Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace

Sermon preached at Hughes United Methodist Church, Wheaton, MD on 6 August 2006

As I sat on the balcony of my cousins' house in St. Cergue Switzerland at the end of June, working on my sermon for this morning, I gazed across the wildflower laden fields that surround the house formerly owned by French philosopher Henri Bergson and across Lake Geneva at the grandeour and beauty of Mount Blanc and thought to myself that there could be no better home for the primary institutional representation of the movement toward church unity than in the shadow of such an iconic vista of the glory of God. Last night, at Chicago's O'Hare airport, rewriting the sermon I wrote in Geneva, I was struck by how my change of sermon writing scenery to rushing passengers, cramped waiting lounges and extraordinarily overpriced food is actually a much more accurate metaphor for the ecumenical movement in its present practice. You see, I have spent the last month and a half traveling across three continents visiting and journeying with various expressions of ecumenical community and getting an on-the-ground experience to balance out the idealistic vision of ecumenism that we are sometimes taught in the seminary classroom. This meant that the closely argued, thoroughly researched sermon on the Ephesians 4 text suddenly became inadequate in the face of the deeply personal situations and experiences I encountered.

The passage we read from the Epistle to the Ephesians this morning emphatically exhorts us to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called," and then goes on to assign to that life three virtues - humility, gentleness and patience - and one characteristic - unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It is this latter characteristic that concerns me this morning as it is a perfect definition for the goal of the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement is not concerned solely with church unity for its own sake any more than Jesus, in his prayer recorded in the Gospel according to John on the eve of his death, is concerned with unity for its own sake but instead he says that the goal of church unity is "that the world might believe." This is the same thing the writer of Ephesians is concerned with when he speaks of church unity in the bond of peace because belief in Jesus is belief in the Prince of Peace. Thus, the quest for Christian unity can never be a cheap unity, as some would surely have it, but must be a costly unity that will not even be satisfied with peace within the church but will insist upon a peaceful church in a peaceful world, a sure sign of the coming reign of God.

The first community I visited was the Iona Community. The Iona Abbey was rebuilt by the founder of the Iona Community, George MacLeoud, in replica of the 12th century Benedictine abbey that inhabited the site previously. The Iona Community is a disperced ecumenical order made up of men and women, mostly in Scotland and England but also elsewhere around the world, who have dedicated themselves to a life of prayer, bible study, and service rooted in a deep concern for social justice. As my own abbot jokingly pointed out, everything in the Iona community is about social justice, which gets tacked onto the end of every program theme so that the program I attended was subtitled "Gaelic spirituality and social justice" while other programs look at liturgy and social justice, public action for social justice, free trade and social justice, peanut butter and jelly and social justice; oh, wait, maybe not the last one, but they probably could do! The program was entitled "Where Three Streams Meet," which refers to the Gaelic tradition of going to pray for justice at the place where three streams meet. Throughout the week, we cosmopolitan pilgrims in attendance were introduced to Gaelic culture and language, the struggle to keep both alive under the forces of globalization seeking to supplant the Gaelic language, which is so integral to Gaelic culture, with English, and the violence exerted against Gaelic speakers by English speakers in an attempt to assimilate them. This cultural oppression is of concern to God because Christian spirituality is inherent to Gaelic culture and its oppression is a type of structural violence that does not always leave visible scars but deeply wounds the social psyche of these people of God.

My second visit was with the Taize Community in the south of France, a globally recognized ecumenical order that plays host to between three and six thousand people, mostly under the age of 25, each week of the summer every year, and slightly fewer each week the rest of the year. These droves are drawn from all over the world, bringing their various languages, cultures and lives together to share for a week in the daily round of prayer, study, work and rest of the brothers. Unfortunately, violence has broken through the Taize bubble. Some of you may be aware of the death of brother Roger, founder of the Taize Community, just about a year ago. During evening prayer, a woman sick with mental illness entered the church, passed through the thousands of people surrounding the brothers, cleared the verdant wall of shrubbery separating the brothers from the people, negotiated a crowd of small children surrounding brother Roger, and slit his throat. Immediately after it happened questions arose as to whether the brothers would increase security, installing metal detectors at the doors of the church, searching bags when people arrived. After much prayer and discernment, the brothers decided that they would make no changes in how the community operates. There are no metal detectors or searches. The only protection is the same shrubbery separating the visitors from the brothers that was unable at last to protect brother Roger. To some extent this response comes from one of the 45 thousand letters sent to the community, this one from the prior of the Grande Chartreuse monastery, which said, "The dramatic circumstances of Brother Roger's death are merely an external coating that serve to make yet clearer his vulnerability that he cultivated as a doorway by which, by preference, God gains access to us." Being vulnerable means being open, taking risks that we may be hurt or even killed. And yet it is by this very means that we have access to God. Thus the relationship between unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace beccomes clear as it is only when we are living in peace that the vulnerability necessary to spiritual life and thus Christian unity can exist unmaligned by fear and violence.

Last Monday afternoon I arrived back in the US from a two-week Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Colombia. While there we met with people, church leaders, and human rights organizations who suffer under constant and violent oppression by the Colombian government and military, supposedly demobilized paramilitaries, and guerillas. We met one family, out of 3 million in Colombia, who have been displaced from their homes due to being caught in the middle of paramilitary and guerilla violence. We met with a women's organization that runs a series of lunch houses to provide inexpensive meals to women, specifically single mothers, and children. They closed up one of their lunch houses one afternoon and when they returned the next morning discovered that the house had been torn down and both the structure and all of its contents had been removed from the site. They arrived to find an empty lot. Their house had been disappeared by paramilitaries! With met with families of victims of a massacre carried out by paramilitaries on the 16th of May, 1998 when they interrupted a community assembly on a soccer field and insisted that 32 men get on the back of a truck. Twenty-seven complied and have never been heard from again. The rest were shot on the spot. We met with union organizers and human rights activists who are unable to spend consecutive nights in the same place for fear of being assassinated. We met with peasant farmer activists who live in their office in the city because it would be too great a risk to go home at night. We met some of the farmers they advocate for who have been driven from their land with equipment provided by the 700 million dollars the US spends on military aid to Colombia each year, third only to Israel and Egypt, and the land is then taken over by president Urribe and the fourteen other major land owners in Colombia who already own 65% of the land. We heard about the Colombian Law of Justice and Peace, referred to by the people as the Law of Impunity, which was supposedly intended to demobilize the paramilitary but has instead had the effect of legitimizing their violence because they have simply reorganized themselves into private security forces and continue to carry out the same violent acts and oppression of the people that they have been engaged in for years, although now the government can deny complicity because they are "demobilized." We observed a demonstration by workers from the Coca-Cola plant who were protesting the assassination, arranged by the Coca-Cola corporation, of workers who sought to organize unions. We visited a community of displaced on the borders of the industrial city of Barrancabermeja and listened as our bus driver recounted how he lived in that ramshackle and destitute villiage thirteen years ago when paramilitaries came looking for him because he was a leading organizer of the workers at Ecopetrol, the nationalized oil company, and not finding him they assassinated his 20 year old son right there in the street where we were standing. We met with farmers who grow coca, used to make cocaine, who grow it not because they want to but because it is the only way they can subsist. Furthermore, US funded fumigations are being targeted by the Urribe administration against agricultural crops instead of coca crops, as evidenced both by the personal stories of farmers as well as the increase in coca production since fumigations began. Plan Colombia is a failed piece of US foreign policy proped up by multinational corporations who have a special interest in the instability of Colombia because it maximizes their profits. It is one of the winds of doctrine we are warned to resist being blown about by as it is trickery and craftiness in deceitful scheming.

So where is the church in the midst of this corruption and violence? To a large extent the churches are complicit in the violence, either turning a blind eye or even supporting and legitimating the structures that perpetrate it. But there are some churches, and sectors of other churches, who have taken a stand on the side of the poor and the oppressed. They have taken the side of peace because they know that it is the will of God, God's dream for the world, that they do so. We heard that 75 pastors have been assassinated in the past 2 years in northern Colombia. We also observed a popular assembly in Micoahumado, a small peasant villiage in the mountains of northern Colombia, which is a grassroots political organization for the surrounding area. At the assembly we watched as its facilitators welcomed the cooperation of Roman Catholic and pentecostal church leaders in guiding, shaping, and providing space for the assembly to occur. Many of the human rights organizations we met with were birthed in the Roman Catholic church and one of the most effective is still led by a Jesuit priest. We heard from a Mennonite pastor about an ecumenical proposal that has been put forward to try to reform the Law of Justice and Peace so that it effectively mitigates continued violence and oppression.

The movement toward Christian unity is an inherently missiological enterprise. Ecumenism has mission at its heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who take up the exhortation to "live a life worthy of the call to which you have been called" which takes as its primary characteristic "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." At its 9th General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil this past February, the World Council of Churches united missions and peacemaking under the banner of reconciliation. They did this in two ways. First, the missions agenda for the next eight years has been set to focus on reconciliation and healing. Second, the assembly approved the faith and order document entitled "The Nature and Mission of the Church" and commended it to the churches for study and reflection. The good news is that the church has not entirely lost sight of the dream God has for the world in which the wolf lies down with the lamb, swords are turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. A spirituality of justice and peacemaking is possible only on the foundation of a spirituality of prayer through which God imparts this vision and graces us the courage, strength, and perseverance to attain it. The writer of Ephesians exhorts us to such a life, a "life worthy of the calling to which you have been called," a life characterized by unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Computer Down

Hello all,

My computer is down and won't be up for a while so I won't be posting for a while. Everything is going great and I will post everything once my computer is back up.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WCC Day 1

When I finally awoke this morning and took a shower, John and Margaret informed me that Charlotte, who was arranging my visit to the World Council of Churches, had scheduled my first meeting for 11AM. She had told me that she would schedule them for this afternoon so I had to pick up the pace so we could get out of the house and into town in time to drop me at the WCC headquarters and then Margaret could get to her appointment. John, who worked for the WCC for many years in charge of the Muslim-Christian dialogue and then interreligious dialogue in general, coming out of retirement to help with the assembly this year in Porto Allegre, accompanied me to the offices to drop me off and then headed off to the United Nations where he has been working with the newly formed Human Rights Council.

My meeting with Simon Oxley was incredibly informative for thinking about ecumenical theological education and formation. My primary question upon entry was about how to address conflict through ecumenical formation. What Dr. Oxley encouraged me to do was to reconceive my question in order to realize that some degree of conflict is inherent to the formation of a truly ecumenical consciousness, even as the success of an ecumenical community is a function of how it conceives, engages, and resolves that conflict. While for many churches faith is a function of certainty, confidence, and conviction, Dr. Oxley framed the ecumenical vision of Christianity as being more fluid and self-critical. He also made an important point regarding distinction and distance. Often Christian communities conceive their identities by creating distance between themselves and the other in the cause of preserving their particularity. Dr. Oxley made the case for more closely aligned distinctions such that particularity is not lost but enriched and refined by coming into contact with difference, something that I have noticed in my globalization studies but that has yet to become internalized by many identity formation processes.

I had an excellent discussion with the Rev. Jacques Matthey regarding ecumenism and mission and was encouraged to hear that he is working on may of the same issues that we covered in my course on ecumenism and mission this past spring. He indicated a two track program for mission over the coming years, the first being reconciliation and the second being healing. The notion of reconciliation brings in many of the issues of justice that the WCC has historically been known for championing while adjusting the paradigm to help conflicting parties live together in peace as opposed to focusing so much on one group overcoming oppression by another. Reconciliation is understood as reconciliation amongst groups, between individuals, and in the relationship of humanity and God, the last of which brings in the theme of evangelism which the WCC has been accused of neglecting in the past. The healing side of the mission movement takes a holistic approach to the wellbeing of the person, both physical and spiritual. It also brings in the pentecostal experience of healing which is more highly spiritualized than the more secularized western approach. The most interesting thing about these two tracks, from my perspective, is that they lead to a greater integration with what are classically defined as issues off faith and order, namely that of ecclesiology. If the message of the church is reconciliation, then the movement toward ecclesial unity becomes central because the message is eviscerated by the lack of reconciliation within the church. The only coherent response to the churches would be to say "Doctor, heal thyself!" Nevertheless, church unity can never be other than a unity in diversity, and so the tension is really walking a knife edge. We concluded our discussion talking about the changing ecclesial nature of the churches in general and the move to more localized expressions of church as opposed to the large denominational institutions. Rev. Matthey lamented that the WCC has been unable as yet to embody this developing reality even as he predicted the final fall of the institutional denominations in about 15 years or so, making it of central importance to my generation of theologians and church leaders. Clearly, I am in the right place in the Lindisfarne Community since our spirituality is so ecumenical while we express a glocalized church structure.

After that meeting I met up with John and we decided to get some lunch at the WCC cafeteria. On the way we ran into Tamara, an Georgian Orthodox friend of John's who works in the faith and order side of things, and invited her to join us for lunch. She was excited to hear that I am from Boston because she is working on bringing a workshop to Boston to discuss the newly adopted ecclesiological document approved by the general assembly last February. We talked about local Boston theologians to be in contact with and I hope my new position as facilitator of the International Mission and Ecumenism Committee of the Boston Theological Institute might be helpful in making this happen. Our conversation turned to some of the tensions amongst Protestant and Orthodox theologians and I expressed my own identification with Orthodoxy as a way to mitigate the sometimes less than positive effects of the western Enlightenment without falling into a postmodern relativism. Our meeting just went to prove that the chance encounters are at least as important as the scheduled meetings.

After lunch John took me on a brief tour, pointing out the library and taking me into the assembly hall and the chapel. The assembly hall is a warm space with a green tapestry embroidered with an image of Christ surrounded by symbols of the various regional churches and framed by a covenantal arc, a fig tree, and a vine. They are set to have translators into six different languages and generally to conduct business much as any international organization, but with the focal point definitely being Christ at the center of the tapestry. Upon entering the chapel there is a ramp down that is carved with symbols pointing to the water of baptism. There are chairs set up around a central alter with a low, wood carved iconostasis such that worship from virtually any denomination could occur there. There is a beautiful organ and a grand piano for music and there are worship and music books from many denominations and from around the world. Beautiful icons adorn the walls. The chapel too is a warm space, but much lighter than the assembly hall. Perhaps some day I will have the privilege of worshipping there with an ecumenical body of Christians.

We returned to L'Echapee via Nyon so that Margaret could pick up her glasses and John and I went to poke around an old castle and some Roman ruins in the town that dates back 2000 years or more. From Nyon we stopped by to visit Bossey Ecumenical Institute, a center for training the next generation's ecumenists run by the WCC, which now offers both masters and Ph.D. programs. The buildings are classic Swiss architecture and the chapel, similar in style to the one at the center in Geneva but smaller, is in a large stone tower. We walked around for a few minutes and noted the view down to the lake. After returning to L'Echapee we have taken a spot of tea and conversed about the problems and promises of the ecumenical movement and the church in general.

As I sit here on the patio, looking down toward the lake while rain clouds roll in, I am struck how the light haze the clouds bring make the Swiss country side stretched out below us look exactly like the paintings I have seen hanging in galleries in North America. Even as some of the most important international work in the world, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and the WCC, amongst many others, is being done in Geneva, it is only a few short kilometers away that one can find cow pastures and vineyards. Somehow Geneva has been able to find a delicate balance between intense and pressing global concerns and the more pastoral life of the spirit. Where better to explore and to practice ecumenical community?

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Longest Day

The day really is quite long when one stuffs so many hours into it. My Delta Airlines flight from Austin to New York City took off at 7:25AM and landed at JFK at noon. I was rather rudely shocked toward the end of the flight when the flight attendant got on the speaker and asked us to pray for all of the soldiers "doing such important work on our behalf" and then proceeded to play "God Bless America" on the airplane sound system! After quenching my sense of having been insulted, I reflected that what was really going on was a proselytism of the American nationalist religion. Note that I do not call it a religious nationalism, which is the more common term, but a nationalist religion, appearing in this instance in a mostly secular form but frequently appearing in a syncretism with Christianity. Nationalist religion turns the nation state into a deity and takes as its central tenets the authority of the state to set the moral agenda and the sacred nature of national institutions. My orthodox Christian sensibilities were quite offended by this as I was quite sure my rights were somehow being violated; certainly they would have been had the government been responsible for this public enforcement of religious expression. Of course, this sensibility itself is a conflation of religious indignation with nationalist rights. Perhaps it would be framed better to say that the prophet within me wanted to denounce this prophet of Baal as utterly ineffectual and to cry out with Amos:

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to their spouses, "Bring something to drink!"
The Sovereign God has sworn in holiness:
The time is surely coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
even the last of you with fishhooks.
Through breaches in the wall you shall leave,
each one straight ahead;
and you shall be flung out into Harmon,
says YHWH.
-Amos 4: 1-3

After checking my Europe bag in at the British Airways counter, I took my Colombia bag with me into Manhattan where I joined my uncles, Doug and Alex, for brunch. We went to a restaurant called Imagine. I was quite surprised when they led us through the restaurant out the back into an alley with outdoor seating. My surprise was less about the alley and more about the fact that I realized that this was a filming site for a production made by a couple of Ithaca College Park School of Communications students about getting a date with Drew Barrymore that I had seem with some friends a year ago at IC. This was the restaurant where the date actually occurred! The shrimp quesadilla could have had more shrimp but the margarita and the dessert were both stellar. During our comings and goings from their apartment, we stopped and watched the gay pride parade that started at noon and lasted for about five hours. People lined fifth avenue, 8th, and Christopher St. to watch the festivities. Many of the segments were quite funny and everyone was in good humor about it. It was good to see that at least the whole world has not gone insane.

My flight to London ended up being delayed for an hour and then it took us an hour to taxi from the gate to the runway. Thankfully, this time I was flying British Airways which has superb service and is actually quite comfortable given that I was flying coach. The attendants were very friendly and helpful, although I finally had to tell one of them to stop refilling my wine glass! Now that is a wonderful problem to have! I sat next to a couple heading back to London from holiday in New York. Unfortunately, they ran out of the regular vegetarian meals but they had an alternative in a spinach sandwich that was actually very good. The Indian family sitting behind us was unfortunately not as conciliatory about the situation and made a bit of a fuss about the fact that there were not enough vegetarian meals on board. I slept quite well and woke feeling relatively refreshed, at least as refreshed as possible when sleeping in such small quarters on an airplane.

We arrived in London a bit late due to our late departure and so I got some morning exercise tearing through Heathrow terminal 4 to the opposite end in order to catch my flight to Geneva. I arrived just in time and had a very pleasant flight but unfortunately my checked bag did not, as I discovered upon landing. I met my cousin John at the airport who helped me file the claim with the baggage agency who promised that it would be delivered to the house later that evening. We drove out from the airport discussing the family and arrived at L'Echapee in St. Cergue about three quarters of an hour later. The house is a good ways up one of the Swiss Alps and overlooks Lake Geneva right toward Mont Blanc. Until 1941 it was the residence of the French Philisophe Henri Bergson. It is truly a stunning location with beautiful yards full of wildflowers, (and snails as I discovered in my explorations later in the afternoon). John and Margaret were hosting friends from Brooklyn and currently have a Korean buddhist living on the third floor as he prepares to finish a degree in hotel administration. Margaret served what she described as a modest lunch that started with white wine and sushi, continued with a first course of salmon, and then moved on to the main course of Hungarian style rabbit with sour cherries, various green vegetables, potatoes, salad and bread with a choice of white or red wine. Of course, no Swiss meal is complete without the cheese plate being passed around, and it had to be passed several times as we were entirely taken with the Gruyere and the soft cheese with black truffles in the center. Just as I thought I would burst my belt, John came out from the kitchen with strawberries and whipped cream, a huge bowl of fresh fruit, and coffee. So much for a modest lunch.

We talked together until about 5PM when Margaret and John's friends left and then I took a power nap before John and I took a hike up the mountain to pick up some fresh Gruyere cheese at the local cheesemakers' house. While the cheese was being prepared, we went around the house to contemplate the view of Lake Geneva and the dozen pink pigs in the pen who happily grunted at us. We returned to the house and delivered the cheese only to discover that Margaret had prepared yet another stunning meal, this time consisting of salad, grilled vegetables and meat, more bread and cheese and wine and fresh fruit, and tea to finish off the evening. Margaret kept insisting that it was a modest meal but it was better than I eat except when home with Mom and Dad or when visiting Doug and Alex in New York and we go to some of the finest restaurants. The truth is that it is Margaret who is modest while her food is delectable and superb. Finally, it is time for bed and a much needed rest after such extended travel with very little sleep. I am sure that I will rise refreshed as the bed is very soft and the fresh Swiss air invigorates mind and spirit.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Promise of Ministry IV: The Power of Prayer

Our silence broke at noon with the pealing of the chapel carillon followed by a procession of the Christ candle, me bearing a bowl of incense, and a choir of handbells. We processed from the entrance to the chapel down to the hall where we would eat lunch. As the bells played, people began to appear from all over the campus, converging on the clarion sound and the wafting incense. As people arrived I contemplated that fact that the emergence from silence had some things in common with our arising from the prostrations during the service of ordination a week prior. We arose as the congregation said, "Awake, O you who sleep, and arise from the dead." The pealing bells rang out as if calling us to arise from the dead. In both cases, it is interesting that death is a symbol of the place where we find a renewed and deeper sense of life, and in both cases that sense of life is brought forth as prayers rise up from the intercessions of the congregation symbolized by the rising smoke of the incense (see Psalm 141). Whether the prayers are silent, as at the conference, or spoken, as at the ordination, it is in prayer that we find the source of our life and being and lift our souls to God in thanksgiving (Eucharist).

Several of the returning fellows spent the afternoon baking communion bread at Laura's home. Laura is a returning fellow who goes to Austin Presbyterian and her husband is also in seminary there. I arrived late, just in time to have missed the actual baking but to participate in the fellowship we shared afterward. It was nice to be able to sit and chat about our lives beyond our preparation for and exercise of ministry. Contrary to popular opinion, ministers are human beings with diverse interests and talents beyond our vocations as servants of God and God's church.

Later in the afternoon we arrived at the chapel for rehearsal for the service Sunday morning. Becky and I had to leave before the service so we helped Gary, one of the faculty worship leaders, prepare the chapel for Taize prayer later that evening. We set up stations around the chapel with icons and candles. We also set up stations with alternative focus points to images as some segments of the church still struggle with the veneration of icons (even though the iconodules won the day at the seventh ecumenical council). For example, Becky and I spent a good half hour traipsing around campus finding branches and rocks and moss and flowers to put in a vase as a floral focus. We also found a mirror and set that up at a station. There was a footwashing station and my new four evangelists stole was draped over the processional cross at another station. It was exciting to be part of the process of conceiving the chapel space to be a place for contemplative multisensory reflection. We entered imaginatively into the experience of members of various traditions to try to create a space that would be inviting and open to all. There is a deeply gratifying feeling in helping people experience the presence of God mediated in ways that they are able to enter into fully.

Following a splendid banquet where I shared table fellowship with four extremely promising undergraduate fellows we returned to the chapel to light the hundreds of candles we had scattered about at the various stations. That process took a good twenty minutes with a dozen of us participating, including having to take the paschal candle down from its stand in order to light it because the torch had run out of wick. I had been invited to participate in the service as one of the four clergy anointing for blessing and healing. I wore my community habit and used the oil that was presented to my by the Lindisfarne Community at my ordination. As the service progressed, people approached for anointing and asked me to pray for specific concerns. The most common themes among them were openness, clarity, and reconciliation. I was struck by how deeply these budding ministers were seeking to align themselves with the will of God, trusting that their own fulfillment is somehow bound up in so doing, even as my own process of seeking was brought back to mind. God gently reminded me through the prayers of the fellows that my own journey toward living into my calling is still ongoing and I too must constantly seek God's will and then accept the grace given to do it. There is a great deal of power in the sacrament of anointing. There is a dialectical process of kenosis (self-emptying) and pleroma (filling) to it where the person being blessed makes room for God in their petition for a blessing and then God becomes present at the invocation of the Spirit in the name of the Holy Trinity. The person doing the anointing becomes a channel of that divine presence and a representation of Christ to the person being anointed. There is a great deal of responsibility inherent in the task and no little risk of abuse of the role. I was humbled that the Lindisfarne Community has regarded me equipped and capable of this task as I prayed for a steady stream of up and coming ministers in the church of Christ.

Following the service was the annual coffeehouse, a talent show of sorts, at which many fellows displayed extraordinary gifts. I presented "the Gospel According to Eddie Izzard" again to uproarious laughter even as I worried about what those I had just anointed might think now that I was spouting "heresy." Others shared talents from the profound to the ridiculous. Several talented singers and pianists shared what they considered to be meager gifts but which were really quite good. My friend Bonnie presented "700 years of the Protestant Reformation upside down," where she stood on her head and told the story of the reformation. Unfortunately, she fell over midway through. She was less than successful in getting back up, and on her third try exclaimed, "I have to tell you about Schliermacher!" which was probably the funniest bit of the whole act. Some of the acts were quite serious, and the evening ended with a presentation of a DVD clip of the work being done by an organization called NASP, a Seventh Day Adventist group, who work in areas that have been decimated by war, famine, natural disasters, etc. Many tears were shed as we observed starved children being laid in coffins and AIDS stricken families huddled together in huts. I felt a deep anger well up within me as I knew that many of these global ailments are well within our reach to address, and yet the sins of greed and selfish pride obstruct even those with the best of intentions. The "politics" of the situations imbue leaders with a fear of taking action, thus legitimating and tacitly approving continued negligence of all life as made the image of the Triune God.

The evening moved from prayer and anointing to heresy and drunkeness. Not really. The heresy of the coffeehouse was all in good fun and I do not think any of us really got drunk as the returning fellows imbibed the liquor that had been given to me by a friend in Mexico to be drunk after my ordination. It is called "Tarrasco" and is related to Tequila but not quite the same thing. A few of us returning fellows sat around late into the evening talking and sharing and imbibing the spirit. It was wonderful to share it with people who had walked with me in my journey into ministry. We promised to stay in touch and said our goodbyes as two of us had to leave at a truly obscene hour in the morning (one at 4:15 and me at 5:25AM!). If the power of prayer that I experienced over these past few days is any indication, then the promise of ministry looks to be a bright future indeed.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Promise of Ministry III: The Sound of Silence

Silence. The echo resounds as 200 people slowly and silently depart the sanctuary after morning prayer. We began our silence at 9:00 this morning and will break it at noon. Some have eagerly awaited this opportunity since the conference began while others shift nervously at the idea of being alone with themselves and with God for three whole hours. As I pointed out to several friends yesterday, silence really has nothing to do with not talking. The practice of not speaking is simply a tool that makes possible the creation of inner space in which the voice of God can speak. And so we ended morning prayer this morning by saying "speak, God, for your servant is listening."

Evening prayer last night lifted up the faithfulness of God, something that is easy to lose sight of as the realities of ministry are explored in detail during the course of the conference. At morning prayer this morning we introduced a bowl of incense that we borrowed from the Episcopal Church right across the street from the seminary, symbolizing our prayers rising up to God. Tonight we will have prayers around the cross in the style of the Taize Community, who I will be visiting in just a few short weeks. The biggest difference in the conference this year as opposed to the past two years is that this year I am focused on worship. The worship has always been the most striking thing to me about the FTE conferences I have attended, but this year it is really the entire thrust of my being here as a returning fellow. Even as it can be sometimes frustrating and fast paced, there is something truly wonderful about being given the opportunity to create the space for others that was created for me by others at the last two conferences. Before I would enter the chapel for morning and evening prayer and it was there that I was able to bring the new things I learned and the new experiences I had to God, but now I am responsible for creating the space in which over 200 other people are able to do the same thing. There is something appropriate about this taking place just after I have been ordained a deacon and my function in the church has been forever changed. Before, as a lay person, it was appropriate for me to be there in the space that had been created on my behalf even as my very presence shaped the space, and now, as an ordained clergy person, it is appropriate that my role reflects my function in the body of Christ. I find deep peace in that.

The returning fellows stayed in the chapel late into last night stringing beads for short chaplets for use in the chapel service this morning and during the time of silence. During our arts and crafts project, we shared about our faith and bounced around many of the questions that seminarians are want to discuss at any available moment, questions of denomination, theology, hermeneutics, and practice. For some reason, last night I was speechless, which those of you who know me realize is a rare occasion, and those of you who do not know me can probably figure out from the length of my posts. It was as though for me the silence had begun early, not a silence adopted for the purpose of the practice but a deep silence that welled up from God deep within my soul. The questions that were bouncing around the group were the types of questions that I love to dive in and tackle and take apart and analyze and discuss and dispute and even sometimes put back together, but last night I had the sense that any answer would have been inappropriate. I was content to sit and listen and string beads on fishing line. As I considered this experience even as it was taking place, I realized that I have every confidence that I could provide some sort of answer, perhaps even a good answer, to any of those questions, but that doing so, at least then and there, would have been unnecessary, inappropriate, superfluous, and utterly inadequate. Later people in the group asked me questions about the Lindisfarne Community and I responded, but it seemed out of place to speak even as I provided the best explanation I could. There was an existential shift in those moments, a few moments of transcendence beyond the questions and the answers to a deep, profound, even erotic desire for communion with God and with God's people. Now I wonder if this experience is in any way tied to the ontological change that I believe occurs in ordination. Is this an experience of my very being having been shifted? I do not know. That is the best answer I can give to this question, and it was the best answer I could give to any of the questions last night. I have no answers, not real answers, only prayers.

A cool rain has subdued the broiling temperatures here in Austin. It is appropriate that rain accompanies our silence. Rain washes and cleanses the earth and provides sustenance for plants, animals and people. Silence washes and cleanses our souls and sustains us in God's Spirit. Our prayers rise before God as incense, the lifting of our hands as a morning sacrifice. The echo of silence resounds in our souls, effecting our kenosis (self-emptying) to prepare the way for the coming of the pleroma (fullness) of Christ.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Promise of Ministry II: Challenge and Insight

The FTE conference is proceeding wonderfully. It still seems like there is way too much to do and far to little time to do it in, but in some ways that too is the promise of ministry, our conference theme, so I suppose it is appropriate. Worship has been well received for the most part, although it was reported that at one seminar a Southern Baptist fellow indicated that the service of morning prayer was "cute" but meaningless because we did not have preaching. <<<Sigh>>>

My first seminar was on "Who's Controlling the Sanctuary," which probably should have been required for every returning fellow before we were set loose to plan worship. The seminar leader, Edward Foley, is a Capuchin priest from Chicago, and he pointed out that seminarians enter the systematics or biblical studies classrooms with some degree of humility, but when they get to the worship class they all believe themselves to be experts. He had us reflect on our own presuppositions about worship and then helped us think through a method of evaluating and adjusting those presuppositions. The central questions of the seminar focused around worship as an exercise of power, with power defined as the flow of dominance in a relationship, and defining ritual as a technology for negotiating power. This has been a central concern for the church, a matter of much ecclesiological reflection, during the mid to latter part of the 20th century as an understanding of the role of the laity, beyond that of observer, developed. These are very important questions for me as well as I go to visit the communities at Iona and Taize who have developed ecumenical liturgical resources which seek different flows of power than many confessional bodies. At the same time, Prof. Foley was able to point out that certain aspects of worship that seem to be more distributive of power can actually concentrate power in places we do not necessarily expect. Watching these dynamics in action will be a new aspect to the various visits I make over the course of the rest of the summer.

Following that seminar was a plenary session by Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest who has been involved in nonviolent peace building for over 25 years. This was the perfect lecture for me given the work I will be doing in Colombia in less than a month. John, as he asked us to call him, exhorted us to be disciples of the nonviolent Jesus. He says that the whole point of Christian spirituality is to try to get your life to fit in the life of Jesus, to make sense in the light of the gospel, to be present in the story whereas the spirituality of violence says that violence makes peace; we must throw out gospel and Jesus because they are too naieve and turn to Cicero, Just War Theory, the Crusades, and ultimately blessing killing and war. In no uncertain terms he denounced the spirituality of violence so prevalent in the church throughout history as heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, and sin. It was a poignant reminder to me when John mentioned the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 because I will be preaching at Hughes UMC on the 61st anniversary of that bombing. It was also poignant when he said that as Christians we should have a vision of the heart that sees every human being as a sister or brother, a child of the God of peace, and so therefore all of us are already reconciled. It is this very reconciliation that is at the heart of the ecumenical movement and at the heart of the text (Ephesians 4: 1-16) that I will be preaching on in August. These are hard things to hear and even harder things to practice, but it was encouraging to know that there are people like John who are willing to do whatever it takes to live into the realm of God here on earth. May God give me strength to walk the way as well.

During the seminar this morning, taught by Dr. Katherine Turpin, we looked at faith formation in consumer culture and came up with "The Beatitudes of Consumerism:"

1 When Sam Walton saw the crowds, he went up to WalMart; and after he sat down, his sales associates came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the rich in stuff, for theirs is the large house in suburbia.
4 "Blessed are those who get what they want, for they will be comfortable.
5 "Blessed are those who take out extensive lines of credit, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who eat at McDonalds and drink at Starbucks, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are those who acquire at others expense, for they will receive money.
8 "Blessed are the brand loyalists, for they will see rebates.
9 "Blessed are the salespersons, for they will be called bearers of good tidings.
10 "Blessed are those who buy on layaway, for they are the true worshippers.
11 "Blessed are you when people admire you and envy you and utter all kinds of jealousy against you legitimately on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in the Supercenter, for in the same way they envied the stars in the public eye who were before you."

Dr. Turpin pointed out that being aware of how much we consume and even how bad that is for us and for our world is not enough to actually make us convert from the religion of consumerism, whose high holiday is Christmas with the pilgrimage beginning the day after Thanksgiving and whose priests are sales clerks who receive our sacrifice (money) and then give us our redemption (whatever it was we bought and they even give us a receipt), because there is no motivation to do so; there is cultural capital and comfort built into the consumerist mindset. There must be an experience of justification that comes from beyond ourselves to ignite the conversion process and then we must participate in a community that nurtures the process along if we are to have any chance of successfully escaping the idolatry and blasphemy of worshipping at the cash register altar.

We have been building a lot of periods of silence in to the various worship services in hopes of preparing conference participants for three hours of silence tomorrow morning. Silence was integral throughout the service this morning and the service tomorrow morning is focused on slowly moving into the three hours. There are some people who have expressed some discomfort with the idea, but for the most part people are embracing it and at least are willing to try it. I am excited about that because silence is so integral to my own practice and it is something that I have been lacking over the past few days due to the fast paced liturgical development we have been engaged in. I pray that it is fruitful for everyone involved.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Promise of Ministry I: Ministry at the Speed of Light

I have in fact arrived safely at the Fund for Theological Education Conference on Excellence in Ministry at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The reason that I have not posted anything since I've been here is because us returning fellows have been tied up planning liturgy at a rate practically beyond comprehension. There are nine of us returning fellows who were ministry fellows at the conference last summer, which means we successfully applied for a fellowship that funds a special project in ministry, (in my case this massive trip I have embarked upon). This year we have accepted the invitation to return hand help plan and celebrate the various liturgies that happen each day of the conference: morning and evening prayer with Eucharist on Sunday morning.

We had several hours of planning scheduled before the conference began on Wednesday morning and early afternoon. We would have had more time if some of us had not gotten lost on the way back from lunch, a situation made worse by the fire department sending us to the wrong seminary when we asked for directions! There are a few things that have made the planning process a bit frustrating from my point of view. First, very few people have had a liturgy class in seminary yet as that is usually reserved for the second or third year. I am in somewhat of a different situation having been thoroughly immersed in creating liturgy in my work with the ICPC and having studied sacramental theology with the Lindisfarne Community. The returning fellows have been placed in charge of planning and celebrating morning prayer and then helping celebrate evening prayer, but both projects become daunting when the vast majority of those responsible for them are unaware of their history, form, etc. The second frustration is that we have adopted a "liturgy by committee" approach which means that several small groups are responsible for a different morning each. There are many points at which such an approach can fall apart. It would be very easy for the diversity of the group to produce a liturgy so diffuse that it lacks meaning instead of providing a balance amongst myriad traditions. It can also lead to a lack of coherence when the diverse traditions are brought together in such a way that the flow of the service becomes broken and choppy. So far we have been able to avoid such a fate, but the process of developing the liturgy has sometimes felt more like a tug of war than a mutually constructive endeavor. Finally, the speed at which these services have to be produced belie the contemplative mindset they are intended to embody.

Last night my new friend Laurie, who is part of the group planning the liturgies, and I spent several hours putting the bulletin to bed and so were unable to get to bed ourselves until almost midnight. This morning we celebrated morning prayer and it went very well. I began the service with a Byzantine chant I learned in my chant classes at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline this past year. The strangest things come in handy sometimes. Each of the elements of the service was presented creatively, at a speed conducive to reflection, and with plenty of silence for contemplation. At the end, we picked up the rousing "Alleluia" we had sung earlier in the service and danced out the back. The service was prayerful in spite of the pace of its planning.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I spent the afternoon and evening yesterday with friends in Ithaca. After having lunch at Diamond's, a wonderful Indian restaurant on the commons in Ithaca, with Andy, Jane, and their daughter Rebekah, I met up with my friend Gibson and we went up to Ithaca College so that I could visit my old stomping grounds. Our first stop was Muller Chapel. As we walked through the dimly lit corridors and into the bright and spacious sanctuary I was reminded of the beauty of the space and of my four years of spiritual growth and development. At the same time, as I noted to Gibson while leading against the altar table in the sanctuary, gazing out over the pond toward the island with the peace pole and the geese prancing about, I thought I would miss it more. The Muller Chapel space is stunning, but it is the people that pray and fellowship together there that make it truly special. The chapel was deserted, as it usually is during the summer months, so there was a pronounced absence of that personal element.

Gibson got me a copy of the new glossy brochures she had designed for the Protestant Community at Ithaca College (ICPC), the campus ministry organization I dedicated four years to during undergrad. It has a wonderful picture of the chapel and the pond on the cover and details about the work and worship life of the ICPC. I noticed that the mission statement that a number of us had worked hard to craft during my time at Ithaca College had been rather drastically changed, most notably the first sentence which now reads: "The Protestant Community is a witness to the reformation ideals that focus on Holy Scripture and "the Priesthood of all believers." I am a bit confused as to how this statement emphasizing ideas that split the church can be reconciled with the nature of the ICPC as a "fellowship of ecumenical Christians," but the good news is that it is not my problem any more.

We walked up to the music building to poke around the practice rooms, see if any of my former professors were around, and listen for any of the wonderful music that the Ithaca College School of Music is so well known for. Like the chapel, the music building was pretty much deserted, being run on a skeleton crew for the summer. As we walked back across the campus to the campus center so that we could go find something else to do, I confirmed for myself that I have indeed moved on. My life is now in Boston and there are new and exciting adventures to be had there. It is not good to live in the past, although we must never forget it lest we be doomed to repeating it, but to look forward toward the goal.

Gibson and I decided to go hike the rim trail of Taughannick Falls gorge, something we had done with a group of friends just before I left Ithaca last summer. It was rather warm but not too hot for a hike along the mostly wooded trail. As we walked we talked about just about everything while we absorbed the abiding spirit of the place, surely the Spirit of God. The water cascaded many stories over the falls and crashed uproariously into the river below, flowing on into Cayuga Lake. The trail was rather wet in many places from the thunderstorm earlier in the afternoon and we picked up our fair share of mud. There is really nowhere like it to walk in Boston. I love the city and all of the opportunities living in the city provides, but city life is not nearly as "complete" as many would have it. There are joys in life that simply cannot be had in the city. And this I do miss. I miss being able to go just a few minutes away and observe, up close and personal, the majesty of creation unmarred by the human hubris to believe that we know better how to arrange our environs, leveling mountains, raising valleys, draining bogs, and digging canals. There is a purity to the pristine splendor of the coursing river as it bursts forth over the edge of the falls to crash against the rocks below and then flow onward only a few hundred more yards to the lake. There is a raw exhilaration to observing literally tons of water flow with the grace of an eagle's flight. There is something in this experience that prefigures the unmediated experience of divine life that is so central to the spiritual quest.

When we finished our hike we returned to Ithaca and went to Viva Taqueria for dinner, each having a large meal and a margarita. After that we ran a few errands and then joined some other friends, Matt and Corey, at Madeline's for dessert and drinks. It has always amazed me that a city as small as Ithaca can have such diverse cuisine. Viva is a wonderful Mexican restaurant, an equal of which I have yet to find in Boston. Madeline's is a French-Thai fusion restaurant with a dessert bar that must be cleaned regularly of the drool patrons deposit on it while selecting from a constantly changing array of scrumptious pastries, pies, torts, tiramisus, and other assorted confections, and a drink list that runs for twelve pages. I already mentioned Diamonds (Indian) and there is fare to be found from around the globe, probably drawn by the presence of two schools of higher education in town, Cornell University and Ithaca College. At Madeline's I had the passionfruit tart and an extremely dry Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up with a lime twist. Speaking of heaven on earth!

At that point we retired to my friend Matt's apartment to engage in the other activity that several of us were nightly engaged in last summer when I was in Ithaca, a game of \Hearts. I brought along a liquor that I had been given in Mexico by a friend I made down there on the trip when I experienced my most direct call to ministry, and it was given with the understanding that it would be drunk after my ordination. I had my first taste of the drink made with it on an island in the middle of a lake near Morelia, Mexico. It uses the soft drink Fresca as its base and adds diced oranges and lemons along with chili powder, salt, and the liquor, and is served in a glass rimmed with salt and chili powder. It's fantastic! We played cards and drank fairly late into the night, something I really had not done since I left Ithaca. The only thing missing was my friend Cory, (not to be confused with Corey), with whom I attended middle school all the way through college, and who was my partner in merrymaking last summer. I guess you cannot have everything.

This morning Andy, Jane and I celebrated morning prayer outside on the back patio. I packed up my bags and just after noon my friends Willard and Dorothy arrived to take me to lunch and then the airport. They are some of the most amazing people I have ever met, Willard being a retired German professor at IC and Dorothy having been a research librarian there. They have travelled around the world and hosted a varied but notable assortment of dignitaries and performers during their many years in Ithaca. They have the most wonderful stories and serve as the institutional memory for a good deal of Ithaca College, certainly the ICPC, and probably most of Ithaca as well. We became good friends when Willard and I were on the ICPC board of directors together, serving on some of the same committees. They hosted me for a week one summer when I was back in Ithaca to participate in the Northwest Wind Symposium and they hosted a bunch of my stuff the summer between my junior and senior years. They keep track of me now that I am off in seminary in Boston, which they know well since Willard graduated from Harvard and Dorothy is from Boston, and they offer sage advise borne out of years of experience and dedication to their community. They have a profoundly cosmopolitan spirit, taking the whole world as the locus for their concern, a quality I admire and hope to emulate. We had a wonderful lunch at the Moosewood Restaurant, probably the most famous restaurant in Ithaca, and then, after running into Alice in the park, another ICPC board member, they took me to the Ithaca airport to fly to Austin, TX for the Fund for Theological Education Excellence in Ministry Conference. Willard and Dorothy are so loyal as to wait with me for my plane to be called and then wave goodbye to me through the window between the lobby and the boarding area. They are wonderful people who have deigned to grace me with their friendship, something I will always treasure.

As I sit here on my flight from Detroit to Austin writing this, I can see fields and farms, houses and roads stretched out across the vast landscape that is America. It is amazing to think that God is deeply and personally concerned with every blade of grass in all of those fields, with every animal on every farm, with every person in every house and driving on every road. The people God has placed in my life to mediate grace to me are persons of depth and substance as well as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. They overflow with the fruits of the Spirit and I am blessed. And I find myself alive in a world that cannot but be the product of a benevolent sovereign who is personally concerned with its, and my, well-being. My soul is filled to overflowing and I give thanks.

Glory to the Father-Mother and to the Child and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ordination Pictures

The Procession (Me followed by Mike and then Jim):

The Presiding Bishops (Andy and Jane)


Presentation of the Candidates by Prioress Chris:

The Laying on of Hands by Abbot Andy, Abbess Jane, Bishop Joe, and The Rev. Dr. Allison Stokes:

Ordinands vested and given the symbols of their offices and of the Lindisfarne Community:

Me with my parents and Allison following the liturgy:

Sam and Kara, two great new friends:

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The peace that passes all understanding

During the ordination service yesterday I was fine until the middle of my little statement when I got to the part about my parents, and then the tears began to flow. It is a powerful thing, the working of the spirit. God reaches out and takes hold of a life and all of its past experiences, brings them to bear on the present moment, and then flings them out upon the path into the future. The service went on around the three of us being ordained as Andy and Jane prayed over and anointed us, and then Bishop Joe and Allison joined them for the laying on of hands. As Jane prayed while they stood with their hands upon me, I was keenly aware of the kairos of the moment. God was speaking through the church in the power of the spirit into my life in a new and refreshing way. I was given the symbols of the diaconate and of the community: the stole, the anointing oil, the Bible, and the Way of Living. Each symbol bore the meaning invested in it: the stole of servanthood, the oil of healing, the Bible of preaching, and the Way of Living of prayer. These are the mysteries I was given to bear, and the community stood with me, promising to uphold me as I seek to do so.

Later in the evening we had the Lindisfarne Community Review which included a range of things; as Abbess Jane said, "from the serious to the slightly ridiculous to the completely ridiculous." Mike shared about Breaking Bread Ministries in Chicago which he directs. Mike has a great deal of passion for his urban ministry to the poor and homeless in Chicago and it is an honor to be in the Community in which he is now ordained as he transforms so many lives and bears hope amidst despair. On the "completely ridiculous" end of the spectrum, I presented "The Gospel According to Eddie Izzard," which was rather heretical but hilariously funny. Afterwards, as Sam and Kara sang the newly composed Lindisfarne Community theme song, set to a couple of Christmas tunes, I was practically rolling on the floor laughing. One of the lines was "Larry uses big words." It's true, I admit it. And my community loves me anyway.

But here I do not really feel the need to use big words. The big words I employ in a vain attempt to point to the wonder of God and the exhiliration of living into divine life. But here big words are supurfluous because this community embodies divine life within itself. The fruits of the spirit well up from within the various members and overflow into one another, perichoretically merging with distinction and bearing us together to greater and greater heights. It is not as though this community does not have problems and conflicts from time to time, but the way in which we approach and address them marks us as qualitatively different than most of the other Christian communities I have been part of or party to.

Today the sun is bright and the lake glistens. Birdsongs accompany the somewhat lethargic movements of people who are recovering from and seeking to understand the workings of the spirit that filled us and this place just yesterday. There are quiet conversations going on all over the cottage accompanied by the lapping of the lakeshore only a few feet away. The Eucharist is not for a little while yet and there is time to explore the peace of this place and the love and joy we bring to one another. And there is a further journey ahead of me. I can see it just off in the distance, beckoning me forward, reminding me that I cannot remain here but must return to the work that has been laid before me. I do so as a new person, a new being in Christ, bearing the marks the Lindisfarne Community has bestowed upon me. I do so seeking to bring with me a piece of the irenic eudaimonia I have found here this weekend to the people I encounter along the way. And I continue to strive toward being as Christ to those I meet and finding Christ within them. Of course, all of these things are really just different ways of saying the same thing. We go in peace to love and serve our God. Amen.

Lindisfarne Community Theme Song

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Am I ready?

I am to be ordained this afternoon. Am I ready? Andy and Jane (my abbot and abbess) say so. The Lindisfarne Community says so. But the knot in my stomach still points to the abivalence, the ambiguity of divine encounter. Am I prepared to bear the mysteries as a servant on behalf of the people of God?

In my proposal for the Fund for Theological Education fellowship program I wrote the following definition of the ministry of the deacon to which I still hold: "I have a gift of being a reconciler of division. This is the understanding of the diaconal function of ministry in the church. The ministry of the deacon is a ministry of service, and service always has reconciliation as its goal, whether reconciliation between people and God, people and people, people and themselves, or people and their own existential situation. The office of reconciler requires several qualities if it is to be effective. First, the reconciler must have a kenotic quality such that his/her own personal interests do not interfere with the goal of the reconciliation of the parties involved. Second, the reconciler must be able to exercise holy listening, such that all parties are given the opportunity to fully express their position and are able to recognize that they have been heard. Also, the reconciler must have an intention of embrace, which involves crossing over into the various positions of the parties, such that the inherent sacredness of each person is recognized, before crossing back to the kenotic state of openness. Last, it is important to recognize that reconciliation is an extraordinarily delicate process with a high probability of breaking down at many different points, and so the reconciler must be able to sit with the knowledge that s/he may be viewed in a negative light if reconciliation is not successful."

Can I live with this? Can I live with the awesome responsibility it entails? Do I have these qualities in sufficient measure to live up to the calling of a deacon?

Thankfully, it is only partly my responsibility to answer these questions. To a large extent it is out of my hands. In an email to the Lindisfarne Community a few months ago I wrote, "I don't want to be ordained.? Ordination, as I understand it, really has very little to do with the person being ordained.? Ordination is exercised by the bishop(s) on behalf of the church and is a recognition, by the church, of the particular gifts (charisms) of the person being ordained that make them uniquely suited to be bearers of mystery.? The discernment of call is certainly something that the individual being ordained must be involved in, but ultimately is up to the community.? Augustine never wanted to be a bishop.? He tried to run away from it.? But in the end the church collared him (pun intended), carried him in kicking and screaming, and consecrated him anyway!? In my own case, I certainly have had what I feel is a profound and clear call experience, but the emphasis for me, in terms of discernment, is on its confirmation by the church.? In my case, I first offered my call experience to my parents, with great fear and trepidation (they were, after all, in the process of paying for me to go to a private college for four years where I was working toward a degree in music), and their response was something on the order of, "Well DUH!"? Same thing from my church at home and with friends at school (I wasn't part of the Lindisfarne Community at that point).? I repeat, I do not desire ordination.? Holy Orders are not taken, they are received, again with fear and trembling, from the hands of the church.? It is not up to me whether or not I will be ordained.? In a profound way, it is up to the rest of you, expressed by Andy and Jane."

It is my responsibility to be open to the working of God. This is a new stage of life, a new stage of being for me. Am I ready? Or perhaps more pointedly, am I worthy? In the prayers before the distribution of the elements at the Eucharist in the Lindisfarne Community we pray, "Savior Jesus, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." It is a prayer of deep trust and committment and conviction as we turn over control to one who has power to give and power to take away. Am I worthy? No, of course not. But I am worthy as God makes me worthy. Thus, the question is not, "am I worthy?" but instead "am I capable of such trust and committment and conviction that I will lay aside my own will to be molded to the model of Christ?"

One of our meditations is a prayer by Charles de Foucauld which says (edited), "Father-Mother, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will, whatever you do, I will thank you, I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, as in all your creatures, and I'll ask nothing else, my God. Into your hands I commend my spirit; I give it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, my God, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, with a trust beyond all measure, because you are my Father-Mother." I have prayed this prayer on the sixth day of every month for the past several years now, but today it has special meaning. Today is the culmination of a process of kenosis, self-emptying, so that God may "do with me what [God] will."

There is comfort in the fact that members of the Lindisfarne Community all pray this prayer on the sixth day of every month. The individual I of the prayer, for us, is the communal I of the community. They stand with me today, praying for me and pledging their support. They are ready in spite of me, and will be there for me when I fail, which I surely will. And yet there is a deeply personal process of metanoia, of converison, of an ontological and existential shift. There is a setting apart, a distinction that is made, a line that is drawn that cannot be undrawn. I will be marked by God through the symbols presented to me by the community and by the laying on of hands by the bishops. There is something akin to baptism in ordination; an entering into the abyssmal waters of death to reemerge a new being. And there is no way to know what stands beyond the doorway through which one can never return. No one can describe what it is like on the other side, any more than anyone can describe bathing in water to someone who has lived their entire life in a desert climate, where water is scarce and presciously rationed. I walk across the threshold in the presence of the community and of friends even as I walk through it alone.

In the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 139):

O God, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O God, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Where God leads me, I will follow. This is where God has led me, to a cottage beside a lake surrounded by family and friends and my community. God is here. Into your hands I commend my spirit.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Odyssey: Journey to Ithaca

Trips rarely begin in the way we plan them. Corey and I planned to leave Boston at about 8:00 this morning but then we stalled a few times and finally got going around 9:30. As we drove through the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts and then into New York I was amazed at the bright sunshine, the blue sky, and the luscious green grass and trees that dot the rolling hills and valleys. We passed farms and I recognized a yearning deep inside myself for the pastoral life depicted so poetically in las novellas pastoriles of the Golden Age of Spain. The black pavement stretched out before us and I was reminded of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus about whom I wrote in my term paper for New Testament Introduction this past spring. It was a reminder that life is more about the journey than it is about the destination, for we find Christ in both places.

On the other hand, my destination was forefront in my thinking as I am going to be ordained to the diaconate tomorrow afternoon. I was not just travelling to Ithaca to enjoy the sunshine, skies and trees, which mediate God's presence as surely as bread, wine and oil, but I traveled knowing that my destination is a place brimming with potential for a deeply existential encounter with the glorious, albeit also ambiguous, divine mystery. The scenery declared the glory of God while the knot in my stomach served as a persistent reminder of the ambivalence that is inherent to an encounter amongst the finite and the infinite. I watched the road stretched out before me and listened as pistons fired, powering the wheels to pound the pavement, moving me inexorably forward toward my destination. I may have been driving the car, (or the jeep as the case may be), but I certainly had no more control over its destination than Jonah did in his oft told tale of misfortune meteing out divine providence. In The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto described the divine as ultimate source of being, the "mysterium tremendum et fascinans," which fills the finite beings who encounter her? him? it? with both wonder and dread, giving new and profound meaning to the word "awful." And yet, in my experience, the fear that accompanies this experience is always overcome by the divine lure: "Holy Spirit, you always lead us forward. Forgive us for holding back." (from the Lindisfarne Community's A Way of Living).

When we entered Ithaca I felt a sense of homecoming, although surely not as profound as that of Odysseus, as my senses were inundated with the sights, sounds and smells of the city I left over 10 months ago to attend seminary at Boston University. I spent four years of my life in Ithaca; walking the streets, eating in the restaurants, studying at Ithaca College, and making friends, some of whom will remain with me as tangible presences in my life while others have even already moved on but have left their mark and so also remain. It was here that God gripped my life, taking hold of the faith formed in the fires of youth growing up in suburban Washington DC in the care of two loving parents and my wonderful family at Hughes United Methodist Church, and binding it fast to a course I never could have expected and cannot claim to fully understand, even now. It was here that I encountered the Protestant Community at Ithaca College who forced me to rethink my narrow conceptions of God and Christianity. It was here that I met Allison Stokes, the Protestant Chaplain, who nurtured and encouraged me as I groped about for a faith I could call my own. And perhaps most importantly, it was here that I found a deep sense of abiding peace, joy, and love in the Lindisfarne Community, a sense I am convinced reflects the mutual indwelling of the triune God and that I knew from the first time I walked into Andy and Jane's house (my abbot and abbess).

And the Holy Spirit led me onward toward Casowasco, a United Methodist Church camp a number of miles north of Ithaca; perhaps 60 stadia, the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus? We made a few wrong turns along the way, a common occurance on the spiritual path that is also prevalent in more mundane journeys, but we eventually made it to the camp. I found my way into Galilee cottage and was greeted by my parents and members of the Lindisfarne Community. They helped me carry my bags in, (many more than others brought as this is the first part of a more extended journey for me), and then we had dinner at the Emmaus Commons, an especially apt name given my thoughts about the Emmaus Road story throughout the day. After dinner we met for prayer and commissioning back at the cottage. We professed two members, Kara and Sam, installed a new prior and prioress, John and Chris, and the Lindisfarne Community commissioned me for my travels, especially for my work with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia. We also prayed for healing for Renee's back and my Dad's foot. It provided a sense of confidence and comfort, perhaps the eudaimonia Andy is so fond of talking about, that my parents have been able to dive in so deeply and so quickly into the spiritual well that I have come to draw upon. The irenic sense from Andy and Jane's house had been established here at the Cottage; a reminder that the peace of God follows wherever God's people may go, whether to Emmaus or to Ithaca.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Trip Proposal

If anyone is interested in my background thinking on the trip and what I will be doing, you can download the proposal I submitted to FTE.


Monday, June 05, 2006


Hello family, friends, and anyone else who happens to stumble by! Grace, mercy, and peace in the name of God the Father-Mother and Christ Jesus our Savior!

I started this blog so that people can keep track of me during my escapades in Europe, South America, and across the US this summer. I am going to try to write a post every day but I probably won't be able to post them every day because I will be away from internet access for much of the time. I will post them in groups as I am able.

Itinerary: The trip begins June 16 as I set off from home in Brighton, MA to Ithaca, NY where I will be ordained to the diaconate in the Lindisfarne Community. Following the ordination I will be travelling to Austin, TX for the Fund for Theological Education Conference on Excellence in Ministry. On June 25-26 I will be travelling to Geneva where I will be meeting with people at the World Council of Churches and the World Student Christian Federation as well as visiting family. From there I travel to Iona, Scotland where I will be visiting the Iona Community for a week. I travel from Iona to London where I will be participating in the ordination of a Lindisfarne Community member the same day as I fly in and then bus out for a weeklong visit with the Taize Community that evening. After that visit I bus back to London and fly home to the US on July 17th for an overnight before departing for Colombia, South America where I will be participating in a two-week Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. I return to the US on July 31st and then have to be in Chicago on August 3rd to present a paper on globalization, violence, cosmopolitanism, and ecumenical spirituality at the 2006 Young Adult Ecumenical Forum. I then fly to Washington D.C. to preach at my home church, Hughes United Methodist in Wheaton MD on August 6th. I will stay home through my birthday on Aug 11 and then return to Boston on the 14th.

This trip is funded by the Fund for Theological Education Ministry Fellowship program and I am most grateful to Melissa Wiginton and the whole FTE team for their support and encouragement.

May God bless you and keep you!


Br. Lawrence, LC