Friday, June 13, 2014

Its all cricket

This Wednesday evening I had my first experience of a live cricket match. I've seen them on DVD's (Lagaan) and caught glimpses on TV, but never watched one. This one featured the Hilfiled/Pilsden team versus The Plumbers. The Plumbers won by about 80 points. But nobody was surprised. Our team featured a German boy who'd never seen a cricket match before either. (A very fast bowler, it was noted.) They tried to get me out there, but I talked them out of it, and instead became chief cheerleader.

The great joy of the event was being together, enjoying the beautiful summer evening sunlight, laughing and putting the magnifying glass on what community is: it is about people enjoying life, playing the game, letting go of any worry about the results--over which we have no control, at least at our skill level in cricket. In community, it is in God's hands.

There was an ad hoc quality to our team, which is parallel to my experience of community life too. There are certain givens, and skills to learn, but so much of what we do gets improvised. It depends on good will, clear lines of communication, unqualified support for all the players. Last week here in England we had our Chapter meetings, which pretty much confirmed what I am saying. People always ask if I dislike Chapter meetings. Actually I LIKE them. They are a chance for us to really talk, to examine our dreams and hopes, and sharpen our organizational skills.I also get a chance to catch up with all the brothers, their stories are heartening.

Go team!

The rural life in Dorset is quite exciting. Today we moved the cows to a new pasture--had to herd them along the road. We've been working in the garden, I've been weeding the brussel sprouts and cabbages. Every day or so I go for a run along the narrow country lanes. Yesterday Daniel O. (the German volunteer) and I were in the kitchen. He'd organized the menus and took the lead on putting the meals together, and I was his sous chef. The roasted veggies were a bit too crunchy for my taste, but all-in-all the meals were terrific, especially the Red Dragon Pie at lunch.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Peace: let it begin with me

Kookaburra song, scent of eucalyptus, profusion of orchids: back in Australia. New South Wales, or at least the area around the friary in Stroud, is beautiful.

Br. Raphael Suh SSF and I traveled across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand on Monday, Cinco de Mayo.

Chapter in New Zealand April 25-28 was a good time for re-connecting and enjoying time together as well as the usual work of such meetings. We shook off the cobwebs of Chapter with a visit to Yarndley's Bush (one of the largest remaining kahikata [trees] stands on the North Island of New Zealand). It reminded me of walking among the redwoods in northern California. Then, we took a brisk hike through part of Pirongia Forest. I loved the giant ferntrees and different kinds of bird calls.

A highlight of my time in Hamilton, NZ, was an art exhibit presented by Anglican Action. Anglican Action is the Anglican Diocese of Waikato's social service "umbrella" agency--nothing to do with the conservative Anglican Church of North America which also uses "Anglican Action." Under this agency's aegis are groups serving women, youth, the elderly; they provide counseling, jobs and food among much else.The missioner, Karen Morrison-Hume, after a visit to a cathedral and noting all the plaques to the war dead decided that Anglican Action needed to honor the peace dead. Artist Maree Aldridge created an extraordinary exhibit in honor of New Zealander Archibald Baxter (1881-1970). As a committed pacifist from age 19, Baxter was nevertheless conscripted during WWI and shipped to Europe. There he refused to cooperate and was subjected by the New Zealand military leaders to "Field Punishment Number 1." Essentially a nail-less crucifixion, Baxter was tied  to a pole with his feet just off the ground and left to hang by his arms for many days. The diabolical imagination of these officers in subjecting Baxter to this punishment for "fighting for a war-less world" and attempting to "treat other people as one would wish to be treated" is sickening. But it is not far fetched when one considers the vitriol directed at pacifists throughout history. The story of
Baxter's pacifism is a huge encouragement to be true to Gospel values and a condemnation of militarism.

For now, we are settling into the rhythms of life at our hermitage at Stroud. With my imagination fired by Baxter, I am fanning the flames for living Gospel values on a domestic front for now: praying together, eating together, working together. Yesterday the three of us brothers cut saplings and grubbed out the stumps with mattocks and pulaskis. Then I roasted some chicken, sauteed pumpkin and cabbage for an autmnal dinner.

How sweet it is when we live together in unity. How great the obligation to grub out noxious growth of invasive species and armies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Easter!

Easter Day Homily 2014: Br. Clark Berge, SSF

Church of the Epiphany

Los Angeles, CA


Christ is risen!

“He has been raised just as he said!” The angels cried from the tomb.

We heard last night how the message was carried by the women to the disciples: “Christ is risen!”

“God raised Jesus from death,” Peter says in Caesarea (as we hear this morning)—and presumably everywhere else that he went.

Paul proclaimed: “If Christ were not raised from the dead, then our faith would be in vain.”


The Resurrection is what makes us Christian—not just the social teachings of the New Testament. Actually what makes us Christian is not just what we do, but believing what God has done, and is doing, in Jesus Christ in the whole world.


I think it is almost impossible to convince anybody about Christ’s Resurrection. You can talk until you are out of breath—for some folks it sticks like a bone in the throat. But what does convince, has always convinced, it is when lives are transformed: when people see the power of the Resurrection in acts of generosity and courage.


Of course, people who say they don’t believe in anything are also generous and brave, and I am tempted to explain their reluctance to ascribe God credit to a failure of religion, rather than a lack of faith. God’s power is at work in us whether we know it or not; God has never been limited by what human Beings think is creditable or possible. This is what we celebrate this morning—the impossible is made possible, believe it or not: God raised Jesus from the dead!


The proof of the Resurrection—do you need proof? The proof I’d point to is the miracle of people getting sober in parish halls and church basements around the world. Every day the impossible becomes possible: and for many, only because they turn their life and their wills over to God. It is this same God who raised Jesus from the dead who then raises them from the grave of ruined lives and shattered relationships, to a life most of us cannot even imagine when we are in the grip of addiction.


It is this “beyond imagining” quality of Resurrection that is one of its Scriptural hallmarks and stands as a corrective to our pet projects and fondest hopes.


You can only coast on liturgical excitement for so long, my friends (and this is rather exciting, isn’t it?). Sooner or later you will be forced to look into the empty tomb for yourself and decide in your hearts to claim this great power of resurrection.


And then who knows what will happen in your life? This morning graves are opened, angels speak; Mary Magdalene is empowered as a witness to the resurrection. Today miracles abound. Are you ready to surrender to this redeeming grace? Are you ready to turn your life and your will over to God? Are you ready to allow the resurrection of Jesus to agitate your mind and inspire your heart? With God, all things are possible.

“Go,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene. “Go to my brothers.” We are to go out into the streets and neighborhoods. Go live lives transformed by grace and joy so that all people can see and know that the whole world has been transformed and renewed by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Let us be upstanding

Last week I visited All Souls St. Gabriel's School in Charter's Towers in North Queensland. Br. Nathan is the chaplain there. The students come from all over northern Queensland, most from very remote farms, or "properties" as they are called. It is not an elite prep school, but founded by the Anglican Church to serve students in underserved areas. These are places so remote there are no schools within easy commuting distance. Many of the students see very few people apart from family and farm workers when they are at home. The school is one of those that several generations of a family may have attended. It is rich in traditions and yet forward looking too, working hard, to my eyes, to prepare students for life in the 21st Century.

During the course of my first evening, which was The Feast of the Annunciation (St. Gabriel's Day) there was a formal dinner. A student went to the podium and called for our attention. Once we were quiet and straining to see, she told us to "charge your glasses" (with mineral water) and then "be up standing" (i.e. stand up) and toast the Queen: "To the Queen of Australia and the Head of the Commonwealth!"  And all the students around me: "To the Queen!"

I've been in stranger circumstances, and this had more charm than a pledge of allegiance.

Private boarding schools address the whole student, and this particular evening was one of two formal dinners the school hosts for students, so that they will know how to comport themselves at such events. It was very exciting, especially for the new students. One asked Br. Nathan, as the food was served: "Is this what it is like to eat in a restaurant?"

Early each morning a group of about 14 boys race from the dining hall to the chapel for a quick Eucharist. (The first one there gets to read the Gospel.) I was surprised by the number, the most I ever got at a voluntary school Eucharist when I was chaplain was on average 0-1. The boys led much of the service, Br. Nathan celebrated and gave some apt remarks, and we stood around the small altar to share communion. Our celebration was one of the millions of points of light that give light to the world.

Standing in the crossroads of rural and urban, sacred and secular, churched and unchurched, public and private, young and old, friars serve a huge variety of people. We point to what is upstanding in the world and worthy of praise, seeking to collaborate with goodness and creativity wherever we find it. We challenge the places where people are being led astray. We make friends with lonely boarders, we visit the sick, pray with prisoners.

In all these places (and more!), and among all these people, we see Jesus.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prison Visit

This morning (Sunday, March 16) Br. Hilton Togara and I went to the Central Prison in Honiara at Rove with the Chaplain, Fr. Ellison, to conduct a Bible Study. It is a tiny prison, but with all the razor wire and concrete to confirm it as the real thing. Waiting until 9:00 we sat in a leaf roofed shelter with a Roman Catholic seminarian and two Catholic laywomen.

We signed in and were patted down. This being the Solomon Islands, the guards were all friendly and there was laughter and exchange of pleasantries. It was a pleasant though stark contrast to security guards in the US prisons I have visited. We were led to B block and went in to a smallish concrete room, with three concrete tables and "benches." A television was bolted to the wall. The men live through another door, which appeared to lead into an open room.

About 24 men gathered, some sitting on the benches some on the floor. We introduced ourselves, and then one of the men took up a guitar and started leading praise songs. I learned later he is one of the men sentenced for life. Lifers live among the general population, but have special roles, especially as cooks for the jail.

Inspired by the Bible studies we led on the Simply Living Mission to England last year, we used some questions about the Beatitudes. Our text was "Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Hilton divided the group into two, and I sat with about a dozen men. They weren't quite sure what "mercy" meant, but one launched into a long sermon about "the blood of the Lamb." Finally I got one or two to share about times they did NOT hurt somebody else no matter how richly they may have deserved it. A third spoke of realizing he needed to be merciful to all the people he hated and how he had to accept all God's mercies: food, water, air, clothing, even when he had no freedom, God is merciful in so many ways.

Out of the depths O Lord, we call to you...

As we left the Chaplain, Fr. Ellison said he is so grateful to the SSF Brothers because they are his partners in the hospital and prison ministries every Sunday, starting at 4:30 a.m. Holy Communions in the Hospital and the 9:00 a.m. worship in the prison.

For his part, Hilton was simply grateful to be able to be with "his brothers" in prison.

Lord make me a channel of your peace...where there is despair, hope, where there is sadness joy...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Vanga Point

This weekend Br. Clifton Henry, the Minister Provincial and I went to Gizo in the west of the country, to visit a brother living and studying at Vanga Point a Rural Training Center run my the Marists Brothers.

Our flight from Honiara was uneventful--thank goodness. We arrived at Gizo Airport--it is an island all to itself, the airstrip and buildings cover the whole island. A boat takes passengers to a larger island where the small town of Gizo is located. You get off the boat right in front of the Gizo Hotel. The open air market is there too. So Clifton and I loaded up on a huge supply of potatoes, papaya, cabbage, eggplants and other vegetables , then bought a dozen fish. By this time the brothers and students from the Training Center sent over to get us had arrived and we loaded up and headed across the open sea. It is about an hour to cross. Although the sun was shining, the sea was rough. Twice the engine stalled. I kept repeating, mantra-like: "Not to worry, not to worry!  These guys are mechanics!"  They proved to be at least resourceful boaters; the second time the engine stalled they ripped the straps off one of the two life jackets to bind the engine together more tightly (I think that is what they did...). I used the rest of the life jacket as a cushion to soften the thumps on my behind.

Vanga Training Center is a rough looking place. The tsunami a year ago took out the wharf, and it hasn't been replaced. The classrooms and outbuildings are rusted and partially collapsed. Everywhere there is rusted out machinery, overgrown fields and paddocks. But there are about 130 eager young men there, and the SSF house is right in the middle of campus, next to the chapel. It is home to Br. Selwyn Tione and former brother Ezekiel Kelly. There are about 25 Anglican students in this Roman Catholic place, and they were very excited to have us visit. They came by all evening to meet us and sit and "story." First on their list of events for us was an Anglican Eucharist Saturday morning. But since it was to be held at the usual Saturday prayer time, 6:00 a.m., attendance was compulsory for all students. Clifton celebrated in a whisper, which I thought was a bit perverse in an huge open air chapel with 130 people there, but nobody seemed to mind. The Anglican students sang out the responses with intensity. They all like my homily, and were quite gleeful that I was the first white visitor to speak pijin fluently.

After Mass and breakfast a small group of us headed out to explore, and ended up hiking several hours through the jungle. We reached the house of a local family who gave us pommelos (gargantuan grapefruits) to eat on the beach. Back at the training center we had lunch with the assistant principal and his wife, and then went for a swim in the bay. Later we watched the students play soccer.  A cataclysmic thunder and lightening storm ended the play, and I was glad for a rest. At six we were back in Chapel for the Roman Catholic Mass. Since we all use the same lectionary, it was practically duplicate of the morning--except the preacher didn't have an American accent. Its hard not to think about the sadness of the divisions that separate two traditions that are so very, very close. And then to think about the validity of the differences and to be glad I am an Episcopalian...

Following the Eucharist Clifton and I were to give "encouragements" to the students.  I wasn't sure what this was expected to be so let Clifton go first. He gave a part testimonial, part pep talk. So I followed suit, telling about my call as a student to seek ordination to the priesthood, and how that matured into a call to religious life. I then told them about how I nearly derailed on alcohol, and the joy of my life today. My pep talk consisted mostly of telling them the most important thing isn't what they become but the sense of dignity and self respect that they have about who they are, and their commitment to living honestly. The homely lessons of my life.

Finally it was dinner at nearly eight o'clock, then bed. All during the night excited groups of students were coming and going from the small friary. Selwyn had organized the long suffering Anglicans to prepare a feast for us, and all through the night they made traditional pudding, peeled tons of sweet potatoes, and a group of 5 went diving and caught quite a number of fish. They absolutely did not want us to help--it was to be a sort of surprise, I think. Or at least a way of honouring us.

After yet another Eucharist we ate our feast. One of the Marist brothers came, the Principal and assistant, and all of the Anglicans. It was quite a happy time. A number of them finally summoned the courage to speak with me directly and I was very touched by their reciprocal testimonials and expressions of gratitude for our visit.

All too soon it was time to go. We boarded the boat and pounded our way back across the bay, getting soaked with spray, so I had to get them to take me to a local friend's house to change my clothes. Then over to the airport island, and back to Honiara.