Vote your life

Last night was a tough evening for me. One of our major political parties pretty much handed the nomination to a racist bigot, many of whose ideas would involve significant injury to groups of people that the Bible commands us to protect. We’ve been seeing this coming for a while now, but I still felt a difference between knowing it was likely, and knowing it would happen.

For me, as for many, this whole campaign season has raised unsettlingUnknown questions: Are these really the priorities of our neighbors? Have we collectively failed one another, left large portions of our population in the dust, to the extent that this man appears to be a messenger of hope? What has happened to our country?

And so, last night, I voted. No, I don’t mean that I went to a ballot box or even mailed an absentee ballot. I mean that I voted for hope. I went to the website of a woman named Glennon Doyle Melton, a blogger who has become an improbable force for change, and sent some money to one of her projects.

Let me tell you about it. Glennon Doyle Melton spent twenty years addicted to alcohol and drugs and binge-eating, but then she found she was pregnant. (Not married, just pregnant.) And she vowed to herself that this child would be her life and that she would quit drugs and alcohol for that baby, even though she had not been able to do it for herself. She married a man she barely knew and they set to work to make a family together. Today, she is widely-followed blogger, an author, pursues an active career in public speaking, and has created two networks for change:  Together Rising, which harnesses the energy of the people who read her blog to funds project that empower women like the woman Glennon used to be, and The Compassion Collective, which does the same for a broader range of causes.

Recently, Compassion Collective has been focusing on Syrian refugees. Their last round of fundraising produced $713,000 for aid agencies working in Syrian camps in Greece, money that went for food, medical care, shelter, and solar-powered lights to comfort refugee children who are afraid of the dark. They held another fund-raising day yesterday; still waiting to hear the totals.

TheyAreBrave-600Why am I telling you this? Because I needed to be reminded, on a dark day, of all the ordinary, struggling, good people in our country who are still working to make a difference. Not through politics, but through the sheer force of their own compassion and the creativity with which they deploy it. I could have written about the men and women who guide visitors into their local hospital, or about the firefighters who risk their lives on a regular basis to help people they may never even meet, or about the nurses who manage to be patient with querulous people in pain, or even about the people in my parish community, who are tireless in finding ways to show compassion in this world.

I guess what I’m saying is this: it’s not up to our leaders to shape this world. It’s up to us. Each of us has a ballot, but each of us also has a life: the days and minutes and hours that God has given us. The ballot is a powerful tool and great gift of freedom, and every one of us should use it to support whomever we think can best lead our nation, our city, or our state. But of the two, the second is more powerful: what you do with your life.

I’m going to leave us with words from Verna Dozier, who wrote a revolutionary book called The Dream of God. She says,

“It is the task of the church, the people of God, to minister within the structures of society….Ministry is serving the world God loves. The people of God are sent to the world — the people of the world, not the kingdoms of the world, not the way of life that exalts one person over another, greed over giving, power over vulnerability, the kingdoms of this world over against the kingdom of God.”

How can you be a force for compassion today? How can you make a gesture (even a small one) that will bring the world one step closer to the dream of God, who made and loves us all? How can you vote with your life today?

____

Three notes:

  1. If you want to learn more about Melton, you can find her work at momastery.com. That’s also where the image with the calligraphy came from.
  2. If you want another way to help Syrian refugees (and if you live near DC), mark your lunch calendar for July 31st, when our parish will be hosting a falafel fundraiser to help several families in the DC area.
  3. It has been my faithful practice to remain rigorously neutral during election seasons. That’s not because I have no political convictions, but because the church has to be a welcoming place for people who disagree with one another about which policies and laws would best help all of God’s people in this country and in the world. It is only in such free (and sometimes heated) exchange of ideas that the best can emerge, strengthened by the very testing it has endured. But while I cannot endorse a candidate, I will not be silent about racism, cruelty, and xenophobia. There are times when faithful people are called to come off the fence. This is one of them.

 

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Teaching

I came close to pursuing a career in academia, but chose government service instead. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed playing a teaching role in just about every position I’ve held. When the Customs Service sent me to Hofstra University for five months of training in system analysis, many of my fellow students were struggling with statistics and principles of computer operation. I enjoyed tutoring review sessions in the evening in the empty bar of the Lido Beach Hotel, which was closed for the season, and where we were billeted.

At the Senate, when PC’s were first introduced, my closest contacts were the Senators’ office managers. I could see from working with them on accounting systems I was installing that many were baffled at the basics of working a computer. I offered to have sessions on the basics, like how a keyboard is similar to and different from a typewriter. I scheduled these sessions at 6:00 p.m. on Fridays, because it wasn’t part of my official duties, and I felt I had to do them “after hours.” Attendance and interest exceeded my wildest expectations. For about twenty years now I’ve enjoyed offering workshops in the Diocese of Washington, Maryland, and Virginia on the Daily Office. I realized many years ago that the teaching I enjoy is of adults who want to learn. My hat is off to those who teach children and teenagers and who struggle daily with trying to reach the uninterested; I could never do that.

At St. Alban’s, my teaching outlets have been few; mainly the acolytes. But I have savored it, and I’ll l miss it. But there will be others in the future, I’m sure. An ancient saying goes “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’m happy that it runs in the family. My son is a university professor; my youngest daughter is a ballet teacher with her own school; and my oldest daughter has tutored French since high school and has taught etiquette courses off and on for years. Jonnie Sue, as many of you know, had a flower shop for 20 years. She taught flower arranging in her shop and has done workshops here and in Maine.

Teaching is an occupation, for sure, but it is more; it is a calling, an avocation that can find expression in a fascinating variety of ways. So look around you. Someone might benefit from learning something you know.

Adapted from A Prayer for Educational Institutions
Eternal God
Bless all teachers
that they may encourage
sound learning, new discovery, 
and the pursuit of wisdom;
and grant that those who teach 
and those who learn
may find you to be
the source of all truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 3-May-2016.

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From Bones to Hope

One might think in reading the title to this Cup that I’m sharing a little of our Wednesday Morning Bible Study with you (we’re reading Eziekel, after all… dem bones dem bones dem dry bones) but I’m actually referring to an event this Friday and Saturday on the grounds of the National Cathedral Close, grounds that St. Alban’s Church, along with The National Cathedral School, St. Alban’s School and Beauvoir (the National Cathedral Elementary School)  shares with the Cathedral.  The event is called Flower Mart.

Some of you may remember that during Flower Mart a couple of years ago we set up tables in front of St. Alban’s Church and parishioners as well as passersby made bones from modeling clay as a contribution to the One Million Bones Project Read about one Million Bones here.  The event was a success because it allowed us to interact with people of all ages who weren’t necessarily churchgoers and at the same time raise awareness about genocide.

This year we won’t be making bones but asking a simple question:  What Do You Hope For? Parishioners and staff will be on hand to greet people and invite them to make their way to a large “chalkboard” and express their hopes on the board with colored chalk. We’ll also be handing out some elegant cards with the word Hope on one side and the church’s website address on the other.

As an artist I’m excited about what will happen Friday and Saturday.  I’m hoping the spirit will inspire not just words but maybe images too, pictures drawn by toddlers next to words written by the elderly or the secretly lonely or sad.  I’m also excited about what we might do next.  Perhaps on other occasions we can use the boards to ask other questions:  What Are You Thankful For?  What Do You Want Most?  The more I think about our conversation with the people that walk by the church every day the more excited I get. And I wonder what we might learn.

I also like the inherent risk of it all.  What do we do if the board gets filled up too quickly? What if someone writes something unsavory?  What if..?  Well, “We shall see” (literally), as my mom used to be fond of saying.  I’m not worried.

If you’re a parishioner and would like to help us as a volunteer on Friday or Saturday log on to St. Alban’s Church website and under the About Us/Clergy tab send an e-mail to Rev. Deborah or Rev. Emily.  If you’d simply like to participate in the project then please bring your creative spirit and contribute your Hope to the board.  Here’s a working drawing for what you’ll see Friday and Saturday:

IMG_2682

What Do You Hope For? St. Alban’s Parish 2016

I’m hopeful for a lot, by the way, but right now I’m hopeful that we can actually build this thing and that it doesn’t rain… at least not hard!

Happy Monday,

Jim+ 143

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Good Neighbors

What do we owe our neighbors? Not just those in visible need, but those who fit the more conventional definition – i.e. those who live right next to us?

Jesus doesn’t get points for originality on his response to this one. He quotes Leviticus (19:18), of all books: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Where he gets original is in the follow-up question. So who’s my neighbor? He responds, of course, with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? When Jesus gets the response, “The one who showed him mercy” (even though the one who showed mercy was the embodiment of the despised “other”), Jesus says “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

We’re pretty comfortable these days with this more expansive definition of neighbor. It’s the narrower, more traditional definition that gives some of us pause. How well do we know the people who live next to us? Does a polite “hello” or head nod as we pass in the hall or on the sidewalk count as love?

As an apartment dweller, I admit to a certain reserve when it comes to my neighbors. Sheer proximity makes overt friendliness a bit challenging. I hear them cough sometimes through the walls. I hear their babies cry. They hear more than they might wish to of my life. Given all the involuntary violations of privacy, isn’t it an act of respect (if not love exactly) to let my neighbors be?

In the case of journalist Peter Lovenheim, author of In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time, it was a tragedy that got him thinking more seriously about his neighbors. A murder-suicide happened on his street. One of his neighbors shot his wife and then himself.  Over the years that followed, Lovenheim wondered how the people who lived right next to this family, himself included, knew almost nothing about their lives.  He set out to change that sense of distance in some pretty interesting ways, including sleeping over at his neighbors’ houses. (To get a bit more of his story, click here.)

While I’m not recommending this as a general practice, I do wonder how well we do in our relationships with our neighbors – or what Lovenheim describes at one point as “a relationship of reciprocal responsibility based on physical closeness and the potential need for mutual aid” (p. 56).

It took the blizzard last January for me to meet some of my neighbors. Combatting cabin fever, we found ourselves actually talking as we dug out our cars. We loaned each other shovels and helped to clear the sidewalks of some elderly folk across the street. It’s not the kingdom of God in its fullness certainly, but it was a start.

I wonder what our lives would look like, as a city and as a parish, if we did more to cultivate the virtue of neighborliness – if we got to know our neighbors well enough to see their less visible needs, if (gasp!) they got to know us that well.

Come to think of it, I have a neighbor I’ve been meaning to invite over for dinner for months now. Maybe it’s time to get past my good intentions and actually take the leap. How about you? What might neighborliness look like in your world?

Peace,

Emily+

neighbors 2

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Hold It Up to the Light

Our front yard contains the stump of a tree that was removed before we moved in and another tree that is slowly dying. So, Chris and I have begun tree shopping. We have been to several nurseries and been somewhat dismayed at the prices of trees that are, well, Apple_Tree_2_Resized_largerather puny. On top of that, they don’t grow very fast. So, once we plant the tree that we choose, we are going to have to be patient for years while it grows into something a little less underwhelming.

This tree-shopping adventure reminds me of an exercise in an adult ed class at church years ago. Each participant took a turn being blindfolded and led through an obstacle course under the guidance of the leader. She would tell us what to do next after each step. I was perfectly fine with being instructed to turn left or right or to step forward or back but was quite discomfited when told to wait. I was very uncomfortable with my lack of control of the situation – there I was, standing in a space full of obstacles completely at the mercy of another, with my powerlessness on display for all to see.

As you might have surmised, this exercise was about faith – trusting another to take care of us when we couldn’t care for ourselves – trusting that others love us enough to keep us safe from harm. As you might also have gathered, I have control issues. It is one of the reasons that this faith business – this believing and trusting in God – is such a challenge. We often don’t get to see what comes next, and I, for one, don’t like that very much. Life is filled with those moments of choice – those crossroads, large and small – when we must choose a direction with, as I am wont to say, incomplete information. We don’t know for certain if this is the direction that God wishes for us to take, or will keep us on the “Red Road,” the name that Native American traditions use to describe our spiritual path. So, what do we do? How do we decide?

My favorite singer-songwriter, David Wilcox, has an idea. He says to “Hold it up to the Light.” He sings:

It’s the choice of a lifetime – I’m almost sure
I will not live my life in between anymore
If I can’t be certain of all that’s in store
This far it feels so right
I will hold it up – hold it up to the light,
Hold it up to the light, hold it up to the light

The search for my future has brought me here
This is more than I’d hoped for, but sometimes I fear
That the choice I was made for will someday appear
And I’ll be too late for that flight
So hold it up – hold it up to the light,
Hold it up to the light, hold it up to the light

It’s too late – to be stopped at the crossroads
Each life here – a possible way
But wait – and they all will be lost roads
Each road’s getting shorter the longer I stay

Now as soon as I’m moving – my choice is good
This way comes through right where I prayed that it would
If I keep my eyes open and look where I should
Somehow all of the signs are in sight
If I hold it up to the light

I said God, will you bless this decision?
I’m scared, Is my life at stake?
But I see if you gave me a vision
Would I never have reason to use my faith?

I was dead with deciding – afraid to choose
I was mourning the loss of the choices I’d lose
But there’s no choice at all if I don’t make my move
And trust that the timing is right
Yes and hold it up hold it up to the light
Hold it up to the light, hold it up to the light

Click here to listen. 

Peace,

Charles

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Singing to the Lord

UnknownLast weekend, I went with a group of parishioners to Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. The monastery is home to a community of Episcopalian monks. (This confuses some people, since the one thing everyone remembers from studying the English Reformation, other than Henry VIII’s inordinate proclivity for marriage, was the dissolution of the monasteries. This did, in fact, happen, but during the 19th century, men and women called to the monastic life founded new monastic communities within the compass of the Anglican tradition, and more are being formed even as we speak.)

The chapel is the center of life at Holy Cross; on an average day, the monks will spend about two and a half hours in there, mostly chanting psalms. This practice is central to Christian monasticism; the earliest monks, back in the 3rd and 4th centuries, used to pray all 150 psalms each day, alone, while performing manual labor. The Holy Cross monks have it comparatively easy: they go through the whole psalter on a two-week schedule, which leaves them with about thirteen or fourteen psalms a day.

The chanting gets into your bones. Most visitors find it challenging at first, but then it creeps up on you: the slow, measured pace; the simple tunes; the blend of those voices.

The blend is the key. To chant psalms well, you need to set aside your Unknown-1ego; no voice, not even a beautiful one, can stand out from the others. Instead, you need to listen to one another with great care: listen for the indrawn breath, for the pace, for the tone, volume, and pitch. That way, your voice can be submerged in the other voices, just as your life is woven into the common life of the community.

That listening is, I think, the best part of it, the part that is of real value. We are so well trained to speak our perspective, but most of us do not know how to listen well. There is a humility in it: setting aside our own concerns, opening ourselves the life of another.

Think about your own life: to whom do you need to listen? Make space to do that this week: your relationship and your very soul will be the stronger for it.

______

I was not able to find a video or sound clip of the Holy Cross monks chanting, but here is one from SSJE, a different order of Episcopal monks who are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

 

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The Prodigal Mom

On the flight home from Rome last week I watched a couple of movies. One was “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as a middle-aged woman who abandons her family in Indiana to pursue a calling to be a rock music performer in California. You can read all about it, of course, by just Googling the title and reading the reviews, so I won’t repeat any of that but rather share with you my own take on it.

In a way it is a “Prodigal Son” story, but in another more important way I think it is an affirmation of something that I and others have often written about in these essays – that each of us has a unique calling and that we don’t truly live if we put a bushel basket on it. It’s summed up in the old hymn, “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” Fully living into that potential to be the one genuine unique creature that God created us to be is always difficult; no one knows – no one can know – what we know about ourselves and our sense of who and what we are called to be. Our uniqueness inevitably, in and of itself, separates us to greater or lesser degree from even those closest to us.

Unanswered, unasked even, is why Linda, Ricki’s real name, had to leave home to pursue her calling. Why could she not that have been a rock star in the evenings right there in Indiana instead of having to move half a continent away? The question answers itself, of course; fulfilling her duties as wife and mother and home maker would have been so distracting and diluting that her calling would have been smothered. And a lack of support from her family wouldn’t have helped.

But still there are questions about this principle. What constitutes self-fulfillment as opposed to self indulgence? Would I feel the same about a neighbor of ours years ago – a Tom Jones groupie, who left her family for months on end, traveling around the country following Tom Jones to go to his concerts? I didn’t. And are there callings that are so beyond the pale that no one should pursue them – such as a contract hit man? Maybe; but maybe not. Another favorite movie of mine, Assassination Tango, starring Robert Duval, suggests that there might be a place in God’s universe for even the contract hit man, in this case, an instrument of justice.

The church’s teaching on this is pretty consistently on the side of individual self-fulfillment, seen most clearly in the sanctioning of giving up everything to pursue a religious life. We see that played out in real life and highly praised in movies. But there are caveats and conditions What if the one who left in “Ricki” was not the mom but the dad, the financial provider of the family, leaving them, perhaps, penniless and homeless? Not so justifiable, I’d think.

Perhaps for each of us it can be summed up in a prayer like this, “Lord give me the wisdom to truly know what I am supposed to be and to do, and the strength and courage so to be and to do in the most responsible way that I can.”

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 26-April-2016.

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