Monthly Archives: August 2012

Making the most of our time: Roberto Clemente

I had not planned to make this post. It is an excerpt from a sermon I preached today. However, thanks to a friend, I learned that yesterday would have been Roberto Clemente’s 78th birthday and posting seemed important. The text is Ephesians 5:15-20.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met in Pittsburgh this summer. For some of those who attending, this marked the first time they had journeyed to the city built around three rivers. For me, it marked something of a homecoming. As I child, my family lived for about eight years on Neville Island about five or six miles from where the Ohio River begins in Pittsburgh.

Much has changed over the years since my family lived there. But when I walked into the Westin Hotel, I knew that I had returned home. There on the wall hung a picture of Roberto Clemente—the hero of my childhood who has remained my hero through the years.

Clemente hailed from Puerto Rico and played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 years. One of the first Hispanic players, he played in the face of prejudice—he faced jeers and slurs. People who had only one language mocked him for speaking English—his second language—poorly. Because of the prejudice against Hispanic players and because he played in the small market town of Pittsburgh, Clemente never received the acclaim as a player that he deserved until late in his career.

And he deserved acclaim because he could play. He won twelve Golden Gloves for his defense. He had one of the strongest throwing arms that have ever been seen. He ended his career with 3,000 hits.

The people of Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh admired Clemente for his athletic ability but even more we admired him and we admire him for the way he lived his life off the field. In the words of Ephesians, he “made the most of his time.”

Clemente engaged in humanitarian work in Puerto Rico and in Pittsburgh alike. He demanded respect for himself and the people of Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. He worked for people who lived in poverty and responded to the needs of his sisters and brothers. He reached out to children and provided them with opportunities to develop their own athletic talents. In 1973, Clemente was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the first Presidential Citizens Medal. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Baseball has named its annual award for community involvement after Clemente.

A massive earthquake hit Managua, Nicaragua on December 21, 1972. The quake devastated the city, with thousands either dead or left homeless. Clemente organized relief efforts in Puerto Rico. When he learned that some of the aid had ended up in the pockets of the leaders and had not reached the people of Nicaragua, Clemente decided to deliver the next shipment personally. On New Year’s Eve, he stepped into a DC-7 plane along with the supplies and headed for Nicaragua. Not long after takeoff the plane suddenly lost altitude and crashed somewhere into the waters off Puerto Rico. Clemente’s body was never found.

I tell his story this morning, because the United Nations has designated today, August 19, as World Humanitarian Day. The day marks the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. That bombing killed 22 people present to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. The UN chose the day to pay tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello and the other individuals who died in Iraq and others who gave their lives while seeking to serve sisters and brothers in need.

It is also a day to give thanks for those individuals and groups who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are. It is a day when we remember that we all can make a difference when we show that we care and do something for someone else. In the language of the church, this is a day to invite, to challenge us all to make the most of our time by loving others as God in Jesus Christ loves us. Of course that is not just a task for a day—it is a calling for a lifetime.

On this World Humanitarian Day, I give thanks for the life and witness of Roberto Clemente. I advocated for an end to violence against women and for the strong regulations on minerals that fuel conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places. And I made a financial gift to efforts to address leukemia. Tomorrow I will need to find other actions.

See you along the Trail.




Filed under Baseball, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Colors of fruit

The theme of colors continues.
Fruit played a significant role
among the food served at
the 60th Anniversary Party
for Tricia’s parents.

While not a big fan of fruit,
although I share my father’s love of blackberries
and I did eat several at this party,
the presentation rocked.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Family, Food, Photo


Do they drip from the ceiling,
one drip at a time,
slowly, patiently?

Do they rise from the floor,
all at once
in a seismic cataclysm?

The artist allows us
to create our own story
of the colors
that welcome us
to the Virginia Museum of Fine arts.

See you along the Trail.

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Doing, working, being

“What do you do?”
came the question.

“What do you do?”

Answer after answer named
where we worked –
not what our work involved –
nor what we do when we work –
simply the name of our office
perhaps our title.

“What do you do?”

The words that we said
left others unknowing,
uniformed, unaware.

The words that we said
left me wondering:
does the question,
do the responses
address who we are?

16 August 2012
Shire on the Hudson

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What we need to know

Truth breaks in,
when friends say
what we already know,
what we do not want to know,
what we need to know.
In such moments,
may there be grace to hear,
wisdom to understand,
courage to change, and
strength to grow.

15 October 2011
Shire on the Hudson

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Filed under Friends, New York, Poem

Flying Marvels

Massive metal
technological wonder
mechanical behemoth
gleaming red and orange and white
pulls into the gate
spews forth passengers and cargo
sits patiently
waits to consume more.

Tiny flesh and
bone and
dusky brown and grey
flits across the gate,
lands in the rafters,
and flies to who knows where.

28 March 2010
MIA, Gate J11

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You were there

It is a day I remember not that well;
a day of death, a day of loss.
I stumbled along in grief and shock.
Barely knowing then what I said or did;
now less will come to mind.
While memories fail,
raw feelings return and tear my soul.
Yet of that fear-filled painful day,
one thing I gratefully recall:
you were there,
through it all,
you were there.

9 July 2011
Greeley, CO, Estes Park, CO 

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Behind gray green mountains
burns a brilliant golden pool;
light sabers stab the sky
then fade to wisps of brown
as day ends.

Summer 2001
West of Albuquerque

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Purple flowers, Rocky Mountain National Park 4

Rocky Mountain National Park
9 June 2011


See you along the Trail.

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Filed under National Park, Photo

Humiliation and diplomacy

The art of diplomacy is to avoid placing yourself in a position where you can be humiliated.
Sergio Vieira de Mello

The book of the moment is Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power – thanks Joe, Joel, and Ryan for the recommendation!

Power tells the story of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his career with the United Nations. Vieira de Mello joined the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969 and found himself engaged in many of the most critical UN efforts from the birth of Bangladesh in 1971-72  until his death in Iraq in 2003. As she recounts his life, Power provides insight into the man and a fascinating view of the UN and how it works.

The quote above relates to a moment when UN officials were turned back at a checkpoint in Cambodia as they tried to exercise the free movement promised to the UN by the Paris peace agreement. In the agreement, Cambodia’s four main factions agreed to demilitarize, allow refugees to return, and hold free elections. The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission began to arrive in March 1992.

Vieiera de Mello’s assessment of diplomacy resonates with experience. There is wisdom in refraining from asking questions when one knows the answer and does not want to hear it. There is also wisdom in silence when one knows what answers could be and knows that among those answers are some one does not want to hear.

But – does the time not come when for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice, for the sake of others, for the sake of solid relationships – we must move ahead, make ourselves vulnerable, and take the risk of humiliation and even worse? Perhaps the question is how we recognize those times and how we respond when we do?

It will be interesting to see if this concept is explored any further in the book – either directly or simply through the life of Vieira de Mello. There is much to ponder.

See you along the Trail.


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Filed under Books, Friends, United Nations