Monday, August 16, 2010

In the Gulch Part II

To read Part One of The Gulch Story, click here or simply scroll down this blogspot...

Jimmy appeared to have been the spearhead of the operation. He had unlocked the three gates along the long windy "road" that led us down into the gulch. So at lunch after perusing the plants and then hiking deeper into the gulch, conversations with Jimmy and the others began.

It was then that I began to discover that while Jimmy may have written the grants, it was Gladys and Kawika whose passion for the land and the people were driving this project. After much discussion (and after spending half an hour drinking water and napping in the car to fight off dehydration after the hike) I returned to conversation between Kawika and Jim, my Aunt's boyfriend. Jim is a networker, so I wasn't surprised to find him hard as work selling his next project to the workers of Lana'i. But as it turned out, he and Kawika actually knew one another from a project they'd both worked on 20 years earlier on Oahu.

Kawika has a worker's hands, covered in callouses and dirt, similar to his feet which were bare. Additionally, his face is sun-worn and there is a tattoo or perhaps a tattoo covered by another tattoo next to his right eye. I guess for this reason I had dismissed him as a sort of contract laborer instead of the passion behind the project that I came to discover.

Kawika and Gladys work with troubled children on both Oahu and Lana'i. The teenager, I eventually learned, was one such student who, having been taking under Gladys and Kawika's wing, had met this community of people and found them to be family. That's how mama and dad got their names. I can't remember their given names but mama and dad was the name the teenager had given them. They with their three chiuauas worked hard on the land alongside Jimmy, Kawika and Glenda.

In addition to their work with under-priviledged students, Kawika and Gladys devoted their time to rescuing this gulch, to re-claiming it for the Hawaiian people. Gladys teaches hula (fun!) and even goes to Mexico several times a year to teach workshops there. In addition she speaks the native Hawaiin language, or rather dialect, of the people who lived in the gulch.

These people were amazing. They were not rich financially, but they were rich in vision, in compassion and in devotion. They saw a need and they sought to meet it. My dad said if he'd had the money he would have written them a check on the spot. I began envisioning a mission trip here. Learn about the ancient hawaiian civilization... plant crops... talk with these amazing people... work with students...

People joked while members of my staff and I were gone about "suffering for Jesus in Hawaii" and while we weren't on a mission trip (rather attending an inspirational conference called the Baptist World Alliance), there is work to be done even in beautiful, magnificent places. Want to know the number one missionaries to the Hawaiian islands? Mormons. 2/3 people I met on Lana'i were Mormons. Mormons run the island's stable and horse farm. Mormons walk to church on Saturday (when mom and i were trying to find a yoga class) and even Jimmy's wife (who arrived later) was a Baptist who converted to Mormonism and now teaches at the BYU extension campus on Hawaii.

After spending a day with these people, with Jimmy, Kawika and Gladys, the teenager, Mama and Dad (in addition to myself, my mom and dad, aunt glo and jim), we gathered in a circle and having learned that day that I was a minister, they asked me to pray a blessing over them. So I did. And out of all the times I was asked to pray in Hawaii (mostly by people nervous about us being baptists and wanting to be polite so as not to offend us), this was the one time I was happy to comply. I prayed for them and over them and I blessed them in the best way I knew how and as the prayer closed as we began hugging one another and saying goodbye, I saw that the teenager was crying.

Maybe there is need for Mission in Hawaii... maybe we need only join in.

Monday, August 09, 2010

While You're In Austin...

Dear President Obama,

While you're in Austin today, you should swing by First Bapitst Church. We have a Black Box Theater on the 4th floor. So, if you want to come see our dress rehearsal for The Fantasticks tonight, we would be delighted to have you. Chip and Amy Brees might be there too. That's Drew Brees' parents. Remember the Super Bowl? Maybe you guys could talk about New Orleans and how much FEMA sucks. Stephen & Deborah Reeves and her parents will be there tonight too. Stephen works for the Christian Life Commission so y'all could talk about how screwed up it is that Texas took James Madison out of our History Books for public schools. Can't you overrule us or something? Sometimes we make terrible decisions.

Anyway, the show is great and since according to the local paper, you won't be here through Thursday, which is opening night, I thought maybe you might want to catch the 50th Anniversary of this magical musical written by two UT grads tonight. Dress rehearsal starts at 7:30.

Rev. Ann Catherine Pittman (but you can call me Louisa)

[ for the rest of you reading this letter, The Fantasticks runs Thursday thru Sunday, August 12-15 and 19-22 with 7:30 performances Thurs-Sat and 2:30 Sunday matinees. Call 476-2625 to reserve your FREE tickets or email ]

Saturday, August 07, 2010

In the Gulch


I don't want to spend too much time on here talking about how wonderful Hawaii was, for I would hate to make everyone stuck in real life jealous. :)

But I would like to share about what turned out to be the most amazing day we spent while on the island of Lana'i, and the day had very little to do with white beaches or fresh pinapple or sunsets over the ocean or any of those other wonderfully hawaiian things.

It is a story about gardening.

Sort of.

My aunt is a horticulturist. She's been on the islands over 30 years and last year took a job on Lana'i, a small island owned almost entirely by a man named Murdock to whom almost everyone else on the island is either endebted or employed.

Because my aunt works with plants, she met Jimmy. How or what Jimmy does in his regular life, I know not, but he and Glo had become acquainted, so he invited her (and us) down into the Gulch.

This word is intimidating. The land is intimidating. We were to go into a valley surrounded by tall cliffs and steep hills, go into a valley and "see it." I don't think any of us knew what "see it" meant. My mom probably thought we'd get to go on a hike. My dad probably thought there would be some lovely scenery and, I just kept thinking, what is a gulch? A cross between a gorge and a grinch?

What we discovered however, was a people, and a garden, and archeological remains of Hawaiian villages. These were civilizations killed either by falling rocks and land slides, or by King Kamaeamea when he conquored the Hawaiian islands. (This is the man they worship with statues all over every island, a man who wiped out entire people groups like the one living in the gulch).

We met a group of people who will be called the following: Jimmy, Mama and Dad, Gladys and her husband, Kawika, and the teenager, each of whom has a vision, a dream. And after some grant writng and plant-buying and hard labor in the hot sun, they are beginning to see their vision take form.

In some cases, literally. But more on that in a minute.

They gather in the gulch at the house where the people who (50 years ago) ran the "water house" lived. At one time, Donkeys would make their way down these steep cliffs to the gulch where the people living at the water house would load them up with water and then (again without a rider or guide) the donkeys would make their way back up to the top, or the ridge, to deliver the water.

Next to this currently decreped old house are huge lush gardens of pua, a native Hawaiian plant. And there are banana trees and all sorts of other green, leafy vegetables growing. Scattered throughout the garden are the workers mentioned above, whose names I don't even remember, but whose spirits I will never forget. They have planted all these things.

They spend their free time on Saturdays working, laboring over this garden, planting native Hawaiian crops that the ancient Hawaiians who once lived there in the gulch would have grown. They work there not only to restore the land, a integral character in the Hawaiian narrative, but also to help the native Hawaiians living on Lana'i reclaim their culture, take pride in their history and in who they are.

II Stay tuned for section two: hiking into the gulch; and section three: the ancient spirits...

The Gardener - A Poem

You get down on your knees in the dark earth—alone
for hours in hot sun, yanking weed roots, staking trellises,
burning your shoulders, swatting gnats; you strain your muscled
midwestern neck and back, callous your pianist's hands.

You cut roses back so they won't fruit, rip out and replace
spent annuals. You fill your garden dense with roots and vines.
And when a humble sprout climbs like a worm up out of death,
you are there to bless it, in your green patch, all spring and summer long,

hose like a scepter, a reliquary vessel; you hum
through the dreamy wilderness—no one to judge, absolve,
or be absolved—purified by labor, confessed by its whisperings, connected
to its innocence. So when you heft a woody, brushy tangle, or stumble

inside grimy, spent by earth, I see all the sacraments in place—
and the redeemed world never smelled so sweet.

"The Gardener" by Ken Weisner