Reflecting on the Ranch
“No experience exists apart from the story we tell about it.”
Gareth Higgins, Ring Lake Ranch, 9/6/21
Last week Hal and I had the privilege to be with author, storyteller, and peacemaker, Gareth Higgins at Ring Lake Ranch, just south of Dubois, WY. Gareth is a native of Northern Ireland and grew up in Belfast during “the Troubles” of the 1980’s and 1990’s before the Peace Accord. By his own admission, he grew up with fear in an evangelical Protestant household that had family ties to Catholic relatives. And he was coming into to the realization that he was gay. He grew up with stories about life that engendered fear as well as with the threat of real danger. Throughout his young adulthood he worked in peacemaking efforts in Ireland and around the world. He became one of the founders of the progressive and post-evangelical Christian Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina where he completed a PhD in sociology and met his husband, Brian Ammons, an Alliance of Baptists (very progressive Baptists) pastor and an educator with his own PhD in education. This is part of the “outside” story of Gareth. We were privileged to learn some of Gareth’s and Brian’s “inside” story – that they are some of the warmest and most welcoming people you could ever meet, funny and full of joy, deep, compassionate listeners, incredible partners in the ministries that each of them has in the world, wise beyond their middle years, and both of them forces for peacemaking, violence reduction, the power of dreams and connection with the earth.
Last week was a week of great beauty in the wilderness of the Wind River Range of Wyoming where Ring Lake Ranch is situated in a beautiful valley with three lakes for fishing, many hiking trails and a stable full of horses for riding. I hope you can go there at some point to connect with the earth and to be part of the wonderful conference learning. However, my experience of the Ranch last week was not just centered around Gareth and Brian or the beauty of the setting. My experience was the delight of sinking into a “tribe” of creative people from all over the country eager to ask questions about deepening their faith, passionate about peacemaking in small and big ways in our fractious world, brimming with joy in their experiences of wilderness, and willing to share with vulnerability their personal fears and their fears in this time of pandemic, political division and climate crisis. We learned and laughed and cried and did dishes after each meal together, creating community from a group of people that had never met and would never be in same place together again, community that was precious and taught me about the kin-dom of God’s beloved community.
This week I return to work as one of your pastors and to the community of Plymouth. I bring a more rested mind, a more centered heart, and a desire to share with you the story that as fearful as things might be, we, too, can be vulnerable with one another as we create beloved community here in Fort Collins. The pandemic is not over. We are having to pivot daily it seems to create protocols and programming that creatively meets the challenges of keeping folks safe. We are ALL tired and frayed with the stress of this pandemic story we are living, tired of wearing masks that hide our expressive faces, tired of not meeting together in the ways in which we have always been accustomed. We are ALL a bit grumpy and anxious, some more than others – even your pastors! Our patience is waning. We have had a lot of staff change in the midst of one of the hardest years our culture and society has had to endure. And as a community we are facing having to embrace a tragedy in one of our families that most of us have never been confronted by, the incarceration of one of our youth for a violent crime. We are all shaken, unsettled, heartbroken in some way, and perhaps, feel alienated from our community even as we long for its sustenance and nurture.
We all feel the fearful loss of control over our lives in large or small ways. And that creates fear inside of us and among us. Fear is uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet, what if we tell a new story about our fears?
A wise and youngish man who continually faces his own fears and who has learned to tell the story of his fears through the lens of love said to Hal and I and the gathered community at Ring Lake Ranch last week, “No experience exists apart from the story we tell about it.” My dear Plymouth, how will we tell, and by telling, create our story of beloved community in these trying, exhausting, yet full of possibility, times?
With you on the journey,
PS! Join the Adult Forum team the next two Sundays, 9/19 and 26, as they explore with us themes from Gareth Higgins’ book How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live when Everything Seems Terrifying! And look for news about possible book study groups of this group coming later in the fall.
*Gareth Higgins, How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live when Everything Seems Terrifying, (Broadleaf Books, Minneapolis, MN: 2021, 33).
Image: J.A. Ferguson
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