Friday, April 16, 2010

The Starfish Story


A funny thing happened over Easter weekend. First I did something my mother asked me to do - that is go to church. Second, I heard during the sermon the Starfish story that I'd heard a few weeks before in Ethiopia.

I sometimes think I have a bit of the shine, like Scatman in the Shining. It's just a touch. Sometimes I think things right before they happen. Sometimes I stop fighting and something really weird or coincidental happens.

Back to Easter. My mom sent me this email because we'd been through a rough patch. My son was bitten by a dog that animal control was then planning to put down and all was a big mess. Some other stuff too but I don't want to invade everyone's privacy. Just a weird rough patch.

So my mother sent me an email with subject line: a radical idea. She suggested we go to church on Palm Sunday. She said it seemed like things were so much easier for us when we lived in Raleigh, NC and that might have been the result of regularly attending church at The Good Shepherd on Hillsborough Street.

One thing I will say is that in many ways I am very proud to be a (lapsed) Episcopalian. Because for many of us that means an accepting, even liberal church. That's not always the case, witness the Anglican bishops who want to make homosexuality a crime. But my church in Raleigh and my church in Westport, Christ and Holy Trinity, these churches welcome everyone. Even me. Now that's saying something.

We did not attend Palm Sunday mass and in fact I was kind of steamed at my mom because the truth is I live by the golden rule, for the most part, even though I no longer regularly attend church. My brother often says surfing is his church. Fly fishing is his church. You don't need incense and putting on your best duds to be in church. That's what I believe too.

But, at the last minute, on a whim, we decided to attend church on Easter Sunday. Frankly, I think that's also bollocks just going to church on Easter and Christmas. But there I was racing around my room trying to remember what church clothes I had.

We decided to go early, get in and out. Episcopalians are famous for that. We're not a very touchy feely group. We do our Nicene Creed, our Communion then it's a quick coffee hour and we're off to play golf. But that's really the essence of what I love about my church. To me it's private. Not private like you don't show kindness or you hide it even. But it's a way of life you choose to live by and all the rest are trappings.

We made it to the 7:30 service. That's am people. It's usually what I call the old lady service - old prayer book, no music, no muss no fuss. But it was a bit more crowded it being Easter and all. A little music and a guest speaker, a bishop who gave the sermon that day.

Bishop Laura Ahrens I think her name is. She looked a little sunburned. Friendly. Kind of quirky even. The sermon she chose to give was the sermon about the Starfish Story. I don't know why but I've never heard the starfish story before. The first time I heard it was in Ethiopia in February.

We'd spent a day in Addis at the boys orphanage at Kolfe without accomplishing much of anything. We spent hours at the Addis Home Depot choosing paints only to find out our choices were white, orange or black. They had paint rollers, but they didn't have the roller handles. We'd carefully chosen cleaning supplies that would last the longest only to find out there was no water that day and therefore no way to dilute them.

No water day. That's what they told us. What does that mean? How can 135 boys have a "no water" day?

So I sat there glumly thinking what the hell am I doing here and my friend Eileen came up to say hi. I don't really have a poker face so I guess she picked up on my frustration. And she said to me, "Well you know the starfish story, right?"

"What," I asked.

"The starfish story. You know. A boy is standing on the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean before they get trapped on land. A man walks by and says why bother when there are so many and you can't save them all. It won't make a difference. And the boy says it makes a difference to that one. And to that one."

Eileen told me that story and my thinking began to change. The more obstacles we encountered the more I began to think maybe the most these kids can hope for is to spend some time with someone who cares.

And "no water" day will be just a fact of life.

I couldn't believe the bishop repeated the starfish story. I'd even worn a scarf I bought in Ethiopia for the first time that day. I must have the shine right? It's a sign that I need to stay focused on the important things in life. Like making sure my son is safe. Like not forgetting the boys at Kolfe. And not taking for granted the fact that making an effort, even if that effort ends in epic failure, matters.

I was leafing through our handout for the service and in the back was this message from Donald Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury:

One of the most important errors about Christianity is that it is a recipe for being good, that its primary purpose it to tell people how to improve themselves as life goes on. That is a great fallacy. Christianity is essentially a story - a story of what God has done about our great enemies of sin and death."

I love a good story.

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