Monday, October 31, 2011

The Name

The Name

When the perilous frigid northern wind blew across the desert floor of the Arizona border town of Naco on that midnight of All Hallows Eve, Mary died giving birth to her son. In despair, the newborn’s father hung himself on a lonely oak tree, outside of town.

Dr. Jacob Abrahamson wrote his own father’s name for the child on that bitter night without mercy. Before the dawn of All Saint’s morning, Daniel Abrahamson trudged through the blistering blue wind to his son’s home to witness his namesake nestled against his daughter-in-law’s breast.

“Would not this child’s name be his own father’s?” the older Abrahamson said.

“Father Abrahamson, is not the child so beautiful?” asked Ruth.

“Not so handsome as our little Joseph,” he said.

Jagged tears of broken ache traveled the grief worn lines etched in Ruth’s face from the fresh death of her month old Joseph. The baby at her neck could not replace her own flesh, but he was motherless. Ruth’s grace abounded.

“Father Abrahamson, the child bears his grief alone. Do we not weep the tears he does not know?”

The old man’s beard hid his quivering lip. His only son was without child. It had been the solitary trial he could not endure. Ruth’s barren soul screamed in silence. Jacob’s bitter tears were hidden from the world.

“Where is the child’s father?” he asked.

“He suffered the death of a broken heart,” she said.

“And must we bear his blackened dread?” he asked.

“Jacob is preparing the burial of the child’s father. As the baby becomes a man he must know that compassion was given to his parents as they left this earth. Who better to extend that love than the one who holds him now,” she said.

Father Abrahamson pulled back the swaddling to get a look at the child’s countenance. Raven hair shocked in swirls about his honey face. Cinnamon rich eyes glistened, searching for nourishment; his nursemaid mother relieved his pink puckered lips.

“Of what Book was his father?” the bent man asked.

“He was a stranger in a foreign land, of Mexican descent,” she answered.

“And his name?”

“David.”

“It is not natural for you to take this child. He is of another world. It would not be well of the child to suffer confusion of mind to soul,” he whispered.

“Would the child suffer less without two spirits who love his presence?”

“Give him to those of his own tribe,” the elder bristled.

“Should I agonize the emptiness of womb’s heart when the milk of life flows to no mouth of need?”

Her shadow bit into the soul of the God who heard them. The crippled man bowed his wispy grey head in the shame of sadness that had not experienced warmth’s embrace in the season long forgotten.

“Would my son be near soon? To make a final decision?” he staked the words as if permanence were the assurance of a future sealed in banishment.

“The tomorrows of this newborn is held in the hand of your doing,” her eyes said without utterance.

The rabbi struggled to rise to the window of the dripping light trickling across the sky of dilemma. His yellow fingers tapped at the crimson drape to see if his Lord had left hieroglyphics in the purpled clouds.

“His name must be his father’s,” he dared.

“But only with your blessing.” Mother Ruth lifted the child into Rabbi Abrahamson’s ancient hands where the tiny bundle of hope was to rest; right hand under the hip and the left hand of blessing would hold the head of resurrection.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Angelus bells are ringing

The angelus bells are ringing - afar, so near, faint, yet distinct - have they rung here before? I think not. Calling, calling to prayer - to listen is the call, silence.

What is it that is sensed in the soul clearing? The bells have ceased, the ringing hangs in the air. Soul hearing, as like seeing with the third. The hearing of safety - what is that stirring so near, gently moving towards my being - is it presence? So comforting, settling, bringing relief from anxiety of the unknown, being the unknown; it is the Self. That which is most present and yet so unrecognizable, hovers so as to brood and bring integration of that which could be created to become.

Ringing, ringing I hear you still lingering - the call to Presence.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My dream soul is on fire.

My dream soul is on fire. An opening in my subconscious is flooding my conscious, liminal and present to hear and see in this connected space. Processing in journal, reflection, study and spiritual direction. Can be muddled, murky, uncertain, and it can be frightening that the reality is not so subtle of expectations to manifest in the obvious. To see with the eyes is in the mind, to see with the third is to feel in the spirit, stirred soul to knowing becomes heard in the ears of the tender heart skin. It makes known - it moves - it has its being in the air between breathing and silent stillness. Drawing in the experience, release the pain. Soul yoga - stretch, stretch, stretch further - ah, it feels, I feel. Hear the barking of spirit muscles? Premonition? Too ugly to consider, yet, why, could, no, yes, maybe. Now you see what you never wanted to understand in the hearing of the zone between, the space of thinness, no, yes? The Raven in flying with the dragon.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Once again baseball has tortured my soul

I am very weary of professional baseball and actually baseball in general. My minor league roommate, John McLaren, an extremely class gentleman, was named interim manager of the Nationals after manager Jim Riggleman resigned due to mistreatment by the Nationals management. John had managed the Mariners briefly and that ended without him having much a chance when the players preformed poorly. It appears now that John is going to resign from the Mariners (two days later) - hard to know whether that was forced or not. The Nationals have named Davey Johnson manager who last managed a game in 2000. (I guess he learned something in his eleven year absence?) Baseball is a business, no one understands that more than I do - however, it is a business that functions as if slavery were still an accepted form of business. What makes me so weary is that it is so obvious to me the insidious behavior of baseball owners, and television (cable) that manipulates the game has filtered into college baseball (ASU being cheated out of a regional, maybe because the NCAA didn't want ASU at the World Series because of their violations or because ESPN didn't want them their because of the marketing of the new Longhorn network - and the firing of friend Dave Stapleton from Grand Canyon University). Even at the high school and grade school level where club baseball rules and the poor are pushed aside. This started years past with my own treatment in professional baseball and the horrific treatment of Kevin Wickander and Dave Stapleton (at the professional and college level). I am weary, this punishes my soul. I must find some rest.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mystic Way

The Mystic Way opens our soul to “abide” in God. To abide in God is for the Spirit of God to be in our spirit and our spirit in the Spirit of God.

It’s like this. Two lovers gazing eye to eye in the intimate stare, hands locked, fingers interlaced, palm to palm – as if nothing in the world can come between the two lovers. Time stands still. God and I, face to face, my consciousness connected at the unconscious level to the very consciousness of God – deep intimacy – pure contemplation. Nothing can come between us.

But, alas, it seems that something is trying to pry our hands apart. Is it evil? No. Worse, it’s something that is insidious – it the well-meaning, the good, that which is most seductive, something that convinces us that the sacrifice of our soul’s energy is worth the cost – it could be the “anything” of doing good deeds. And this well-meaning function will break our contemplation of the true calling of God to our specific “work” and purpose in life, and that, indeed is worth the “cost of discipleship.”

The Mystic Way teaches us to be in the intimate state of contemplation, which is fed by the Eucharist, the Communion of and with the Holy and with the community. We are nourished by the Sacrament, which we must faithfully attend to in order to be sustained through the frenetic onslaught of the “good demands of the functions of life.”

The Mystic Way teaches us that in our contemplation, nourished by the Eucharist in community, we will hear the fetching of the Holy to our true “work,” our real “purpose,” into the action of our life.

The Mystic Way is a difficult journey - walk slowly, allow the integration of being to be with the Being, it is a Holy pilgrimage, hold it lightly and be held.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Awe

We are a Resurrection Community. Our vision is one of prayer, discernment and hospitality. Evidence of being a Resurrection Community and living out our vision surround us.

At Lent One we began three Sunday morning services. In 2010 our average Sunday morning attendance was 120 and before Lent One we were running slightly ahead of that number. Not counting Easter Sunday, which by the way this year we had 50 more than in 2010 – we have averaged 140 – now that’s pretty amazing. Over the last five years our attendance has increased ten percent each year – and this year we are on pace to exceed that rate of growth.

While numbers aren’t everything - they are the measuring stick often used to determine how we are doing. For a frame of reference the average Sunday attendance for an Episcopal Church is 66. And the average age is 62. While I haven’t done an exact calculation, my guess is our average age is in the mid-thirties.

That leads me ask two questions, 1) what good things have we done to create this growing environment and, 2) what’s next?

This morning’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles contain the answer to both of those questions.

The early days of the Church were held together by a tiny band of women and men, including the Apostles, Mary and Mary Magdalene. These people were a radical Jewish sect, a new spiritual movement that lived a subversive life.

In one sentence (Acts 2:42) their strategic plan and vision statement is outlined for us. “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.

First, they devoted themselves – this kind of devotion to the apostle’s teachings created an inner transformation in the lives of those who devoted themselves to the practice of studying the scriptures. Their devotion to the scripture transformed their souls and changed their actions. These people were so devoted to the apostle’s teachings that before they were called Christians they were known as “The people of the Way.”

Second, they devoted themselves to hospitality. In verses 43-47 it tells that these people shared all that they had with each other. They gave what they had for the benefit of others. They were good stewards of their resources.

Third, they devoted themselves to a Eucharistic life. The Eucharist was the center of their worship life, which was the model for living their life out in the world. They followed Jesus Christ who emptied himself for the sake of others and they worshipped Jesus by breaking the bread and they worshipped Jesus by modeling his life.

Fourth, they devoted themselves to the prayers. There is strong evidence that these followers of the Way memorized the Lord’s Prayer, the psalms and other pieces of scripture they used in a very liturgical style of worship. These people prayed together as a spiritual practice of life.

And when they devoted themselves to these four spiritual practices, scripture, hospitality, Eucharist and prayer – God added to their number.

From the birth of the Church, devotion to these four spiritual practices have been the marks of every successful Christian community.

1. The community studies the scripture.
2. The community is hospitable.
3. The community life is Eucharistic.
4. The community prays together.


I think our growth can be attributed to our “commitment” to these four spiritual practices.

But, now the question is, “What’s next for us?” Do we go around congratulating ourselves about how successful we are? Hardly. While we can be proud of our commitment – I have a hard time thinking we stand up to the measure of the early church being filled with awe because “many signs and wonders were being done by the apostles.”

I think what’s next for us is to move from being committed to being devoted.

Committed means, we do what we do because we think that whatever we are doing is good for us, or that it’s the right thing to do.

Devoted, however, means, we do what we do because, despite the cost and the sacrifice, we know it will transform our soul and the soul of our community.

We are on the cusp of being awed by the wonders and signs of what God is going to do in our midst. But, to go from the cusp of the experience to being in the center of an actualized experience, I believe we have to move from commitment to devotion.

Together, we must discern and hear where God is calling us into the spiritual practices. Trust God’s calling – we will know it is God’s calling when it has the feeling of being fetched into something that is awe inspiring, filled with the wonders and signs of God’s Presence in our midst.

What’s next? What’s next is something that is awe-inspiring. I can feel it. I can hear it coming.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

I found something

My first trip to the Clergy Leadership Project held in West Cornwall, Connecticut was October 2009. I came on the recommendation of a colleague that I trust and knew that if he thought it was good for me to be here – then it must be so. However, I wasn’t sure why else I was here. The people I have met are wonderful and the facilitators and mentors are superior to any other program. But, still, I was unsure that first week why I was here. You see, this group of 25 priests is the future bishops, deans, movers and shakers of the Episcopal Church. I am the oldest person here by ten years and one of the priests here is the same age as our children. I am not called to be bishop (thank God), dean of a cathedral, not a mover, and probably not a shaker, though, at the moment I will hold out on that one.

Painfully, though, the first week I lost something dear to me. While on a stroll through the woods I lost a ring that Cathy bought for me in Ireland – my anam cara ring. More importantly than the monetary value of the ring, the sentimental value – well, is indescribable. I was heartbroken. Cathy reminded me that it was just a “thing,” but still, my heart aches.

By the time I got home, I understood the loss of the ring to be a sign – but, I was torn as to a sign for what – did it mean I was not to return to Connecticut for another CLP class because if I came back I might lose something worse, or did it mean I needed to return to look for the ring? I took a risk, because I enjoyed the program, and came back.

I did look for the ring – obviously, to no avail. It was worse than searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack – good grief, it was six months later following the New England winter.

Honestly, I knew it wasn’t the ring I was supposed to look for – but I wasn’t sure what it was I needed to find – so I trusted that if I kept my soul’s eyes open it would find me.

Two years and four classes later, I found it Monday. I found a part of my voice yet undiscovered. For the first time in my life, I was able to speak out in a large group of peers, and to a celebrated Harvard economist (the founder of Mother Jones Magazine and architect of Greenpeace for the love of God) without halting, with passion (that didn’t come across too harsh) and without the needed crutch of swearing. (Yes, I have also discovered that cursing has always been my thinking and space defense.) I spoke out in critique, with compassion, yet in control, calling for the powerful voice of the Church to be the powerless voice of God in the margins. That was met with an expectation of explanation and then a challenge – and shocking myself, I could do so – without being self-defensive and in a persuasive way. More importantly, I didn’t recognize this myself until a colleague pointed it out to me later that evening.

How did that happen? I don’t want to analyze it – I just want to live into it. My soul has found another layer of its voice. My soul and my voice have become one and I am along for the joyous evolutionary ride. It is frightening and something I must be aware of and use with intention and caution – but I have found the potential of my holistic voice.

What does this now mean? Well, I just found it – and I’m not sure yet – I think it’s a maturation, discovery, evolutionary thing, most likely. And I intend to lean into that with full harmony. Maybe, now, I’ll stumble across my ring in the space between.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Response to the killing of Osama bin Laden

A Response to the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Jesus said love your enemies. We acknowledge, that at times, this seems
to be an impossible task. We have compassion for and pray for our
leaders who have made difficult decisions, that would drive us
to our knees. The hard work of building a more just, peaceful and
equitable world continues. We pray, therefore, that "God's holy and life giving
Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us
may crumble, suspicions disappear, and barriers cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through
Jesus Christ our Lord."

I have spent the day in deep prayer, discernment and conversation with my sisters and brothers at the Clergy Leadership Project. The death of Osama bin Laden and our Church's appropriate response has consumed our attention. As sisters and brothers of Abraham and followers of Jesus, we are called to a path of love, justice and peace for the citizens of the globe. It is most appropriate that we spend our time in prayer, as guided by our Book of Common of Prayer and studying the teaching of Jesus in our Holy Scripture to determine how we should respond. Those teachings are clear, "we are to love our neighbors as ourselves - and we are to love our enemies." These are the hard teachings of Jesus and our common prayers. Let us be willing to take the risk of building our souls by being true to who Christ has called us to become.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tenebrae, Wednesday of Holy Week

Last night was our Tenebrae service, not something that is practiced in many Christian churches much less the Episcopal Church. But we have a five-year tradition going. The service has evolved each year. Last night we started with some of the church’s artificial light on and with candles all around the altar. We chanted the Psalms, had three readings, extinguishing candles as we went. When it came time for the 51st Psalm all artificial light was turned off. And then for the Eucharist only the two altar candles and the Christ candle were lit. Communion was celebrated in the light of three candles. It was a lovely service and well attended by our standards, nearly 40 were present.

By observation there were folks there from our Sunday eight o’clock Rite One service and young adults from St. Brigid’s Community. However, there was a noticeable absent from our Sunday nine o’clock, traditional Rite 2 BCP with organ, crowd. Where were they? Why didn’t they attend this service? I have noticed that the Rite One crowd attends the Wednesday night healing services with an occasional St. Brigid’s person thrown in. Where are the traditional 1979 BCP with organ people?

Is the idea of healing, chanting, and praying in the dark foreign to foreign to that generation? It is my generation, but I love the service – what’s going on here? Have these folks been infected by the “happy Jesus, life is always about Resurrection, theology?” There is something here and I can’t quite get my theological finger on it – just yet – but I will keep mulling it over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday of Holy Week

Tuesday of Holy Week 2011

Governor Jan Brewer did the sensible and reasonable thing and vetoed a bill granting the right to carry an open or concealed weapon on any right of way of a college campus. Thank you for using common sense – something evidently that was lost on the Arizona State legislators.

Of course the Governor did sign the slashed budget that will cost hundreds of educators their jobs and further reduce the quality of education in this State (where are already 50th only a spot or two to go and the conservatives will have achieved their “goal” of one more “reason” for the complete privatizing of public education). On a personal note, Avondale Elementary School District where Cathy, my wife, is the Superintendent, had to cut $1.5 million out of their budget and eliminated several positions district-wide. That was a gut-wrenching and heart-breaking decision for Cathy and the Board, but they had no choice.

The reduced State budget also eliminated Department of Economic Security support for poor working parents to receive childcare – meaning that potentially, nine children in St. Augustine’s Preschool will have to go without quality childcare. Where is the sanity in that?

It is Tuesday of Holy Week – in Arizona Lent has been long and arduous on many levels. But, we still come to this week walking with the hope of the humble God who risked divinity to become one with us, so that God might fully be with us in our moments of pain, frustration and even our death. Thanks be to God that we worship and follow a God who knows our troubles at the deepest and most personal level. In times like these, that hope seems to be all we have to move us forward to the next day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Imagine a peaceful response

Imagine a Peaceful Response to the Tenth Anniversary of 9.11

The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Rev. Gil Stafford were invited to Virginia Theological Seminary to participate in a conversation about imagining a peaceful response to the tenth anniversary of 9.11. Aided by a Luce grant, VTS brought together 44 people. Episcopal bishops, priests, deacons and laity (including ten seminary students) joined together with Islamic Imams and laity from 19 cities and eight countries.

For three days, eleven hours a day, we struggled intensely with theological, philosophical and practical questions. We asked risky and courageous questions about our religious differences. We sought to understand our similarities. We opened ourselves to be vulnerable and to listen to one another. We heard our stories of pain. We listened to one another’s fears. And we imagined what God was saying to us, as a global community.

We heard stories like Ahmad’s. He is the Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe. In the fall of 2006, he and three other Imams were waiting to board a plane in Minneapolis to travel to their home in Phoenix. Before boarding the plane, they said their prayers. As they boarded the plane one of the passengers passed a note to a flight attendant saying he heard these four men saying Allah before getting aboard. The passenger also thought it was suspicious that one man was wearing dark glasses while on the plane.

Subsequently, Ahmad and his three friends were handcuffed and escorted off the plane. The man wearing the dark glasses was elderly and blind, however, he was forced to walk down the jet way, unaided. Obviously, he was frightened. The four men were detained and questioned by the local police and the FBI. After five hours they were released and told they had done nothing wrong and were not suspects for any crime. They were told they could return to the terminal and arrange a flight to go home. US Airways, whose flight they were originally on, would not take these four men as customers. Eventually, they were able to buy tickets from Northwest Airlines to make their way home. These men had their civil rights violated, which was later proven in court.

We heard other personal stories, Muslim and Christian, of prejudice, hatred and marginalization that have increased in our country. Our group came together to share in one other’s pain and as human beings, to acknowledge that we could listen and hear deep into our souls.

Our task was to work together with our local communities in planning healing events for the tenth anniversary of 9.11. In Tempe, we plan to build on our second annual event of listening to the Abrahamic stories of our roots. We will honor our sacred texts, Torah, Bible and Quran. We will hear stories from our traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic. We will listen to one another and we will fellowship with one another.
In Tempe, we are supporting a new young adult interfaith group, iMagine, and we will be joining with them as they lead us to develop a service project for September 11, as President Obama has encouraged us to do.

And in Tempe, at St. Augustine’s, with Bishop Smith’s approval, our congregation has invited Imam Ahmad to be our guest preacher at our 10:30 Sunday service on September 11th.

Our delegation of three also committed to inviting our fellow Christians and Muslims from our neighboring communities across Maricopa County to join us.

These events, we are praying together, will allow us to imagine a new way of listening and working together. Yes, we do have theological differences, but we do share many similarities. Most importantly, we are human beings, God’s creation called to serve God’s creatures and be good stewards of God’s creation. We can only do this in our global economy if we begin to see with the eyes of God’s new imagination for us in the world in which we live. Only if we see with the heart of God’s economy can we reach out with our hearts to embrace one another as sisters and brothers.

I left VTS with a renewed spirit, an encouraged heart and a resolve to my commitment to listen to the intention of God. I left VTS knowing that listening to the heart of God is risky and may require courageous action. I left VTS with a deeper appreciation of our Episcopal tradition and Church that calls us into a new imagination of living in a global village. And I returned home with a new anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9.11, one that is hopeful and not

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hopeful plans for 9.11

The soul, body and mind are spent. We have given all of our selves, kenosis, for the good work of developing interfaith peaceful gatherings for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Rev. Gil Stafford made some preliminary and tentative plans for our community. For Tempe, we made an offering of hospitality. On Sunday September 11 our plans are hopeful. Imam Ahmad Shqeirat will be the guest preacher at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish on the morning of September 11. We want to encourage our interfaith young adult group iMagine to engage in a service project on the afternoon of September and then we will all gather in Tempe for our second annual Abrahamic Traditions Storytelling event.

The blessed experience of these three days is to know that we in Tempe, the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, are doing a good work – a work that is unique across the communities of America. I am very proud to be friends with Dorothy and Ahmad and I am filled with the joy of God and inspired by their personal commitment and leadership in our community. I know that our actions are risky and dangerous – but I believe that our new imagination can foster peace and healing in our community.

Thank you to the Luce Foundation and to Virginia Theological Seminary for these blessed and power filled three days of being in the presence of God and our sisters and brothers of Islam and Christians.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interfaith work in Washington, DC (oh yeah, Jesus drank Guinness)

Today our interfaith group did the hard work of sharing our theological stories. We were challenged with the question of “suffering,” in our traditions of Christianity and Islam.

We quickly found some questions that caused us both to struggle within our own traditions. Is suffering inevitable or necessary? Is sin inherent or inevitable? And is sin and suffering related? It was obvious that our group of Christians did not stand in a theological unification – and neither did our sisters and brothers of Islam.

We found some ideas of commonality. God has created us and God will forgive us. From God have we come, to God will we return. We have all experience both sides of life, both good and bad. We are responsible as Christians and Muslims to reach out our sisters and brothers who are suffering the bad of life.

And, of course, there are some differences in our theologies – the theology of suffering and the suffering of God caused quite a long and passionate conversation – and the Christian idea of Trinity is not coherent with the monotheism of Islam.

What came out of this very long day of conversation, dialogue and discussion was a better understanding our of sisters and brothers, Christian and Muslim.

God moved among us as we gathered to pray together at the end of the day. We heard stories of personal suffering, lifetimes of pain, and stories of prejudice. We laughed, we cried, and most importantly, we listened.

We gather again tomorrow to envision the possibility of creating safe and sacred spaces for our communities to gather locally to hear the stories of our sisters and brothers of the Abrahamic traditions.

Oh, by the way – Jesus did drink Guinness (or maybe a highly alcoholic beer). One of our participants has done excavation of holy sites in Jerusalem. Their work had uncovered Philistine beer mugs. The Philistine’s produced a wheat beer (IPA maybe). So maybe, at those weddings Jesus was turning water into wine, he might have also been sharing a pint with his mates. Slainte and blessed Saint Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Peaceful Response to 9.11 session one

There are 49 of us at Virginia Theological Seminary developing plans for a peaceful response to the tenth anniversary of September 11. There are teams from Louisville, Bethesda, Washington, DC, Alexandria, Tempe, Pasadena, Webster Groves, MO, Harrisburg, PA, Dearborn, MI and from the seminary as well South Africa, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Malawi and Peru. There are seven Bishops and the Deans of two seminaries here. Included in the group of some of the most prominent leaders in national and international interfaith dialogue. One of the presenters described this group as a Nobel Prize collection. If any group could come up with some ideas, it has to be this collection of intelligent human beings.

Today, we started with the basics of “listening;” working on our skills of truly hearing one another. We learned to listen with our mind, our hearts and our hands. We focused on listening for the facts, the emotions and the actions. And we experienced being listened to at the deepest level. Honestly, it is hard for a room full of clergy and educators to listen to each other – we are very equipped to tell, but listening pushes at some of our edges.

The most profound moment came at the end of the day when we asked questions that have gone unanswered since September 11, 2001. Why have American Christians responded, or not, as they have? How are Muslims dealing with the pain inflicted on them by a few radicals of their own religion? Do all Muslims have the same interpretations of the Koran? Do all Christians have the same beliefs about the Bible? These were hard questions to answer and explain in groups of three. These triads worked hard and then reported to the plenary. The expressions were intense.

Tomorrow we move closer to planning. The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, the Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat, and Dr. Catherine Stafford are here with me. It has been a long day – and tomorrow will be longer still. Pray for us that we can be creative as we develop strategies for our communities.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Border water

It was a sweater weather morning underneath a shear blue sky. We drove west of Naco on the Mexican side of the border. The road was rougher than a washboard – at one point we got a little air under Seth’s truck. We journeyed between a multi-million dollar US wall on our right and an old Mexican farm barbed-wire fence on our left. My guess is that the fence on the Mexican side did its job better than the US wall was doing its work.

The Border Guard drove on the north side of the US/Mexican Border wall taking careful notice of us. Paradoxically, there were a few random horses scattered across the rolling high desert south of the ancient barbed-wire fence that also took notice of our travel with curiosity.

After four anxious miles we spied the lone blue flag that was flapping just above the desert brush. Under the blue flag we knew we would find a twenty-gallon drum of water intended for those who were intent on climbing the US wall just yards across the way.

Coming out of the Mexican desert were dozens of fresh footprints. We stood among the evidence of migrants gathered around the water tank. Our voices were as silent as theirs. Our minds reflected on those who had journeyed before us and on those who would follow.

Our small group gathered stones from the dry wash in order to build an Ebenezer. Together, we blessed the stones, placing them where migrants would walk across them. It was our contemplative intent to bless them because we all are making a very similar spiritual pilgrimage – one of desert, fear, uncertainty and hopes for a better life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Prayerful Response to Tragedy

A Prayerful Response to Tragedy

Saturday, St. Brigid's Community was gathered at Chapel Rock Retreat Center in Prescott, Arizona for our annual Young Adult and Young Family Retreat, when we heard the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others had been shot. We gathered around cell phones, computers and televisions to read and to listen to reports as they unfolded.

Like most people that I know, we were in disbelief, confused, frightened, uncertain and clearly without words to express our overwhelmed spiritual and emotional selves. We, in other words, were in shock.

Being the leader of our group it took a bit to process this on a personal level and then to gather myself, and our group, for a community response. We did the only thing we knew to do, and what millions of people did, we prayed. And we are still praying.

On Sunday our community gathered in worship at Chapel Rock. Sunday was the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our practice on this particular day to renew our Baptismal Covenant. The Baptismal Covenant begins with a question and affirmative response to the Apostles Creed. The Creed is followed with these questions.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

We are asked to respond to each question – “I will, with God’s help.”

In response to tragedy, in response to that which steals our words and freezes our emotions, we are called to pray. But, then, what do we do when our words return? Do we fall prey to the temptation to make a response with our words that is as violent as a gunshot? I am praying that our community will not do such a thing. I am praying our community will continue to pray and to respond to our Baptismal Covenant with the words, “ I will, with God’s help.”

For the remainder of January and maybe for some time beyond, I am asking the St. Brigid’s Community and the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish to renew our Baptismal Covenant each time we gather to worship as our response to violence. These may be the only words we can say with any confidence and any promise of hope for something good to come from something so dark.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Tears at True Grit?

True Grit, brought tears to my eyes.

Reading that there was a re-make of the John Wayne movie, I was skeptical and decided I didn’t want to see the 2011 version.

Hearing that Jeff Bridges was staring as Rooster Cogburn made me hedge – realizing the Coen brothers were producing the film, pushed me over the edge. I saw it on the eve of New Year’s Day.

Bridges, was, well, Bridges – that’s why I went to see the original, to see John Wayne be John Wayne – and Bridges did not disappoint, he played himself, extremely well.

Matt Damon gave a great new interpretation to his role as Texas Ranger Laboeuf. Good thing, Glen Campbell almost ruined the original. Fortunately for the moviegoers, Campbell never did another movie. And Damon did nothing to diminish his excellent career.

Haliee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross gave a stellar d├ębut performance – she may have actually up-staged her more experienced co-stars. The chemistry between the three actors produced timely “western” humor and as artists, they created a believable story that was well worth the time and money.

The Coen brothers kept to the story and did nothing but enhance the “old western feel.” The movie had that “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood, touch going – nice. Using hymns as the soundtrack had its desired effect. However, the scene with Cogburn carrying Mattie on Little Blacky was hooky; sorry guys, you blew that one. Sometimes, you have to “fill your hands you Son-of-a-bitch,” and just shoot the scene without telling a story.

I would see the film again – I own the original, I’ll probably own a copy of the Coen brother’s version.

Admittedly, I was probably the only person in the theater with tears in their eyes at the end, or any other time for that matter. And, truthfully, it probably had nothing to do with the movie itself.

John Wayne was my grandfather’s “guy.” And True Grit was his movie. We watched it together dozens of times. He died twenty years ago this month. Watching Mattie Ross stand at the foot of Rooster’s grave with “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” playing over the scene, well – it was the end of the year and a time for reflection. The tears were filled with good memories. Thank you Coens.