Tuesday, June 30, 2015

when being nice isn't enough

Today at the convent we’re celebrating St. Peter and St. Paul (transferred from yesterday).  I was asked to find the short non-scriptural reading for the Noon Office to go with a portion of the scripture for the day. When I found it, it spoke to me about so much of what we’re living in.  Peter and Paul were so very different, yet we celebrate them together.  When I think of all the issues we’re working through as a church and as a country, it seems a very appropriate feast to model our learning to live together.

Here is the reading I found. It’s the first few paragraphs of a sermon I found online.

Homily on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul Sunday June 29th 2008
By a monk of the Orthodox Monastery of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

 Today the Church sets before us the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul: the two mighty pillars of the Church; St. Peter, the Apostle to the Jewish Nation, and St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. When we venerate the icon for this feast, we often see Peter and Paul embracing one another in fraternal (brotherly) love. They both certainly were different people with different temperaments. They both ministered to two mutually opposed groups of people (the Jews and the Gentiles, i.e., the rest of the world.) And they both certainly had their differences, recalling when, to use St. Paul's words, he (Paul) at one time even “withstood (or opposed) Peter to his face, for he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11.) In spite of this apparent tension, however, we see today within this feast an example of how we are to live with each other in the Church. Certainly, as people from all walks of life, we will have differences. We are all different people with different needs. However, today's feast shows us that the Church is first and foremost a place where God's love reigns (as the Lord said, the world will know us by the love we have one for another.) It is this love from God that enables us to overcome our interpersonal difficulties and it is this love that reminds us that with God all things are possible, and hence, when Christ commands us to “love our enemies” it is with the full knowledge that it is His love and grace that will empower us to do so. God doesn't ask us to “like” our neighbors and enemies, He commands us to “love” our neighbors and our enemies, a task which is far greater and is not predicated on how we feel but it is a choice: it is a conscious decision on our part to will the highest good for everyone we come into contact with. Love is therefore a choice. It is how we choose to act/respond. The great Saints Peter and Paul exemplify to us that even if we are different and even if we have disagreements, we can still live and work together in the Church and we can find reconciliation one to another through God's grace and love, that is, if we are willing. Often times the only thing that stands in the way of us being truly reconciled one to another is a conscious choice to be humble and to say with heartfelt meaning to those who offend us the two words that literally BURN the devil: “Forgive me.”

Love is hard work.  Love is a choice.  Thanks to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, this is not a new idea. (What do you mean, you haven’t read it? Go do so immediately.)

And love isn’t about being nice. 

That one took me longer to grasp.

How many times I have heard my mother’s voice echoing in my head: “Why can’t we all just be nice to each other?”  What a difference it would make. 

And yet it’s not enough. Trying to do that, just that, is better than nothing most of the time – except when it’s not.  Just ask me about the dangers of mistaking niceness for love or for holiness (or so it looks to me in retrospect) and thus making things worse by not dealing with them right away.  

Case in point: hate groups. 800+ of them in the US at last count.  In 2015. Really.  Here’s a tweet I just saw that illustrates this.  (No idea who the original poster is, but he sure has a point.)

I used to think the racism problem was in the past… too many cheerful grade school books ingested and a sheltered childhood will let you believe such things until they smack you in the face. Apparently thinking people should know by now isn’t enough. Thinking that people will be able to see how false their assumptions are through simple logic isn’t enough. Being nice isn’t enough. Sometimes you just have to tackle things head on and get to work, or nothing will ever change. It's not the way to popularity, but that's not the point. Even Jesus didn't always manage to speak in such a way as to be well received. Looking at the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Proper 9B) reminds me of that yet again.

Being nice doesn’t always work in the best of situations, for that matter, though I usually expect it to. “We just thought if we were really, really nice they would like us,” I heard someone say. In a church context. It didn’t work. This is counter to all my childhood assumptions.

Apparently, however, it’s not just my family. 

*   *   *   *   *  

One thing I do appreciate about my parents is that they aren’t often threatened by argument. I don’t mean nasty arguments, hostility, opposing camps. Thank God I don’t remember that from them. I mean spirited discussion of issues where, when you set out your case, you expect an answer. My father was really good at explaining why he’d made a decision or why anything was the way it was. And he wasn’t afraid to admit he was wrong. From him I learned the value of sticking with an argument until there was clarity, or as much resolution as was possible. Even if it took years (women’s ordination – that one went on for well over a decade).  

Essentially: This is what I’m thinking. Come back at me. Not with guns blazing, but with a real argument about why you think something else is better. You might be right. I’m listening.  I still have a lot to learn.

Most of us do.

We know this. I know this. I’ve experienced it. And I still can’t always do it.

How do we engage in argument without having a fight instead? Without automatic retreat into “being nice” (and avoidant) or into polarized camps shouting at each other? 

I just read the most fabulous post on this by Anthony Baker of the Seminary of the Southwest. 
Here’s the opening of it:

Hospitable Language
What is an argument?  “Argument is an intellectual process,” says a frustrated client at the Argument Clinic in a Monty Python sketch.  “Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.”
“No it isn’t,” is John Cleese’s inevitable reply.
Among the Episcopalians gathered in Salt Lake City this summer, there will likely be a good bit of both argument and contradiction.  In fact, argument, that “intellectual process ”that seeks to persuade by connecting grounds to conclusions by way of strong warrants, is an essential theological task that often gets swept aside because we associate it too quickly with contradiction, contentiousness, or any of the other ugly directions that disagreement sometimes takes.  Arguments seem inhospitable.  Sometimes a necessary evil, but never an act of hospitality.
I believe this is the wrong way for Christians to feel about arguments.  Arguing is theologically important because when we affirm our faith in the Word made flesh, we are reminding one another that the eternal truth became humanly followable in Christ.  Not that we can fully comprehend it, of course.  But we can follow it, as the disciples followed Jesus, opening their eyes and ears to the life and love that he revealed to them.  Jesus is something like God’s argument, presented publicly so that we can gather round, ask questions, make challenges, and ultimately say, “Yes, I can follow that.”
What I appreciate just as much or even more is the careful explanation of the connection between this kind of argument and hospitality:
Far from being an inhospitable response to difference, an invitation to follow an argument is a kind of linguistic hospitality:  I respect you enough that I will place my conviction within a carefully crafted line of reasoning.  Rather than try to manipulate you with verbal tricks or posturing, or let you speak your mind and then take the floor from you, I will invite you to challenge my premises, question the strength of the warrant I offer, and meet my reasoning with an argument of your own.  This, again, is modeling the hospitable descent of the Logos in the incarnation.
Creating well-formed arguments, and following them, is hard work.  Much harder than either nodding passively or rushing to “an automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.”  But, then, no one ever said hospitality of any sort was an easy task.

There’s more in my head: recent SCOTUS decisions and accompanying reactions, the massacre of Charleston and half a dozen churches burned in the short time since, and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (#GC78), which is currently meeting and prayerfully arguing about many things, including hot-button issues and its own continuing structure. However, it’s past time to stop writing this, at least for now.

My prayer is that we all learn to listen. Listen, argue, listen, argue, and remember that arguing actually involves listening and thinking, not just reacting. And praying, in this case. 

Please pray with me. Pray for all of us in this country. Pray for all at General Convention. May God help us to engage in honest, loving, fruitful, thoughtful, prayerful discussion, that God’s will be done.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Presiding Bishop-Elect's sermon to Episcopal Youth Event 2014

Yesterday we elected a new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. And I am THRILLED with our choice.

I'll post more later, but I wanted to share with you the sermon I heard from him last summer when I was chaperoning the Diocese of Massachusetts' delegation to the Episcopal Youth Event.

"If you love Jesus, it will change your life."

I love a bishop who gets to the point!

So listen. And rejoice with me and the church. Pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance for Bishop Curry as he prepares for this new position (which he will begin on All Saints Day, November 1). And pray for the work of the General Convention as they continue to meet during this next week.

Friday, June 26, 2015

#GC78: what the heck this all is, anyway, social media version

What on earth are they all up to in Salt Lake City? The General Convention of the Episcopal Church is up and running! 

House of Bishops
House of Deputies (clergy and lay (non-ordained) deputies, elected by diocesan conventions, which are made up of members of each parish)

Meets every three years
Both houses have to pass resolutions (sound familiar?)

Reunions. More reunions. 
People handing out pamphlets. Or leaving them on designated tables. Or whatever this year's system is that attempts to let people share information without tackling others in the hall.
And lots and lots of booths for organizations and books and vestments and so on, including one for religious communities! Two of our sisters are there helping staff it.

And worship. The best part, of course, if you ask me. Even if you don't like the liturgy or the music or the preaching that day, breaking bread together reminds everyone of what - WHO - is more real than anything else. Thanks be to God. (Also, go listen to the last bit of the Widor toccata with jazz from today: https://vimeo.com/131935500 . Just, wow. I love this.)

Here's a video introduction to it. Not short, but not boring. Includes what they think will be the "sleeper issues."  Should we start a scorecard to see what predictions turn out to be correct? 

"Streamed live on Jun 10, 2015
Restructuring! PB Election! Blue Books! Trusted public figures! Witty back-and-forths!"

So that's the introduction.

To follow live, I've set up a Twitter list, so I think if you go to this web address you can follow the conversation.
You can also search for #GC78. That will have people I haven't found yet, but only those tweets that are actually labeled.

And here is the official media hub:

Let's pray for everyone there and the General Convention as a whole, that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit.

For a Church Convention or Meeting
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer 1979. p. 818

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why are you fearful?

Proper 7B                                                                                                    
Mark 4:35-41, Charleston Massacre

“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already swamped.”

Here on the coast you probably know quite a bit about windstorms. I imagine there have been plenty of nor’easters that have slammed through here. To be out on the sea in the middle of one… Have you seen the movie “The Perfect Storm”? Terrifying. A friend told me I’m not allowed to say I saw it because I spent over half of it with my eyes covered.

In our reading from Mark’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when the storm hits. Now these wouldn’t have been small boats. A little wind isn’t going to bother them.  Storms on the Sea of Galilee, though, tend to be sudden and ferocious. Caught in the middle of it - at night, yet - they are understandably afraid. If professional fishermen are frightened, there’s good reason.

This week we’ve been having a storm in this country. Wednesday night’s massacre in the church in Charleston sent us all reeling. It is staggering to think about the depth of hatred that would permit someone to sit for an hour in a Bible study and then shoot the participants. This is EVIL. Not tragedy. Not mental illness. Evil. We don’t talk a lot about evil, but if ever it needed to be named, it’s now. Racism is evil. Hatred is evil. Most of the time it’s better hidden, but the end game is still death. Even in subtle forms, it destroys us all, wears us down. Over time, drops of water created the Grand Canyon. As a friend of mine put it, events like these are more like squalls that are part of a much larger storm system.*

Events like this induce fear. 

But there is fear, and then there is fear. 

In our reading, when the storm hits, Jesus is sound asleep, no doubt exhausted from the crowd they’ve just left behind. And he just keeps on sleeping. Along with exhaustion, he must have had a sense of deep trust – trust in his friends’ abilities with their boats, and trust in God.  So after they wake him and he calms the storm, he asks them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

To which my initial reaction is, “Seriously, Jesus?”

What you can’t tell from our translation is the exact shade of fear Jesus is referring to here. He’s not talking about that gut-level reaction we have, a physical fight-or-flight reaction or the sense of danger that tells us something is really wrong. That’s a protective mechanism God gave us, a signal. If we were never afraid, we’d all go do really stupid things.

When Jesus asks them why they’re afraid, he’s using a word more like our word “fearful,” a word that refers to the kind of fear that makes us timid, causes us anxiety, makes us avoid problems. It’s a lack of courage, a state of fearfulness, not simply an instinctive response to danger. It’s like my hiding behind my hands during the movie, only in real life.

When Jesus says, “Have you still no faith?” he’s not implying that they should have sat calmly and assumed God would tow the boat to the other side without incident. One commentary on this passage states, “From the rebuke (“fearful”) it is clear that faith in Mark (which is the proper response to the gospel…) is not simply intellectual conviction, but also trust in God along with bold action when faced with serious threats to life and well-being.”[i]

And this is where the rubber hits the road–or the oar hits the water, as the case may be.
We are called to a faith that leads to action. This can be difficult. Frightening, in fact.

Responding in faith to the storm of evil we’ve seen this week will take courage.  What this looks like in each of us will depend in part on our personality and our history.
For some of us, it will be the courage not to give up after a long struggle, while for others of us it will be the courage seriously to consider the issue of racism for the first time.

For some of us, it will be the courage to speak up, especially when we hear racist remarks or denials of the problem from a friend. Those of us who are accustomed to speaking up, on the other hand, may need courage to keep quiet and learn instead of taking charge.

Some will need courage in order to risk expressing anger, while others will need it simply to face anger and listen to it. 

Standing up for what is right takes courage. So does admitting we are wrong and need to repent. 

Only faith brings this kind of courage. Whether we experience the vulnerability of speaking up or the vulnerability of opening our hearts along with our ears, we need the kind of faith that will allow us to move forward. We need to trust God enough to risk opening conversations about racism that will make most of us wildly uncomfortable. We’re not going to do it perfectly. We might not even do it well, but it beats not doing it at all. This violence is smacking us in the face – and some people in their very sanctuaries – and we can’t pretend it’s someone else’s problem. On Father’s Day especially we would do well to remember that we are all children of one Father. We are all permanently, intrinsically connected.

I’m not going to pretend I know what to do. Here’s what I do know:  Evil doesn’t go away on its own. I might like to cover my eyes as I did while watching “The Perfect Storm,” but hiding or denying its existence just gives evil more room to work. Jesus asks the disciples why they are so fearful.  If we’re disciples of Jesus, he’s asking us, too.

Let’s remember, then, that the story doesn’t stop here – not the story we read this morning – not the story we’re living now.  Jesus does shout down the storm – Peace! Be Still! And Mark says, “They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” When we realize who, in fact, Jesus is, we remember that more is possible than we can imagine.  Who ever would have thought that South African apartheid could be dismantled without civil war? It’s still far from perfect, but what has happened seemed at one time far beyond the bounds of possibility. Archbishop Desmond Tutu knew otherwise. THAT is what I call faith.

And so this morning I’d like us all to ask God for the grace of trust, the trust that brings courage to take the boat out into deep waters.  There are storms, but Jesus is in our boat with us. With him, together, we can weather anything.

[i] Donohue & Harrington, Mark, Sacra Pagina, p. 159
* wish I could remember who posted this so I could give proper credit... 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Benedictine chant from Norcia (Nursia)

And here's a short documentary on them which I haven't yet watched but fully intend to. Later on, I'll posts some of their other videos. Hope to find some that are just plain music, but I may have to save up for the album instead. Or whatever we call albums these days. No cover art for a download!

Description from YouTube:

In the Jubilee year 2000 the monks of Norcia breathed new life into the birthplace of St Benedict. Armed with only their faith and zeal they founded a monastic community which has been attracting men from all over the world to follow St. Benedict's ancient Rule. Many of their friends have long wanted an insight into the inner workings of their life and so they have produced this high quality up to date film which shows the monks as they go through the daily ora et labora. The title of the film, "Quaerere Deum", means to Seek God. This is the true calling of all monks, the first and most essential quality of an authentic monastic vocation, as laid out in the Rule of our Holy Father St. Benedict. 

For information, please contact:

Monastary of San Benedetto 

PBS video on Haiti and The Dominican Republic

As we wait to find out what happens with this border crisis, I'm hunting around online. I'm looking for prayer resources, but I keep getting sidetracked. Sigh. But I have found good things. Now, this is an hour long PBS special, so needless to say I haven't watched it. It's PBS, though, so I feel safe posting it in case it should prove helpful to anything else - and also so when I have enough time, I can sit down and watch it all myself. 

The blurb below is from the PBS site, to which I have provided a link below. The video itself is a YouTube upload of it since I wanted to share it directly, and I don't know how to embed the code. You may, however, wish to see the set of programs of which it is a part. (You can also buy the DVD set if you like.) 


Keep praying.  None of this is simple.

prayers, please, for the DR/Haiti situation

The situation going on in the Dominican Republic is not good, not good at all. Looks as though deportation of Dominicans of Haitian origin will begin tomorrow. Being born in the DR is no longer enough for a person to be a citizen. This ruling was originally made in 2013, with time being given for people who look Haitian, more or less, to prove they and their grandparents and so on are/were there legally; tomorrow that time expires. Those born after 1929 who can't prove their parents were there legally/were citizens will be deported. Never mind that it is and was a bit difficult sometimes to get paperwork in order... and back to 1929... really??? There are many people whose grandparents may not, in fact, have been there legally; who knows. That was a long time ago. These are people who have in many (most?) cases never been to Haiti and don't speak Creole.

The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians

Of course, none of this is new. And the history between the two halves of the island goes back centuries. What is now Haiti used to rule the entire island at one point. The US ran the whole island at one point early this century. Lots of things happened in between. 

Here's the Washington Post article that tells what's going on and the history of the past hundred years or so:
The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians

Some news outlets claim that everyone who is in the process of registering as a foreigner will escape deportation. Others claim that only 300 people have actually received their completed paperwork and that just being in process is not a protection. And then there are those who refuse to register as foreigners because they are Dominicans, period. A deadline being reached might not, in fact, mean mass deportations will happen tomorrow. Pretty sure it wouldn't up here. But buses being arranged and military personnel ready doesn't bode well.

Also, I saw a forwarded tweet with a picture of the front page of a paper, the headline reading something like "Haitian woman stabs boyfriend to death supposedly in self-defense." The journalist points out that headlines like these are often the precursor to anti-Haitian actions. No doubt... And think about it - a major newspaper's headline is a case of domestic violence leading to murder among people who would usually be ignored? Because that never happens (wish it didn't...)?



Here's a video I found called "Edwidge Danticat on Mass Deportation of Haitian Families." I don't know this media outlet, so I can't vouch for it, but Edwige Danticat is a well-known Haitian American author, not some random fringe figure.  

Please pray. And share. Whatever it is... I don't know what will happen, but it's not going to be good. May the Lord have mercy on all involved.

entomology question

So who's good with moths? I don't mean "in good with moths" or "a lover of moths" - I wouldn't say I'm normally either, having no love of the ones that might eat a hole in my good winter habit sweater - but I'd love to find someone who might identify this rather unusual and beautiful moth that showed up the other day. I tried Twitter first, but no luck.  Anyone out there know?

I think it must be a Tiger Moth of some sort or at least a relative of that family.  Any guesses?

I moved it off the sidewalk so our dog wouldn't eat it. It didn't look too healthy, but it was able to cling to the paper, at least.

I was guessing "Many-spotted Tiger Moth" while checking out photos on Google, but then I found a description, and they're supposed to be out west. Maybe it hitchhiked on an airplane - I found a receipt from Texas, of all places, lying in our driveway the same day. Stranger things have happened.

Not dead, but not feeling very good, poor thing...

In any case, he or she is lovely, and I hope the rest of you entomologically challenged people will at least enjoy the photos I have and imagine such a creature happily in flight.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Sr. Emily Louise, Sr. Brigid, and I had the joy of attending Saturday's diocesan ordination.

We left in unexpected rain, but still arrived in good time. To our delight, the rain had stopped, so we had a leisurely walk through the Boston Public Garden on the way to Emmanuel. I peered over at the swan, but she was still sitting on her nest. No sign of cygnets.

Dr. Seuss flowers in the Public Garden.
Anyone know what they are?
small green Dr. Seuss flowers also in the Public Garden, equally unknown to me

Apparently we'd been preceded by a great number of people, as the busker at the pond bridge greeted us with "It's going to be a great ordination!" Well, three sisters in habit might well be assumed to be following the crowd of clergy, I guess. I was amused.

getting ready for the service

After we'd arrived and were finding a seat, someone found us a took us up to a pew in the choir behind the pulpit, so we were right there to see everything. Nice surprise!

I left my purse with the Sisters and went back to join the clergy in process (red stole over habit) and had a nice chat with a priest from CT. Another moment of amusement ensued when she told me she'd seen us crossing the garden from her bus and also figured we were going. Considering most people don't even know there are sisters in the Episcopal Church, I find that even more surprising. Well, she was a priest... but then there are clergy who don't know. I won't comment further...

bulletin cover for the ordination

As usual in June, it was mostly candidates for the diaconate - all transitional deacons this time - along with one priest being received from the RC Church. And what a large group this year! I wish I had pictures of the group, but I turned my phone off instead of simply silencing the ringer. But wait! There is Twitter! and a priest friend who live tweets ordinations. And many other things. So we score anyway.

Veni Sancte Spiritus.... singing that, one feels it happening. The Holy Spirit definitely showed up. Joy, they say, is an infallible sign of the presence of God. But it was almost palpable when we were doing the laying on of hands - all priests were invited to join, so of course I did - at the reception of Fr. Brian as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

And Bishop Gayle definitely preached it! Go BE the Gospel, she said.

The place was packed, so I didn't really get to talk to any of the new clergy afterwards, but beforehand I'd seen the one I know from St. Luke's-San Lucas, Chelsea, where I used to serve. And I ran into quite a few parishioners, too. That, too, was a joy - especially when someone asked if I'd known S, who'd moved away to Nigeria. Yes, I had. And then there she was. I think I nearly shrieked, I was so delighted. Hugs all around. She's flying back tomorrow, but I made her promise to come to the convent next time she came over. Another parishioner assured me they'd already had that discussion. Nice.

By the time we left, it was sunny.

Sr KF texted to remind me to take pictures... oops.  Here's one for her!

We found a bench in the Public Garden where I could attempt to send a few of the pictures I'd taken. Then we just took a few more.

And then a couple of ladies stopped and offered to take one of the three of us. So we took them up on that.

It was a good day.

On the way home, I thought about my own ordination to the diaconate five years ago this weekend, also with Bishop Gayle, and the joy of that day.  So thankful.

5 years ago yesterday

Our Evening Prayer hymn really caught me, especially given my reflections on the day and on my own ordination, so I share it with you to close.

O Thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
upon the altar of my heart.

Jesus, confirm my heart's desire
to work, and speak, and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire
and still stir up the gift in me.