Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reading List

Everybody is talking about Mark Zuckerberg's reading list. As a life-long bookworm I am at last on the breaking edge of a pop culture trend. Its amazing. If one waits long enough eventually the culture catches up!

So, I thought I'd share a reading list of my own taken from my Kindle. There are ten "serious" books and ten novels. I try to read theology in the day time and novels in the evening. Happy reading!


Books on theology:

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, by Miguel A. De La Torre

Immortal Diamond, by Richard Rohr

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, by Eugene H. Peterson

The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, by Douglas E. Christie

Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Revelation, by M. Eugene Boring

I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, by Rene Girard

Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis, by Daniel P. Horan

The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord's Prayer, by John Dominic Crossan



Novels (some older, some new):

Offshore: A Novel, by Penelope Fitzgerald

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

Euphoria, by Lily King

The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu

This Is How You Lose her, by Junot Diaz

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2014
Little Portion Friary
Mt. Sinai, New York

Br. Clark Berge, SSF

Christmas is one of the touchstone holidays. It asks basically: how do you want to live? Think about all the family rituals and the stresses and blessings of the holiday season: Christmas is about how we face the real situations of life, vulnerably and joyfully. How we face life’s challenges is the proof of the pudding, so to speak, of our religion, Christianity. It goes from intellectual proposition to hands-on, flesh and blood relationships.

Christianity teaches the main point of our faith is that God became a human being, Jesus. He died on a Cross, and then God raised him from the dead, essentially redefining our consciousness about life. Death has no ultimate power over us, so we are free to challenge all those people and powers and situations that threaten us with death, which means all those who make us feel small, diminish our life, or rob us of joy.

We champion life because God does. That is what we are celebrating in this special day.

Think about the headlines in our world today: ISIS and terrorism, war, climate change, social upheavals as we struggle as a society with racism, torture.

Think about your private dramas—more personal and more painful; for instance: sickness, death, and divorces. Or maybe you are planning to move and looking at everything around you: “This is the last time we’ll ever…”

So what does Christmas have to say to all of this?

I want to talk about two things that answer our troubles from a Christian point of view: vulnerability and joy. Of course living them out requires true grit: conversion we call it.

As the popular writer and speaker Brene Brown says, vulnerability is the key to wholehearted living; to be fully alive as the Christian saint Irenaeus calls it. Vulnerability does not mean being a doormat or exhibiting weakness or shame. It means emotional honesty, integrity, knowing the truth about ourselves—the real deep-down truth, not the superficial answers we give (on the one hand cataloguing our achievements or on the other hand, glumly noting all the ways we fail). When we are really vulnerable we put our true selves on the line.

Jesus in the manger is the perfect image of vulnerability.

Look at him: undefended, dependent on his mother, yet he radiates beauty; that is the human truth as God sees us! By celebrating Jesus’ vulnerability we acknowledge our own. It’s all there in the rough straw, shaky manger; God knows what the manger smelled like: the stink and prickle of real life. God chose the humble life, that’s where we need to look for him.

If vulnerability is linked to humility, honesty and truth, it is easy to determine the Christian take on the big issues of our day: love not war, care for Mother Earth, acknowledge all people are equally loved by God, respect the dignity of every human being and the integrity of all creation.

To live this way means we give up all fantasies of world domination (even if its just social media), or any notion of splendid isolation. We need to grow into our full participation in the community, the larger human family. Believe it or not, God is inviting us to collaborate with him. With God we are to carry out the plan for creation on this planet, our fragile home in the universe created in love by God.

As St. Paul wrote to Titus and we heard tonight: we are to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly: in other words, conscious, authentic, integrated and God-centered.

The message of Christianity is aimed at our hearts so we will live life-giving lives.

Keep looking at the baby, the Holy Child.

I’ve sat with families for whom birth became tragedy. Yet almost every successful birth is an occasion for thanksgiving, for joy. This is the second thing I want to talk about tonight in our celebration of Christmas. Let’s think about a baby’s birth: gratitude, awe, humility: these quickly become joy. This is the gut-level joy that causes mothers and fathers to weep, grandparents to break down doors, uncles to wax poetic.
Isaiah alludes to this kind of gut-joy: you have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy, he exclaims. Before you need to think about doctrines and dogmas, before you learn to navigate liturgies and prayer books, Christianity is about the joy of life.

A Baby is born, a child’s tears wiped away, a child tells a knock-knock joke, a first kiss is shared, an anniversary meal is eaten, a new job started, a vocation discerned: these sacred moments are the outward signs of God’s action in your life.

You don’t even have to believe in God to experience the blessings of God. Tonight we have to acknowledge that God believes in us more than we believe in him or ourselves. God’s initiative is the source of our joy.

The challenge is to keep joy alive.

They wrapped the child in bands of cloth—to keep Him warm, safe, healthy, alive. How do you protect your joy? What are your techniques? I find I am my own worst enemy. When I make a mistake I feel sick to my stomach. I want to grovel: I’m sorry, I’m sorry! A strident voice from my sub cortex says, “You are no good!”

Who needs enemies with a brain like that?

So I have some strategies learned from books, therapists, more highly evolved friends; I make a mistake, and I say: I made a mistake but I am still a good person. Simple, but it calms me down and wakes me up from self-hating shame. I can harbor my joy even in times of self-doubt, hardship and adversity. It is founded on the astounding revelation of love and acceptance of all the human condition that we celebrate tonight. On Christmas night, God took flesh and became human.

Does it change for you when I switch from psychological language (words like authentic, integrated) to spiritual language (Grace, love, blessing)?

Use whatever language you like, grab the joy, hold it tight.

The joy will mess with all your destructive tendencies. It will interfere with all your relationships—casual, personal, professional: a joyful cop, as much as a joyful priest, a joyful sales representative, a joyful farmer, student, parent; it is the wedge that Christianity wants to drive into society. We are called by God in this joyful night to be awake to life here and now, to make a difference for good.

And with Christianity it is always right now: our focus isn’t in a nostalgic past or imagined future. We are called to be awake, unafraid, sober, and respectful and devoted to the truth about God and ourselves—so we need to be asking for God’s help right now.

Christmas takes us right to the core of human life: what kind of person do you want to be?

Anything is possible.

With God in your life the message you give will be “good news of great joy for all the people.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

And then. . .

I don't feel like giving a run down on all the things that have happened to me since my last blog entry. I wonder is there a category for "occasional blogger?" I hope I have earned a credential as non-compulsive (in this regard at least)!

Suffice it to say that in October I visited some Anglican religious communities in Cameroon and Tanzania (offering friendship and advice, not money). Then I travelled to England for an SSF Ministers pastoral Meeting, and followed this up with a wonderful stay at Glasshampton Monastery, our friary in Worcester, UK. I returned to New York the day before Thanksgiving.

If there was one major preoccupation in all of these visits and engagements it had to be about what makes the religious vocation flourish. In Africa the people we met were new at religious life for the most part. More than anything else they wanted connections with other Anglican religious. Conversations with them made me think about what I like and don't like about my life and where I perceive God's call.

Though we spoke a lot about structures and customs, this is not where I sense God's call.

Though we prayed in Latin, Swahili and English, God wasn't calling me in any particular language.

But in the shy looks of men and women who don't know what to say, I experienced God.

In the stories about a longing for a more serious, more beautiful life I heard the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, and experienced God.

In his poem "Church Going"Philip Larkin writes about how we "surprise a hunger in ourselves to be more serious," a hunger that "can never be obsolete."

In our SSF meeting we reaffirmed our love for the things that bind us together as an international Order: praying together, living together in fraternity and poverty, keeping a love for the poor in our hearts.

Buildings come and go, communities flourish and wither. New ways and new initiatives to respond to the persistent call of God are emerging all over the globe.

The danger is to think our way (whatever that is) is the only way. The Congregational Church had a terrific campaign a few years ago. A banner was displayed in front of our Mt. Sinai Congregational Church (along my usual jogging route): "Never put a period where God has placed a comma."

Religious life is, in the end, not just about organizing a comfortable or a theologically or ideologically agreeable community. During this Advent season we are reminded over and over again in the prescribed Bible readings that we exist to bear witness to God's presence in human community and the world. We are to bear witness to the ancient prophetic call of Isaiah and Jesus to stand for justice and peace. In America, and other places where my brothers live, basic human rights are challenged. We cannot relent in our efforts "to show others in his beauty and power the Christ who is the inspiration and joy" of our lives.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Francis Day

This past week at a special Chapter meeting, the brothers decided to sell Little Portion Friary on Long Island, NY. It was a hard decision, one it has taken years to embrace. Still, it is painful for us and for many others affected by this decision

A friend wrote today in response to our decision: 

‘I was reading a bit on Navajo spirituality and came across this bit: "recognizing that life's tests pushed them to the depths of their greatest suffering, they also discovered that the same tests revealed their greatest strengths.  The key to their survival was to immerse themselves in life's challenges without become lost in the experience.  They had to find an "anchor" within themselves--a belief that gave them the inner strength to endure their tests--and the knowledge that a better day would follow. From this place of power they had the confidence to take risks, change their lives, and make sense of their world."

I wrote back: “thanks for this bit of Navajo wisdom. When I put our struggles up against the threats to Navajo culture in the 19th Century (and maybe even today), our troubles seem to deflate a bit...But we are definitely at a crossroads and we need to find that inner spiritual anchor. It seems fortuitous, or actually just grace-full, that today is the Feast of St.
Francis and we read about him, think about his life and struggles, and remember his spiritual anchor was radical poverty/letting go, and a desire always to follow the Spirit's lead, wherever it would take him. I had a dream last night I was being carved up alive by a sushi chef and served to a crowd of folks. I definitely have some work to do!

I think my spiritual anchor is the Franciscan ideal along with a feeling that my vows are for "better or worse."  In AA they say God hasn't brought me this far just to drop me on my ass. But I definitely feel winded.  I went running today and could hardly do it: it turned into walk/run, walk/run, bend over pant, pant, pant. Repeat. But I take encouragement from the fact I didn't give up and call a cab. I know my mental state affects my physical one, and also, objectively, the lack of exercise this past week is part of the reason for today's struggle. But what I see about myself in this experience is that I don't give up, and I can find lots of beautiful things to look at and think about. Also a memory from my novitiate: I want to grow into one of those old oaks that are all gnarled and seared yet have wide spreading branches--what we all think of as beautiful old oaks...

Nothing makes the Bible seem more topical and on target than real life set-backs!  For St. Francis Day, the Morning Prayer Gospel reading was from Matthew: don't be anxious about earthly things...consider the lilies of the field etc. Wow! One way or another we will right ourselves and the wind will fill the sails. Whatever decisions we make no matter if they are "right" or "wrong" I pray God will use them to make it possible for us to live our vocations with joy and gratitude.  The fact that the future seems very opaque is okay. I've been here before--I am a recovering alcoholic, for heaven's sake! The worst thing ever has become one of the greatest blessings of my life. I can't pin it down to any one moment when I began to feel that way, except I gradually realized God was in fact doing for me what I could not do for myself. I believe that God will do for us...”

Perhaps our greatest strengths are being revealed. Certainly there is no question in my mind Who the anchor is. As we say every morning: “We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”


Happy St. Francis Day to us all!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In San Francisco

It as been a long time since I posted. In UK the blog was blocked for some reason I am not technically savvy enough to sort out, then I was in Papua New Guinea from July 14 til Aug 14, then on holiday with my family. So now I am in San Francisco, with access to a computer (thanks Br. Leo!), and some time...


A high point of my time in Papua New Guinea was a trip from Ukaka to Yapua in Milne Bay Province. We went to celebrate with the people of Yapua on the feast of title of their chapel, The Transfiguration.  It was the kind of trip I love: three hours in the back of a truck with a crowd of people to begin with. One woman got on mid journey and gave me a sharp glance: "Are you Brother Clark?" she asked. I was astounded. Then she pulled out a2009 SSF Intercession booklet and showed me my picture. "I pray for you every day," she said. "I am a member of the Third Order." Her husband gave me a thumbs up sign, indicating he is a member of the Third order too. We made small talk over the roar of the engine and the flapping of the tarpaulin over our heads. Soon my friends got down and we continued on to the end of the road. The whole region is Anglican, so the significant landmarks are the Anglican parishes. At Holy Trinity we got down. "Almost there?" I asked. Smiling enigmatically a young man grabbed my back pack and we set off. we were nowhere near "there." He finally let on it might be five hours or more, depending on how fast I walked. Three hours into it we came to a swollen river choked with mud, trees and other swirling detritus. My companion shrugged of my pack and advising me to stay put, dove in. I watched with my heart in my throat, resolving I would never do that; I do have a shred of common sense. We took shelter in the home of a local person who was stranded on the other side of the river (there were 18 of us, men, women and children). Nobody was fazed. The holiday spirit of a church outing prevailed: we sang hymns, cooked and ate potatoes, napped in the smokey drafts of the cooking fire--which masked somewhat the smell of the pigs who shared our shelter: we'd clambered into a pig sty!  Finally the river subsided enough for us to ford the river, Brother Sebastian and I went first because I wanted to prove a point that I could do it on my own steam--they were proposing to carry me! But the flood spoiled one of my sandals, and after 300 yards it began to flap uselessly around my ankle. I pushed on barefoot for a bit, but my feet cannot cope with the stones and thorns like the local peoples' feet. So I had to stop, rummage around for socks and boots in my backpack; no more rivers on the route anyhow so I wouldn't have to take them on and off over and over. Finally we arrived at Yapua at 1:00 a.m. I was raining we were wet and muddy. So after tea Br. Sebastian and I found a clean stream and managed to wash. I hit the floorboards of our hut and slept stretched out on the planks. In the morning we scrambled around and got to morning prayer. After, while we watched the acolytes light the candles for the Mass, the priest came over and asked if I'd please preach. I should be used to this sort of thing, but I'm always taken aback by these impromptu requests. Nevertheless I managed a few words on the Transfiguration of our Lord.


The day after the feast we headed to the coast and chartered a dinghy to take us to Dogura to see the cathedral. It was built in 1937 and looks like a miniature European cathedral. Termites are destroying the beams, and birds swoop around inside, streaking the walls with droppings; Sebastian and I were both a bit disappointed. The place is legendary: the first Anglican missionaries came there, and from there the Anglican mission spread throughout the country.


I have been thinking about missionaries since that visit. In a way the clash of cultures is still going on. And now I find that even in USA the church needs to rethink how it does mission, we friars sometimes find ourselves out there on slippery slopes and in dangerous spots. The adventure isn't jut Indiana Jones kind of derring-do, but a real opportunity to go beyond our comfort zones, to reimagine what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st Century. Certainly we need to listen closely to the natives as they know better than missionaries the best ways to get around. So here I am in San Francisco, trying to listen, to reimagine our mission, for ways to ground the Gospel and our Franciscan ministry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

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.