletries, free candy; a free, hot meal; free clothing (socks, underwear, gloves, shirts, sweaters, sweatpants and other items); and free compassion and caring were distributed on Wednesday, February, 28th between 4:00 and 6:30 at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main Street (Long Island, New York).
Access to health and health care is economic, physical, spiritual and political. There is no such thing, for example, as an undocumented flu virus. When one member of a community is helped, all are helped. When the right hand gets soiled from planting flowers, the left hand helps wash it.
With a zero dollar budget but many volunteers; with no proof of need, income or residency requested or required; and with no judgement or stigma about persons in need ~ a marvelous manifestation of hope, healing, health, peace, love and laughter came to town. It is our dream that, with the help of donors, this offering may continue into our bright, shared future.
THANKS TO DONATED SERVICES & ITEMS FROM: the Village of Patchogue Mayor, Paul Pontieri; Suffolk County Leg. Rob Calarco; Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; Suffolk County Department of Health Services; Suffolk County Department of Mental Hygiene; New York State Office of Mental Health; Hands Across Long Island (HALI) for the mobile shower unit; Hudson River Health (HRH) for blood pressure screening; Swan Cleaners (donated clothes); the Congregational Church of Patchogue Soup Kitchen; and generous contributors of cash, food and clothing from people like you.
Dwight Lee Wolter