Tag Archives: new york city

the ‘christmas spirit’ ~ on sheet-mulching and incarnation

I realized the other day–a realization that was a bit troubling, actually–that I don’t, this year, feel much in the ‘Christmas spirit.’

last year while in London in December I came upon this 'santa flash mob' in Trafalgar Square

Don’t get me wrong–I’m no ‘Ba Humbug.’ No, it’s not that. It’s just that, well, something has seemed to be missing for me this year. I didn’t even listen to my Christmas music until significantly after Thanksgiving–a patience that has not really ever been successful before.

As I continued to ponder this somewhat unique occurence in my life I began to realize something else–in my attempt to ‘dwell’ during advent (the season preceding Christmas in the Christian calendar) as a way of trying to create space for a bit of ‘being’ amidst what is typically a season of much ‘doing’, I had wound up doing something else as well.

Central Park, in snow. From my first winter on the east coast.

A bit of backstory: for most of the past decade, really, I have had a Christmas season tradition of being in a big city to enjoy the decorations and ambiance of the season. While I was in seminary that big city was New York, which is an incredible place to be for ‘experiencing the Christmas spirit’–from the ice skating rinks in Central Park and Rockefeller Center, with its tall tree and lower level Starbucks serving holiday eggnog lattes, to the wandering in front of store windows, or even a Christmas concert at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, to hear its choir, or a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockets. Even after seminary I continued to make the December pilgrimage.

Last year, rather than New York, I was able to be in London during December–another fantastic big city experience of the Christmas spirit.

But this December I have spent in the very small town of La Mision, Baja California, which wikipedia says has a population of 920. This has been by choice, as I mentioned. There are no ice skating rinks, though the temperature in my house (with no central heat) could probably sustain one. There are no decorated storefront windows, except for the ‘sponsor a winter outfit for an orphan’ tree in Maganas, a local taqueria. I did get a tree this year–it’s a meyer lemon, and I planted in the ground on the first Sunday of advent. One of my neighbors stealthily hung a beautiful Christmas wreath on my front door, but that’s the only decorative element in the house that gives a hint to the season. I did have an eggnog latte, back when I was in London in mid-November, and though there is a Starbucks 40 miles away in Ensenada I have not been there to see how ‘eggnog latte’ translates into Spanish.

So, it really isn’t surprising, considering the context, that it occured to me that I don’t feel all that much in the Christmas spirit this year.

Except for that it is.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I love enjoying the ‘festivity’ of the season, from lights to decorations to the smell of pine, and the colors of beautifully wrapped gifts. I think it is a fantastic way to enjoy life, family, and celebrate the season.

But, at the end of the day, if I were to try and communicate ‘what is the underlying meaning of Christmas’ or ‘what does Christmas really mean,’ though those things would be in the mix, they would be in a supporting role, not the lead. For me, as a Presbyterian minister (and an ordained evangelist, no less) and a person who is trying to live my life in the way of Jesus, shouldn’t there be some sort of ‘God stuff’ in the mix? It is, arguably, the biggest day of the year in the Christian calendar.

Because what I believe the underlying message of ‘the Christmas spirit’ is about is that, ultimately, God/Spirit/Divine/Source/Breath (they are all just our attempt to put words on something that is unnamable, aren’t they?) is not far off, out there, distant or remote, but rather right here, with us, in our midst, amongst us. The fancy theological word for this is incarnation, which, put simply means, ’embodied in the flesh, or a concrete or actual form of a concept.’

Back to my original pondering, about the Christmas spirit…

The thing is, this advent I haven’t just been sitting around contemplating and watching the clouds go by. And I also haven’t been boycotting the mall and it’s crazy search for that parking place, though I have to admit, it’s a bit of a relief.

yesterday's sunset, looking inland...

What I have been doing is quite a bit of work in the yard–sheet mulching two large areas to prepare the soil and keep out the weeds for what will become the site of spring planting. I’ve been baking bread and pasta and cooking soup. I’ve been spending time with my neighbors. I’ve been reading and learning. I’ve been trying to maintain a mindfulness of beauty by making photographs. I’ve been participating in activities that are trying to help others who are in need.

Incarnation, embodied in the flesh, the actual or concrete form of something.

Something like love? Cultivated in the garden, or expressed in a shared loaf of bread, over a meal, amongst neighbors, and extended to those in need…

Perhaps I’ve been in the Christmas spirit all along. Maybe, in my assumption that it should look a certain way, I just didn’t know how to recognize it.

Finishing the Race

Jack McClarty

Jack McClarty

It is with sadness that I write.  I did run and finish the marathon on Sunday. On Monday, as I was hobbling my way through New York City, I got a call that Jack McClarty had been hospitalized.  I was able to get a flight home on Monday night in order to be with Martha and the family. Jack passed away early yesterday morning, November 7, 2007.

Each day before the marathon I had been talking to Jack on the phone, giving him the status updates on my ‘niggle’ and how I thought the marathon would go.  The night before the race he told me to run well, and not to go out ‘honky tonking’ so I could get some rest. I told him I would not ‘honky tonk’ since I was not sure what that meant anyway! He had also been giving me the status reports about the garden—it is his and Martha’s backyard where Tommy and I have been gardening these past months, an intermingling of growth and new life in the midst of letting go and passing of life.

On Sunday, after the marathon was over (I did it in 4:35:13, by the way, and have some pictures on edunny.com) Jack called to congratulate me. He had been charting my progress at each 5K and had plotted it on a graph, he told me, that he would show me when I got home.  He also pointed out that my pace had slowed significantly at the end, which I thanked him for rubbing in.  An engineer, he had spreadsheets for everything and though we did not know it, this was to be his last.

Running for four and a half hours through New York City gives you a lot of time to reflect. At one point, running through Manhattan, I thought of how proud my dad would have been, cheering me on. I thought of Jack who was tracking the race from afar via computer, and whose cancer had gained the upper hand.

Along the route itself friends had calculated the best spectating places and were there to  cheer me on at mile 8 and 14.5 (in Brooklyn) again at mile 16 (in Manhattan) and at mile 23 along 5th Avenue and into Central Park (I guess the tendency toward over-detail runs in the family).  I had written my name on my running jersey so as I ran through the various boroughs of New York City I heard “Go Dunny!” shouted all along the way, in a variety of accents.

At mile 15 I thought I was not going to be able to finish. My leg was hurting, I had a side ache, and I was ravenously hungry.  All I wanted to do was lay (or is it lie? Jack would be correcting me!) down on the ground. But as I came off the bridge and looked at the sidelines I saw friends there to cheer me on, and knew that there would be more friends a few miles on, it was as if a new energy lifted me up and kept me going.  I ran with Mason, a friend of a friend. When I was feeling weak, he kept me going. When he thought he could not finish, I didn’t let him quit.  We both said we could not have finished without the other.

The thing is, in running a marathon, and I think in life too, it makes a difference to have others who run beside you and keep you going when you think that you can’t take another step. It makes a difference to know that there are those who love you and who are cheering for you, encouraging you along the way.  Jack was one of those people in my life, and I will miss him terribly.  But I also know that his life and his spirit will live on in the lives of those he knew and loved.


Nothing Rhymes with F9621

It’s official—I picked up my NYC marathon number yesterday, F9621.

My friend Laila noted that it will be hard to cheer, since not much rhymes with F9621.   Maybe “26.2 is along way to run, F9621…?”

I’ve been battling a bit of a niggle in my right leg, but thanks to Dr. Williams, the chiropractor my friend Kelley recommended, I should be ready to go. If you wan to track my progress, apparently on the marathon’s website (www.nycmarathon.org) you can enter F9621 and get my progress on a map. Or, if you’d like to have an email update sent to you every time I cross 5K (about 3 miles) let me know and I can sign you up for the email alert!

The marathon is on Sunday and starts at 10:10AM.  For those who are in the NYC area, I would love to have any cheerers I can along the route!

I am going to take a camera with me while running (disposable—the camera, not the running) so hopefully I’ll have some pictures from the race posted. I did stroll through Central Park yesterday and saw the finish line, so I can have that vision in mind when the legs get sore (hopefully not in the first few miles).

Thanks again for all of the encouragement and support—and by the way, because of all of you I’ve raised over $4300 for lung cancer research—way to go!


Warning: This is actually rather serious
Warning 2: This  also asks for money

I have been thinking a lot about death lately. Makes you want to invite me to your next cocktail party, huh? On September 5 my grandma, Winnie Kerr, 93, passed away. Today, September 10, is the 3-year anniversary of my dad’s death. September 11 is obviously remembered, and it seems hard to believe that six years have passed. September 12 is the anniversary of the death of my good friend’s sister. That’s a lot of death in a one week span.

Even when death is almost a blessing, as with my grandma who was older and from whom life had begun to slip away, it is still hard to deal with. (I know, grammar police, that’s a preposition at the end of my sentence but ‘it is hard with which to deal’ just seemed a bit cumbersome.) Even when death becomes, in a sense, expected, as with my dad, it can still be a shock that feels as though it tears away your very foundation.  I realize this is a bit heavy for a Monday morning, what happens to be a beautiful sunny Monday morning in Newport Beach.  I don’t want to dwell on death and wallow in it. But I do want to take a moment to honor those who have passed away, to be thankful for their lives, and to appreciate my own life as well.

Now the money part.

On November 4 I will be running the New York City Marathon to raise money for lung cancer research (lung cancer is what my dad died of).  I am running with a charity called the Labrecque Foundation, named after Thomas Labrecque, CEO of the Chase Manhattan Corporation, who was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 8 weeks later.

I have agreed to raise $2500 which gives me the opportunity to drag myself 26.2 miles around New York City. All of the money raised goes to the charity—I even have to pay my own marathon entrance fee to run. If I don’t raise the $2500, not only do I get the privilege of running that far, but I also get to pay a pretty penny to do so!

I would love it if you would like to donate. Don’t feel obligated. Honestly. There is no pressure here. But, if you do want to donate, you can do it in one of two ways.  (I have to raise all funds by mid-October).

**If you feel comfortable using your credit card online (secure transaction)  you can go directly to: