Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

I have finally recovered from a computer crash. What a hassle!

Getting back to Little Portion after being away since July 18 was a relief. I left Copenhagen and went to Yorkshire, schlepping across Denmark in a snowstorm and missing the connecting boat at Esberg. Through a series of phone calls we got connected with a Lutheran pastor there who put us up over night. The next morning we decided to fly back to UK. In Yorkshire I preached at a combined Christmas Carol and parish memorial service (For once the liturgy expressed the ambivalence so many people talk about at Christmastime!)

Christmas has been lovely. It was the first snowy Christmas I can remember in a long time. We started off Christmas Eve with a really nice Eucharist in the middle of the night. The best part of Christmas Day was giving some young friends presents. Br. Tom's Yorkshire pudding crowned the evening with glory.

So now it is New Year's Eve, and I am thinking about the year past. In light of the recent Northwest Airlines bombing attempt I feel extremely grateful to have traveled safely. I don't like to think too hard about what might go wrong when I strap myself into yet another airline seat. It is a classic case of denial: "We'll be fine!" I tell myself. As a traveler I have trusted the airline security people to keep me safe, and I have complied cheerfully with every check they have invented. But now I need to add my voice to the pubic forum demanding that government departments and agencies share information. It is a shame that a near disaster is required to highlight the ineptitude at the highest levels. But the ships, railways and PMV's in Africa and the South Pacific have been more terrifying than any plane ride: skidding around hairpin turns in an overloaded bus; plunging through waves in a tiny boat, water sluicing the deck where I was trying to sleep; standing in stalled, darkened trains watching moisture seep through the concrete tunnel walls; walking narrow paths and pausing to let the snakes slither away.

But the travel has only been a means to an end: to share the real life experiences of my brothers, the way they must get around, the foods they eat, the houses they live in, meeting the friends who help them and make our Franciscan life possible, finding out about the ministries they have around the world. Perhaps because I am so aware of the fragility of life, I find all that goes on to be amazing. There is a Franciscan genius in finding ways to be with people. Brothers serve hot drinks to day laborers standing on cold street corners, we visit the sick in hospitals, sometimes at 4:00 a.m. in order to be sure the patients are seen before medical procedures. We lead Quiet Days, speak in school chapels, march in demonstrations for peace and justice. Many of us engage in subsistence farming; all of us have to make small financial resources stretch. The hardest thing of all, since it is the least glamorous, we welcome people into our homes, sit with guests, cook endless meals, change bed linens. In some places these linens must then be washed in a river and dried on a clothes line. Others take the sheets to the laundry! I think many brothers would willingly risk a plane crash over cleaning a guest house. And yet we do the daily work; different kinds of adventures lurk in unlikely intersections of life. God is definitely with us, helping us to grow more and more into the image and likeness of Christ, and to find ways of connecting with people.

As I unpacked some old journals this week, I read a few entries. One was a description of an accident in March 1996 in the Solomon Islands. we could have all been killed, and one brother was permanently brain damaged. But moments before it happened we were singing in the back of the truck. It seems to me that this is the only option we really have. To take calculated risks, sing God's praises, and do our best when and if disaster strikes. As we remember at Christmas, the only guarantee we have in life is that God is with us in it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Farewell to Copenhagen

I leave Copenhagen today.

The talks are ”on a knife edge” according to the BBC. We watched the footage showing protesters clashing with the police. Everywhere people are feeling highly agitated. Some leaders are saying a deal is still possible, but the NGO’s question if a deal struck behind closed doors, excluding the world’s citizens, conforms to UN ideals of transparency and participation. Mr. Brown, the prime minister of Britain, was sounding cautiously optimistic on the T.V. No telling how he feels now.

Being here in Copenhagen has been like pitching a tent in a rumor mill. Everybody seems to be ”in the know,” but few predictions have come to pass. We will have to wait and see.

I feel as if we have done all that we could from our place at the periphery of the talks. We spoke with dozens of people, appeared on television, participated in huge liturgies. Most importantly we kept praying; and we will keep on praying!

I have many other wonderful memories of Copenhagen. Our delicious candle lit breakfasts and suppers (the Danes love candles, and they really make a difference in the permanent gloom!) with our hosts at the Swedish Church, the walks through the streets and my frequent runs through the park. St. Alban’s Anglican Church has been a beautiful place to pray and meet people, and to pull back from the hurley-burley of the Klimaforum. We got snow last night, and the city is transformed by the beautiful white blanket.

Now it is back to the train to the bus to the boat, then another series of trains before I rest at Doncaster for the weekend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Praying for the summit

Yesterday Joyce and I had a chance to meet with a couple of hunger strikers, Anna and Mathieu. She is from Australia and he is from France. They are fasting in order to influence the Summit talks. They have been on a fast for several months, originally it was a fruit juice fast, now it is water only. While they do not claim religious affiliations, they speak forcefully about creating positive energy and moral power through their fast. I quite like that.

Fasting is one of the classic means of prayer, and has been used to terrific effect to bring about siginificant social changes. Gandhi fasted, so did MLK. Among my own circle of friends, the members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers fasted in their fight against Taco Bell: and they won!

Anna and Mathieu invite us to join them Thursday on a 24 hour fast.

But we had a very interesting discussion with a man who is a UK based ”climate steward” with A Rocha. Brendan Bolles spoke about how best to get the message about our need to change across to the world. Part of his responsibilities include posting ”Prayer points” on the internet. One of the things he pointed out is that fierce rhetoric alienates more people than it attracts. He reminded me that it is better to get many people interested in doing something rather than making people feel guilty and disempowered because they are ”only making token gestures.” That attitude can be very damaging. All efforts to engage in the effort to live more sustainably are heartily welcomed. Few of us are able to engage in hunger strikes or are able to cut out all air travel, or live without automobiles. But we can change a few light bulbs, we can walk more, we can cut back on meat consumption a bit. We can find ways to pick up litter.

Fast if you can, cut back where it is possible, and in all things, pray. Pray for the world, pray for all that live on the earth. Remember the poorest and most vulnerable. Your prayer will make a world of difference here at Copenhagen.

Certainly the summit is coming to a ”crunch” time. All of the NGO representatives have had to get re-credentialed and the allotment of passes has been reduced to 10 per delegation. There are some frustrated reps hanging about.

Last night the Østerport traqin station was closed because of a bomb scare. Fortunately there was no explosion, the things was defused. But it meant we had to walk three times the distance to our dinner (after having just met the hunger strikers…).

TV Spot

I was featured in a brief TV spot this week. Check it out! www.odysseynetworks.org
Look for Faith at the Summit.

The producer, Mark Dowd had read my blog entry about my conversation with the young athiest.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid

Yesterday was a big day.

We began with Mass at St. Alban´s Church celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He preached a brief, pointed homily about the prophets and our need to look at the world differently. We need to begin seeing the world as God’s. We are called to consider the whole of creation as we ”prepare the way of the Lord.” Even in the face of the great challenges facing us we are called to be people of joy. (If he didn’t say those things in exactly that way, those were the messages I got! Preaching, I’ve discovered, is more about what one hears than what is said).

Then we bundled ourselves off to a local restaurant for pickled herring and berry flavored yoghurt drink (among many other Danish delicacies).

It was a ”pinch me hard, am I really eating lunch with the Archbishop of Canterbury” moment.

And then to the Cathedral in the center of town. At two o’clock the Queen of Denmark marched in, followed in due course by a tremendous procession of world representatives. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu came in, still glowing I imagine, from his tremendous outdoor appearance where he was greeted as a superstar. (His message was direct: ’Hello rich countries—wake up! It’s cheap to finance climate debt. 150 billion dollars a year would do it,’ he cried. Amen!! I say). But it wasn’t a triumphal procession. Thirty choristers came in bearing the central symbols of COP15: withered corn from Malawi, symbolizing crop failures in Africa and through out the world: untold misery and death; large dead corals reminding us of the destruction of the South Pacific islands and threats to global marine life; and ten people from Greenland, each bearing a stone exposed by melting glaciers: proof of global warming, disappearing water sources, spoiled habitats and suffering for many species and peoples. These corn cobs, dead corals and black stones were heaped up at the ramparts to the choir. We must never forget what is happening. We were gathered to dedicate ourselves as people of faith to doing all that we can to help the earth and to remind the world that the people most directly affected by climate change are the world’s poorest. The Archbishop of Canterbury again preached, this time calling the world to resist fear, yet to respond with loving alacrity to plea of the earth and all that live upon it.

The four of us Franciscans helped light candles. Everybody in the cathedral has a candle and they were lit and we carried them out into the world.

Signs of hope.

Welcome to Hopenhagen we said.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Walking the Talk


Yesterday Br. Hugh and I participated in an interfaith walkabout. I managed to get to two places, a Jewish synagogue and a Tibetan Buddist temple. The theme at the synagogue was "Sabbath" and the rabbi spoke movingly about the meaning of the Jewish Sabbath; it underscores the core conviction that human beings don't control the world. By taking a regular Sabbath, no matter what is going on, the believer is forced to acknowledge they are not in control. This is God's world.

The rabbi's talk was follwed by an virtuoso performance by a young woman who gently struck a series of gongs and made bird calls. The effect was profoundly moving as the resonant sound of the gongs was embroidered in a way by the different bird calls. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a Solomon Island brother about music. Deeply impressed by the very foriegn sound of the singing in Melanesia I asked him about the source or inspiration of the tunes. "The birds," he answered. So we listened to nature's hymns sung in a Danish synagogue with amazing precision by a young woman: the enormous gilt room was alive with bird calls. How often do I pay such close attention to birds outside? As we left the synagogue I was determined to pay closer attention to God's music in nature.

Our next stop was the Tibetan Buddhist temple. There a nun spoke about karma. If I understood what she was saying correctly, karma means our past actions caused current conditions, and our present behavior will determine the future. This is true both personally and socially (or maybe that is just a connection I made in my mind?) She invited us to think about our ignorant, greedy or agressive behaviors and led us through a meditation, releasing these things with the intention of amendment of life. So much of our climate chaos has been caused by human ignorance, greed and aggression! If we can come to terms with these behaviors in ourselves and our world...

Indeed.

Obviously there are enormous areas of convergence among the world religions and the faith perspective on the climate turmoil in the world.

What was clear to me on the walkabout is that we are all here in Copenhagen to bring moral pressure to bear on the discussions, to help coalesce a consensus about what is wrong and the need to address the situation urgently. I do not know how isolated the delegates are in the Bela Center who are actually working on the documents of the conference, but certainly the rest of us can go back from here with fresh insights, renewed commitment and a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness on the planet.

Today an enormous crowd of people joined in a march. It was freezing cold. There were reports of violence, but I saw nothing of it. The crowd was huge. I was surrounded by a group very happy and friendly Christian Aid youth from Great Britain. But presumably the people "inside" heard about our march, they heard the estimates of the crowd size. They are not working in a vacuum. The world cares. We want them to come up with a binding agreement.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Christians preach against the environment"

I had a provoking conversation with a young woman who calls herself an atheist at the Klimaforum. I was taking my turn at the Green Church booth, handing out leaflets and engaging our visitors in conversation. Most were curious about the churches'
response to global warming, and made encouraging comments. One young woman however, demanded to know if I was a Christian (fully habited friar; I suppose it is a fair question). "Why are you here?" she wanted to know. "Christians preach against the environment and are responsible for the destruction of the climate."

I was reminded of a comment printed at the bottom of one of my seminary Church History exams: "This is a jumble of things true, untrue, half true and almost true." (Yeah it stung a bit.)

I decided to be non-polemical. "Well we're here, doing our best to create moral pressure to reexamine some of those old Scriptural assumptions about the environment and human participation in it that have cause some problems."

She wasn't taking the bait. "I hate Christians."

"Bless your heart," I replied. Giving into my irritation, I said: "Have a nice day."

It really is an extraordinary convergence of people here in Copenhagen. People who may have never thought of working together or recognized the claims we have on each other as members of the human race and creatures on the planet, are being forced
into dialogue. Some of it is bruising. Some is very encouraging and heart warming. But you can't have it only one way. Every where there are stories of different encounters, rumors of things that might happen. My heart sinks at the prospect of
violence, but I still plan to be fully present and participate in everything. These are of course the kind of encounters I used to fantasize about when I resented the hum drum daily routine of cleaning house and making beds.

We must find ways to work together. If we permit our divisions to sour the effort, the goal of creating a global consensus on climate change and the imperatives to save the earth from our own destructiveness will be fatally flawed.

There are other rumors of course. We hear of incredible courage and powerful demonstrations of commitment from the developing nations' representatives in the COP 15 talks. We fan the flames of hope whenever we can. We are bringing out our greatest advocates for social justice and a renewed understanding of what it means to be a Christian and a part of the human family.

I am so proud to belong to the Church of Desmond Tutu and Rowan Williams.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Waiting at Copenhagen



Last night the evening program at St. Alban's was an Advent study group talking about the theme "The Meaning is in the waiting." Apparently it is the title of a book, but I didn't get a good look at that. Our conversation quickly brought the theme of waiting to bear on our experience at Copenhagen.

Some residents are waiting with a sense of dread, placing sandbags in front of doors to minimize damage in case of riots.

Some are waiting with a tremendous sense of hope and anticipation.

We spend time each day waiting in silence, holding up the fearful, the outspoken, the leaders and those who are getting swept up in the events happening around us. Yesterday we visited the Klimaforum, the non-governmental organizations' parallel event to the official COP15 talks. The Klimaforum filled my heart with joy as we walked among the exhibitors. Obviously there is technology for living more harmoniously on the earth: we learned how to make biogas, learned the benefits of different agricultural techniques, looked at different ways people deal with waste, energy, and housing challenges. It is possible to live differently and have a beautiful life.

We also met an array of people from different religious traditions: Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian. There are many more. They are spiritual activists. Citing the different traditions, they create a moral voice, integrating the spiritual paths of the world's people with the survival of the world. Spirituality is concerned with living day to day, inculcating daily spiritual practices to keep our conscious contact with God strong. Finding the connection between what we believe and how we behave moment by moment is the call to integrated living. It is the blessing of shalom.

So we are waiting so see what will happen. Will the talks be successful? More immediately, will the voices of youth, minorities, the poor get heard?

Will there be violence? We can wait with anxiety or we can wait with acceptance. I find it
is important to recognize their are many aspects of this experience I have no control over. But I can make myself and the people around me miserable in the way I live moment by moment. So I keep on jogging, keep on praying, trying to stay fit for
all that is happening in the present moment.

This is my prayer: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Copenhagen Summit: Arrival




I arrived in Copenhagen Sunday about 6:00 p.m. after nearly 18 hours travel. The experts keep saying that living more sensitively to the earth will mean accepting some sacrifices...travel will be slower, that's for sure. What a relief to get to bed.

We are located during the day in St. Alban's Anglican Church, part of the Anglican Church in Europe, and at night our group is billeted with the Swedish Lutheran Church. The pastor is a member of our Third Order. Sister Joyce has a luxurious bedroom of her own, the three brothers are piled into a "flat" that has cots and air mattresses.

The Anglican Chaplain Jonathan Lloyd had the bright idea of getting the Franciscans to come to Copenhagen to be a "presence." The first day was a bit fraying, but we survived. There was a general sense that we did not know what we were doing, and we had the expectation that we should be doing something, given the incredible importance of the conference! The lack of television, internet or eeven English language radio meant we had no sense of what was happening, at the Conference. But we learned later our sense of frustration was nothing compared to the delegates who had come to Copenhagen. Nearly double the number of expected delegates arrived and spent hours standing on line in the cold December weather. We heard that most people experience that same liminal feeling of "What's Going On?!"

As I write this, on Wednesday, the internet is being connect at St. Alban's so we expect to be able to follow developments of the conference.

Not only are we providing a presence at the Conference by praying at St. Alban's, we are beginning to get the sense of where the NGO's are meeting and how to get to visit them. Journalists have begun to show up to meet us (asking the all important question, "What will you be doing here in Copenhagen?") As we tell our story we begin to fumble toward greater clarity for ourselves. Father Jonathan has organized a nightly series of presentations for his congregation, providing an opportunity for "regular" people to meet and interact with some of the people who have traveled to Copenhagen.

Last night was the first such discussion, by Martyn Goss from the Diocese of Exeter in England, on "Water." Listening to him, I realized I have had my own experience of climate change and water, which makes for fruitful material for prayer and meditation. Working backwards, I recently had an ear infection, which the doctor says was from swimming in polluted water (Which I did inadvertently in the Solomons). The waters were polluted because of the logging activities upstream and recent flooding. Once deep rivers have become shallow murky ones. The brothers had a bore hole well drilled, but the price of diesel made it difficult for them to keep the tanks near the friary filled. Rising fuel prices, forest clear cutting, heavy rains bring disease and diminished quality of life. Not for me, particularly, because I was a short term visitor, and had quick access to good medical care in Australia. However, the notion we are all separated by just six degrees makes the issues of the developing world my issues. For many of the rural people in the Solomons and other developing countries, medical care is not universal, many people suffer terribly from easily cured problems. Climate change, human greed and lack of adequate resources make the issues being iscussed here at Copenhagen incredibly urgent.

Water is one way into the climate debate. There are many interrelated issues. Every one of which has a host of advocates here at Copenhagen. Add to this the celebrity factor of many of the participants. For us, it is the arrival of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sadly he he and others are the focus of many people who wish to disrupt the conference. So we are not just dealing with climate change, but with all the issues of such a big conference. KEEP PRAYING!

Martyn Goss not only talked about water, he left us with a hymn he composed. It is not copyrighted, and he hopes many people will sing it (with proper attribution, of course!):

A Hymn for COP15 (Sung to the tune in the English Hymnal "Thy Hand O God has Guided")

The whole earthly Creation
reflects God's heavenly Grace,
since life has now developed
upon this globe in space;
and now our human industry
is threatening all its worth,
with unchecked global warming;
one hope, one chance, one earth.

Our scientists and leaders
now recognize this trend.
Unless we change our habits,
our lives themselves might end.
So now they make decisions
to implement our voice,
to shrink our carbon footprint;
one God, one world, once choice.

The task at Copenhagen's
to cut back greenhouse gas,
that humankind in future
will not face death and loss;
the targets of our rulers
must demonstrate resolve,
to save our children's children;
one globe, one God, one Love.

We call out to our God now
that we united be,
and our destructive lifestyles
be lost to history.
We move ahead together
agreeing a new accord
to limit our emissions;
in faith, in Christ, our Lord.



Objects for meditation at the Chaplaincy: dead coral, dried corn and a stone left behind from a melted glacier

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting Ready To Go To Copenhagen


Advent is here. Happy New Year for Christians. In the southern hemisphere, it is spring turning to summer, flowers bursting, people shaking off the last of the chilly weather to revel in glorious heat and long summer days, anticipating the Christmas barbecue or trip to the beach: nothing like taking your shirt off, getting out into the garden, to feel you are getting a new lease on life! In the northern hemisphere, it is the darkest and coldest time of the year, we light candles to remind ourselves that the darkness will not overcome the light, we bundle up, marvel at the first frosts, take time to be a bit introspective, huddled around the fire!

Or maybe not; it is my fantasy at any rate.

Climatic considerations color our experience of the Church year. With a growing global awareness of climatic chaos, the words of the Biblical prophets sound particularly apt. They call us to repent, and prepare the way of the Lord, to live in peace and with justice and equal consideration for the whole of creation which awaits with eager longing the coming of the Lord. But we must DO something about it. For too long we have simply relished the poetry and redoubled our consuming frenzy preparing for the commercial Christmas. "Seasons Greetings!" the cash register receipts read under "Amount Paid."

Tomorrow, Saturday December 5, hundreds of thousands of people are expected in London. We are all going there to participate in "The Wave." Wearing blue or sporting blue scarves and banners, we will circle around the British parliament in Westminster. At three o'clock when Big Ben tolls, we will wave our blue. Blue is the color of the earth seen from outer space. Blue is the color of the clear skies, of the clean waters, a fitting symbol for a whole and rejuvenated ecology and bioshpere. We will be waving at the British members of parliament, reminding them we are there, offering support and encouragement, asking for accountability.

Blue is also the color of Advent in some liturgical circles (always my preference--it is called "Sarum usage" or the Sarum rite...) I am very happy to be able to share the prophetic work, to be a voice among many calling for changed attitudes, different ways of living on the earth:

"Someone is shouting in the desert [and London Embankment]; 'Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!"

The message came through loud and clear in the Chapel this week:

"Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats. Calves and lion cubs will feed together, and little children will take care of them. Cows and bears will eat together and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do. Even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake. On Zion, God's sacred hill, there will be nothing harmful or evil. The land will be as full of knowledge of the Lord as the seas are full of water. (TEV Isaiah 11:6-9)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Are You Doing In Copenhagen?

I've had lots of questions about the chaplaincy work I'll be involved with in Copenhagen next week. I checked out the website of the Anglican church in Copenhagen (www.st-albans.dk) where we will be based, and here is the program:

St Alban’s Church Welcomes the World to COP15!

The church will be open every day during COP15 as a place of welcome, hospitality, prayer, stillness and engagement with the issues… all in a friendly English-language setting.

A team of Franciscan brothers, sister and Anglican clergy will be based at St Alban’s during COP15, and we look forward to meeting you. We will be joined by members of the local St Alban’s Church community.

We are:

* Brother Clark Berge SSF (San Francisco, Minister General SSF)
* Brother Colin Wilfred SSF (Canterbury)
* Sister Joyce CSF (London, Minister General CSF)
* Brother Hugh SSF (Hilfield, Dorset)
* The Revd Tony Rutherford (Kent)
* The Revd Jonathan LLoyd (Archdeacon-designate of Germany & Northern Europe)

We will also have Leslie-Ann Calliste and Janet Rutherford (both experienced counsellors) available as confidential listeners, if you need some quiet space to share and talk.
Opening Times and Facilities

The church will be open every day between 0815 and 1930 (and later on the weekend of 11/12/13 Dec).

We offer coffee, wireless broadband connection, toilets, stillness and prayer, conversation and a warm welcome. We also have maps and advice, and a place to warm up and dry off! Please call in.
Weekday Programme

Our daily weekday programme at St Alban’s Church (using the Franciscan prayer tradition), to which all are invited to call in for a short or a longer time, will be:

* 0830 Morning Prayer
* 1200 Holy Eucharist
* 1700 Music
* 1730 Evening Prayer
* 1800 “A Time for Climate Justice” – an open seminar about an aspect of COP15, followed by discussion
* 1900 Coffee
* 2100 Compline at The Swedish Church (next to Osterport Station – only 10 minute walk from St Alban’s)

Whether you are a COP15 delegate, a campaigner, a journalist, a tourist or just a fellow traveller, you are most welcome here at St Alban’s Church!
A Meeting Place

We will be a meeting place for campaigners from ECEN, WCC, Christian Aid, TearFund, Operation Noah, Arocha, CAFOD and other faith organisations and churches from across the world. St Alban’s will be a hub for networking and sharing our stories, and making new friends.
Services

On Saturday 12 December at 1800 there will be a quiet Evening Service/Vespers at Trinity Church (the church with the large round tower near Norreport Station) with The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, giving a reflection (the capacity of the church is 500).

Dr Rowan Williams will also preside and preach at the Parish Eucharist at St Alban’s Church on Sunday 13 December at 1000 (the capacity of the church is 235).
Where We Are and How to Contact Us

The St Alban’s COP15 Chaplaincy Team can be contacted on [00 45] 29 79 40 36.

St Alban’s Church
Churchill Parken 6
Langelinie
DK 1263 Copenhagen

Not sure where we are? Read about how to get to us.
Related Links

* Society of Saint Francis
* Archbishop of Canterbury
* Christian Aid
* TearFund
* Operation Noah
* ECEN European Christian Environment Network
* WCC World Council of Churches
* Stop Climate Chaos
* Green Church / Grønkirke

COP15 Logo

COP15 Logo
Brother Clark Berge

Brother Clark Berge

* Opening Times & Facilities
* Weekday Programme
* A Meeting Place
* Services
* Location & Contact Info
* Related Links

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

We had a beautiful Thanksgiving feast in England last night. Turkey,vegetarian nut loaf, stuffing, mashed "root veg" (basically anything that grows under ground boiled and mashed), lashings of gravy, red cabbage with apple, and sausages (a British innovation). Nothing green but nobody cared because the meal was fairly "green" with the veggies coming from the friary garden or nearby. I baked some pies. I was presented with a whole pumpkin and asked to make pumpkin pie! It was a bit of a palaver, roasting it, draining the flesh, pureeing it, and then trying to transpose the USA and UK measurements. Nobody seemed to have any idea about the oven and how it related to Fahrenheit, but miraculously the pie was delicious!


The turkey was a source of contention and a man and wife boycotted the meal because it wasn't organic. I sympathize with their commitment but felt badly they couldn't even bring themselves to be with the rest of us. Poverty isn't just not having money, it is mostly about living with our limitations and the limitations of others. We are none of us perfect, and the effort to live organically can sometimes fall into the trap of "all or nothing" which is unhelpful. Certainly in my own life it has been a big source of grief. I distinctly remember an occasion in my 40's when a friend looked at me strangely and observed: "I think you are beginning to mellow in your old age!" Ha. But we have got past the turkey incident for now and the conversation will continue with the drafting of "standards and regulations."

These contretemps about organic living are a part of everyday life here at Hilfield. The community here includes Franciscan brothers, married and single volunteers and longer term residents. They are committed to creating a sustainable, "green" life. They raise as much of their vegetables as possible, have plans for sheep and dream of a cow. Chickens provide eggs, and in the future some will be eaten I gather, but so far I have not been confronted with the need to pluck the chickens. I've done that in Melanesia, and on one memorable occasion when I was a boy and my parents got hold of 27 "moulting" chickens. It is not just about food, but about the land, how to care for it and use it to the highest potential, allowing for the claims of humans and all creatures for a place to live. One of the most intriguing initiatives is planting different plants together to attract different insects. The idea is not to get rid of the bugs, but encourage them to eat each other. Presumably they are so busy fighting each other they leave the cabbages alone. The peaceable kingdom is not about the absence of struggle and strife, but more about how we embrace it and contain it. I said to Br. Sam about the organic turkey tensions: "Disagreements like this beat the alternative: nobody gives a damn!" We agreed we'd rather have the important discussions than live with people who couldn't care less. The other part of the project here at Hilfield is about peace making and learning to bridge differences, transform conflict. Lots of opportunities for that living in community

I spent part of the day before Thanksgiving weed whacking a weedy pasture so that the chickens could be let loose on it. They are expected to tear up the ground, which will allow the grass to come up green and tender in the spring, to feed the new flock of sheep. Everything is interconnected. Unfortunately the weed wacker has a ferocious bite; the vibrations nearly tore the thing out of my hands, so after a couple of hours I was ready to pitch it into the pond, my hands blistered, bleeding and tingling. Pleading physical delicacy I traded that job for hyacinth planting.

Fortunately there is always more than one thing that needs to be done in a place like this!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Franciscan Response to Global Warming

Monday evening November 16 I was invited to give a speech about the Franciscan response to global warming. The speech was given at St. Martin in-the-Fields, London. There were about 300 people present. First we watched an incredibly powerful presentation by Mark Edwards, called Hard Rain. It is his photographic illustration of the song by Bob Dylan of the same name. To learn more about that, check out www.hardraiproject.com

Good evening. In his invitation to me, Richard Carter wrote: "In your talk I would like you to focus on what the response of the faith community is, should be and needs to be to the devastation of our ecology and the need to change and the choices we have to make as those called to be caretakers of creation... In The Archbishop of Canterbury’s words: 'The call to live on this planet without killing it and killing each other.'”

In the short time available to me I want to do a couple of things. First to hold up and celebrate what the faith community is doing about the challenge facing our planet earth. And I want to agitate us as we consider the choices we have to make as those called to be caretakers of creation. I will do that by amplifying the voice and example of a man I find incredibly agitating and inspiring, St. Francis of Assisi. There are some writers who are doing the same thing, and I'd like to acknowledge especially Sister Ilia Delio, OSF, a Franciscan sister of Washington DC. She is a professor at Washington Theological Union. She is perhaps one of the most prominent Franciscan writers on creation and the environment that I know of. I've never met her, but she is a sister in the struggle. I acknowledge her teachings and example tonight as we take note of the response of the faith community to our ecological crisis.

What is the response of the faith community? I did a web search and tried to make a list of different things, but soon became swamped in a huge amount of material. Religious people care about the environment. There have been and will continue to be innumerable mentions in worship services and specially-themed liturgies. The faith community is praying for the Earth. We promote efforts to save her and change our destructive ways of living on her. Just do a quick internet search and you will see for yourself! People of faith are active in litter clean up campaigns, recycling efforts, protesting toxic waste and challenging the ways we get rid of garbage. Many churches and religious organizations hold symposiums and special awareness campaigns. I have signed petitions in churches and participated in letter writing campaigns to elected officials. I think it is important to say "Well done" and "Keep up the good work."

In light of all this faith activity, one of the messages we need to keep putting out there, as simply and powerfully as we can, is that prayer works. It has the power to change hearts, open eyes and unleash creativity in the world. We see it happening at the local level, in Copenhagen I pray we'll see it happening on a global scale. "Prayer is at the heart of this," Delio says. "...It's God's wisdom and God's love in creation that we're called to live in and share" (US Catholic June 2009). Prayer, or openness to God, is what the earth and our ecological crisis most desperately needs.

Praying can motivate us to action. There are practical steps that you and I can take in the face of something that seems so incredibly large and overwhelming. One of the most important things for us as religious people to do is to affirm the power that each of us has to make a difference. We live in a world that recognizes the power of a butterfly to make an impact on global weather patterns; nothing we do is inconsequential. The power of art to move us deeply and propel us forward is unquestioned. The impact of Mark Edwards' photographs is palpable in this room tonight. Part of what I hope is happening for you is that you are beginning to see yourself as a member of a movement or network of concerned and committed people.

This is the first choice that confronts us: choose to be part of a community of people addressing the ecological crisis with creativity, compassion and thoughtfulness. I believe we are called by the Spirit to be part of a global movement for change. Keeping this sense of solidarity alive will be our greatest resource. we must pray and work together, struggling against the forces which would separate us, belittle our efforts and give us pause. "They" only need to distract us briefly to seize more rainforest, dump more waste, sign more contracts for wasteful cars.

Solidarity with other people and creation is a modern way of approaching the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis' life example teaches some basic Christian understandings about creation that haven't always been taken seriously. We can't ignore these things any longer. Creation is the work of God, and God is in and of it all. And God isn't done yet. God is still creating. God is using us as creative instruments to heal the planet. Every part of creation points to God's love, and must be reverenced. Francis preached passionately that we all come from the same source. He sang of it in an important theological statement, his Canticle of the Creatures. In a deep and integral way We are kin to each other: human, animal, vegetable and mineral, the stars and planets, the errant breezes and rolling streams, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wolf, Sister Water, Mother Earth. Because Francis recognized the claim we creatures have on each other, he worked to overcome enmity and division. He creates a bond for us between ecology and peace-making. We need to strengthen that link! I think his understanding of what it meant to be a human being was in part to recognize this elemental relationship with everything else. You can't be fully human in isolation from the rest of the world.

This Franciscan insight of interrelatedness has moved my sisters and brothers to do what they can to save the planet. Everywhere we recycle, farm worms and do things like that. One of my Society of St. Francis brothers in the Solomon Islands, Lent Fugui,
has been planting trees and writing about what he sees when he looks at the world. I quote from his degree thesis for Bishop Patteson Theological College in the Solomon Islands. It is a nuanced vision: "[R]ecent years [have shown that we] are not at ease with the natural world[.] [We] have shown considerable...opposition towards the natural world and have attempted to create the illusion that we are not part of nature..." But at the same time he describes the beauty of an ecosystem re-claimed and revitalized in a project begun by Br. Gilles, SSf, 15 years ago. It is exciting to see today, with Lent's leadership and careful work planting hundreds of trees, what has happened at Hautabu, our friary on the western tip of Guadalcanal--formerly bald grassland created by cutting timber and burning underbrush. It is a pledge of the hope that inspires us tonight: "[Because of our re-forestation work] Hautabu is now a home for wild growth...of different species...trees, weeds, animals, wild pigs[;] [you can now find] dogs growling, barking and dancing the night away...insects...snakes crawling and hissing, finding a place to rest...birds flapping and flying [and] singing sweet songs...Earth worms finding their way in and out of the soil and in doing so taking up their duty to nurse the land and [encourage] the living organisms to function well..." As Br. Lent has so eloquently described, we share this fragile home with many other creatures, all of whom have a perfect right and a rightful place in the wholeness of the earth. The loss of any human life to war, poverty, famine is an aching wound in human society. Every species we lose to the devastation of the natural habitats is a serious loss for us all. And yet, as you can understand with tree planting and many other activities, we can take a role in the work of creation and bring healing to our distressed globe.

Right here in England, the brothers of the Society of St. Francis have founded an interfaith environmental project, the Hilfield Project in Dorset. The goals of the project are the same as the brothers' in the Solomon Islands: raise awareness of our interconnectedness, educate people about ecology, gardening and good forestry practices, expose humans to the earth and each other, foster the political and spiritual will to save the planet. Come to Dorset and check it out!

Thus, another choice facing us this evening is to develop a real relationship with the environment around us, listen to the birds, admire the trees. The Franciscans around the world are inviting you to an embodied experience and response to the world. It is a very good way to remember what is at stake in our current crisis.

However, I cannot underscore the urgency of the situation enough. Because of what Br. Lent calls "our considerable opposition to the natural world" we are beginning to lose our homes and countries. The natural habitat we call the earth is deteriorating. Br. Lent and I have other brothers--men from Ontong Java, or the Lord Howe Atoll in the Solomon Islands--where the government of the Islands and the Anglican Church of Melanesia are beginning to create strategies for moving the population because of rising sea levels. It is a shock to me that I know people who are already suffering a direct consequence of global warming as dramatic as this. Real people fleeing ancestral lands which are disappearing for ever.

Lets just take a moment and think about the perpetrators of the global crisis. To a degree we are all implicated...I hate that, but I know I am as an American citizen (we consume more of the earth's resources than anybody else). It is a corollary of the belief that we are all interrelated. I have another brother writing a degree thesis. This one is for Newton College, Popondetta, in Papua New Guinea. Br. Oswald Dumbari writes very critically about the major players in the ecological crisis. Citing cronyism and bribery among government officials, he chronicles the destruction of the natural ecology in Papua New Guinea through irresponsible mining, timber cutting and oil palm plantations. As a result of political corruption which ennables unregulated extractive industries to spoil the environment, Br. Oswald states: "the environment has been damaged so badly [it has] [resulted] in climate change." The basest human motives for personal profit without regard for others is at the heart of our ecological crisis, he says. Throughout the world, unscrupulous politicians and their greediness for money have unleashed destructive powers that are easy to identify: unregulated factories, petroleum dependent automobiles, politically connected (and armed) ranchers lighting forest fires in environmentally delicate and important areas like Papua New Guinea and Brazil. You know the list as well as I do.

However the only way we can make an impact on the large-scale polluters is through government intervention and global governmental collaboration and cooperation. While corrupt government officials are deeply implicated in the cause of our problems, we can thank God for many leaders of integrity. They just need encouragement. we must find a way to engage them in critical self appraisal and learning to operate differently. Guess who will be in Copenhagen? Our very own governmental officials. Changing the way government works will only happen through direct and continuous pressure by many people. St. Francis is a model for us here, too. He wrote "A Letter to the Rulers of the Peoples" in 1220. It is an oddball sort of letter, but he understood that if you wanted change you had to engage the leaders. "Reflect and see that the day of death is approaching," he wrote. He had an strong message! And a timely one for us, too. He wanted the civil authorities to be mindful of Gospel truths. We pray for a commitment to honesty and integrity among our civil leaders and a deep awareness of our interconnection. We have to see letter writing, and encouraging our leaders to embrace earth-friendly values, as part of our faith practice. We must engage the decision makers and tell our story as vividly as possible. What we are talking about is creating political will. As Mr. Obama once said to America: "We invented solar power, we've got to learn to use it." As St. Francis recognized, we have a sacred obligation to address our leaders, correcting them when they are in error, and thanking them when they speak out. As governments prepare for the summit in Copenhagen, we must do whatever we can to make our opinions heard: dial in, log on, speak out.

Thus a third choice for us tonight is to become active or deepen our political involvement. We can write letters, shoot videos and post them on You-tube, start an e-mail campaign or simply sign onto the initiatves of others, the list is endless, limited by our creativity. Thank God for Mark Edwards and his camera!

To sum up: inspired by St. Francis, I offer four urgent imperatives:

Keep praying! Pray to God, live lightly on the earth and mindfully of the Gospels. I suppose that is St. Francis' message in a nutshell.

Choose to be part of a community! Seek solutions to our problems in solidarity, working together. It is essential for us.

Develop a real relationship with the world! Love it! As angry or fearful as you might be, love is the only power that makes any lasting changes. Get outside in the rain and the sun and live with gratitude for the beauty of all that is around you. Fall in love with the dogs dancing the night away, birds singing sweet songs, children playing in the park. Plant trees.

Get political! Dont be shy of politics. It's your spiritual obligation to do so. Memorandums, resolutions, treaties: these are the mechanisms, the documents, that force reluctant (or corrupt or wicked) people to become accountable to the rest of us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Packing

Off on a mission! It can be a beguiling call for friars. Last week one of my brothers was off on a mission, and I could hear him packing, rummaging through his closets in the room next to mine. It made me think about my attitudes towards packing. I clicked on the Lonely Planet website and found there a long correspondence about packing. I've certainly had to struggle with the all-or-nothing syndrome. Fortunately I have had plenty of opportunity to work out what I might need for a typical 6 month trip.

Today, ruthless is my byword for packing. How many clothes can I wear in a day? How many climate zones will I be traveling through?

The first things into my suitcase are my Franciscan habit, sandals, Bible, Prayer Book, Big Book, running shoes, shorts and athletic socks. Then I try to determine how many climate zones I'll be traveling through. Tropics only is easy: swim trunks, flip-flops, a pair of shorts, three t-shirts, three boxer shorts. If the trip includes time in cold weather climates (including Papua New Guinea Highlands or African mountainous regions) I throw in a pair of long pants, a light wool sweater and a windbreaker (or set them aside to wear on the plane). If I'm crossing too many climate zones, I simply rely on the kindness of brothers, who are usually only too happy to loan me a sweater, scarf, gloves and boots. Admittedly I probably look like a refugee, but perhaps that's a virtue in a friar.

Next I take a tiny gray nylon pouch and put into it my stash of anti-malaria meds, a small tube of antibiotic ointment and a dozen band-aids, anti-fungal cream, Pepto-bismal tablets, a small bottle of Aleve, a matchbox size sewing kit with a needle and several snarls of cotton thread (I'm always making spastic attempts to fix buttons, buckles, tears in my clothing and luggage), a pair of finger and toe nail clippers, tweezers and a nail file. Some water purifying tablets (Which make the water TASTE like poison). In another small bag I put a cake of soap in a plastic box, toothbrush, hairbrush, tooth paste, three disposable razors, two small bottles of shampoo, deodorant stick, and a small stick of shaving soap--no aerosol or gels, which have made sticky messes in my suitcase before. Perhaps my most idiosyncratic thing is a long back brush, which I take with me everywhere. It always causes comments, too. I'm sure they'd really like to say something about the naked whiteman in the river, but instead make a joke about my back brush. Go figure.

In my backpack I put my cell phone and charger, camera, Mini laptop computer, a set of adapters, a plastic check file which I use for all essential information I might need if my computer crashed or got stolen--address lists, bank account information, ticket stubs and receipts which I collect for accounting purposes. I have a flashlight, travel clock, sunscreen, sunglasses and hat, a pair of cotton work gloves (weeding, pruning, working with machete, grating coconuts---I wear them often!). I hate things that stick in my ears, and I never really got reliant on music, so no i-pod or anything like that.

I carry a novel at all times, to prevent madness. I leave them wherever I go, taking up a new one as soon as possible.

The goal is to be able to hump my own luggage long distances over rough trails if necessary. Most of the time I can wheel it around easily (hence my reluctance to use a backpack exclusively), but there is always the time when everything must be carried. The temptation then of course is to pitch everything overboard like the early settlers of the American West, heaving things from the back of their rickety Conestoga wagons. If it is a side trip, and I know I'll be coming back through "town," I do leave almost everything behind--who needs a computer when there is no electricity?

I suppose I could go with the Biblical guidelines: "do not carry any gold or silver or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar's bag for the journey or a spare shirt or shoes or a walking stick. (Matt. 10:9-10)" But that would be uncharacteristically literalistic of me. Or perhaps I haven't fully "let go and let God;" but I fear to travel with less would be, for me, spiritual pride. I won't get into heaven on the size of my suitcase.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Triple crown




A big part of being a brother is just being around. Sometimes it feels like nothing happens, then I find myself in a stretch when it seems every day has a major event. Last week turned out to be a big one, with three big events.

The first event was the consecration of the Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane.It was a fairly traditional affair with miters and copes everywhere, but featured some fabulous aspects that were reward enough for "showing the flag" as some of us call it--turning up at large church events partly as a reminder to the larger church that we Franciscans exist! These highlights were occasioned by the participation of the aboriginal people. First was the welcome by Uncle Des Sandy of the Yuggera nation. He was marvelously colloquial and low key in the midst of all that Anglican splendor. The different aboriginal sense of things was again celebrated by the lovely, haunting didgeridoo music played by Adrian Burragubba of the Wangan nation, with his cheeks distended, eyes roaming over the congregation, taking it all in. The music seemed to go on and on, and I found myself thinking of the little bit I know and understand about Aboriginal "songlines" and "dreaming." (Actually I only know that these are categories in Aboriginal thought and spirituality! I read a novel once called Songlines...) The music was compelling and a blessed part of the rich musical offerings. At the Gospel procession a beautiful woman from the Torres Straits entered, surrounded by a seeming honor guard of young men brandishing bow and arrows, all wearing grass skirts and flowers and feathers. They were joined by a throng of others who came out of their pews with guitars, singing a hymn. We were indeed in Australia! God bless the Cathedral and all who pray in it.

The next night, Friday, we joined the Kerala community in welcoming the Church of Mar Thoma Archbishop from south India. "kerala" we learned means "God's country!" Many Keralians worship at the brothers' parish in Annerley, Brisbane, so it was a natural thing to have the initial event of his first arch-episcopal visit at St. Philips. After his talk with the congregation, everybody was invited to come forward for a blessing, which he gave us on the nose: bopping every one gently with a silver cross. Blessed and braced to bear witness to the Gospel in Australia without forgetting where we come from, we adjourned to the brothers back garden where a huge pot of curry was waiting. The food was ladled over wonder bread...I wonder if that is traditional Keral cuisine or a diaspora innovation? I was pulled from the curry line to sit at a table with the other brothers and the Archbishop. We ate the curry on rice, with many other delectable dishes, goodness knows what they were!

Saturday we celebrated Br. Nathan James Life Profession. I was active behind the scenes: I mowed the grass around the church and swept the parish hall. Liturgically it was an ANZ event. And the friars pulled out all the stops: a bagpiper piped the procession in, Solomon Islanders walked Nathan forward to the Bishop Protector, Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth; there was a stringed quartet, organ music, acolytes imported from two Anglican schools where Nathan has been active. His family was there and many, many friends of his and longtime friends of SSF. I got to put names and faces together. I found myself remembering my Life Profession and all the water that has gone under the bridge since then...some of it a bit muddy. But I am so glad I took the plunge! Nathan looked a bit dazed after he said (loud and clear) "I, brother Nathan-James do hereby dedicate myself for my whole life..." But he left the fainting to one poor soul in the back of the church who dropped during the sermon. All in all one couldn't ask for more: a terrific day! Pictured: Br. Daniel (MC for the Profession service) putting the Archbishop and sub deacon through a quick rehearsal.


All Saints Day I observed my second anniversary in this job. So I made time to tot up all my air miles (in preparation for the Nov. 17 Central Fund trustees meeting when I will submit the miles to the trustees). They have agreed to pay one British pound per thousand miles to off set my carbon foot print. 155 pounds (!!!) will be divided between two projects: one, in Cameroon where the small Brotherhood of St. Michael community there is trying to plant trees to help rehabilitate the water table in order to provide water for their new monastery and three neighboring villages as well which currenty have no water. The other project is in the Solomon Islands where the SSF brothers have been involved in reforesting the friary property and using their ecological efforts as an educational tool to teach the neighboring villagers about how to care for the environment.

Monday, October 26, 2009

G'day from Darwin

I flew up to Darwin to visit Br. James Andrew who is a doctor working in the hospital here. It has been a very pleasant time of getting acquainted with each other and for me to explore a new part of the world. Saturday James took time off from the hospital and we went exploring Litchfield Park, a national wilderness park.

Here you can see James standing next to one of the great curiosities of Australia, a termite mound. Termites build these enormous structures, all carefully placed for air conditioning! Apparently they maintain a comfortable temperature inside all year round--a challenge in the blazing heat. Termites fill the ecological niche of grass eaters. There are not naturally many ruminants, so the termites eat the grass.

After several hours of driving around the park, we took a short hike to this amazing water hole--crocodile free! Had a great swim, then lazed in the shallows watching the turtles and fish swim over my feet.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Long awaited photos!

Sunday July 26 hundreds of people gathered at St. Mary of the Angels Friary at Haruro, Popondetta, PNG to celebrate Society of St. Francis' 50 years ministry in the Pacific. The men and women of Hauro village welcomed the brothers with a traditional ceremony. They also danced during the liturgy and the feasting afterwards.


The Brothers' procession on the day of our celebration.


SSF Companions and young friends in PNG.


Celebrating St. Clare's Day in Siomoromoro Village, in the Papua New Guinea highlands.


Come and join our happy crew! During my visit to the Solomon Islands, we're off to visit a volcanoe in Temotu Province, about a two hour canoe ride.


Tinakula volcano, our destination for a day trip during my stay in Temotu with the brothers at Holy Martyr's Friary. The summit is obscured by steam and clouds. It is a VERY active volcano!


Fiery hot rocks cascading off the flanks of Tinakula volcano.


The brothers take me on a Sunday "stroll"--which means everybody climbing into the truck and going on visits to friends: we visited the Sisters of the Church and the Sisters of Melanesia


Br. George, Minister Provincial of Solomon Islands addresses the brothers after Mass on St. Francis Day.


The brothers meet with Archbishop David Vunagi on his first official visit to the Society of St. Francis.

Br. Sam Siho, new Guardian of Hautambu La Verna Friary enjoying his role as Master of Ceremonies for the St. Francis Day Feast. Nothing is quite so gratifying as a bullhorn!

Br. Polycarp enjoying his food at the farewell dinner at Patteson House in Honiara my last night in the Solomon Islands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So long, Solomons!

I arrived in Australia last Saturday. My last few weeks in the Solomons were busy. We celebrated St. Francis Day at Hautambu with the Archbishop of Melanesia who was very encouraging to us. He was especially impressed by the leadership SSF has shown
in opting for a "no alcohol" policy; one of his major complaints about the Church of Melanesia which he leads is the widespread alcohol abuse among clergy and religious. I was happy that we had addressed the issue on our own, without an intervention from the larger church. Apart from these sober discussions, St. Francis day was very high spirited (!). We picnicked on the beach (about 200 of us), and then danced and sang all afternoon. We'd just cleaned up and gone to our rooms to rest when the heavens opened and a heavy rain came pelting down. There is no joy greater than showering under a downspout! Everybody grabbed soap: almost as convenient as indoor plumbing.

The week after St. Francis Day I visited the brothers on Malaita Island. We had several tsunami scares. In Honiara, they evacuated the Central Hospital. Later I was talking with a nurse about that experience, and she told me that if it had been a
real emergency they'd have been able to save only half the patients. We seemed to have several close calls; the best part of the experience was that government officials had opportunity to put evacuation plans into practice, test early warning
schemes and then reflect on the experiences without having to cope with real damage. I was visiting a small friary in the bush in the hills in the interior of Malaita during all of this, and as we had no electricity, we knew nothing of the scare
until it was over. Interestingly enough the theme of my visit with the brothers there was "communication," but on a homely dimension, as we tried to sort out some of the real life issues of community life.

I find these visits to be so reassuring. It seems we all struggle with the same kinds of issues, and that men living together in Melanesia face the same daily challenges as their brothers in America or anywhere else. And we all think we are the only ones with such difficulties and that our troubles disqualify us in some basic way as brothers. I told them the opposite was the truth: our troubles and how we face them are our qualification for Franciscan life and ministry.

My last few days were spent saying thanks and farewell. I'd been in the province over two months. We had large meals which of course took days to prepare: brothers went diving for fish, teams dug cassava and collected coconuts. Land and sea provided for us a great feast. Of course there were speeches. I got a bit long winded Friday night October 16 at the last such meal, recalling for the brothers that it was my profession anniversary--16 years of profession, and 20 years in SSF. I was reminded of the time I tried to run away in 1992 only to be accosted by old Brother Leo who invited me to sit and talk, and he asked me to "wait one more day." We all have our ups and downs, but thank God there are brothers around to help us put our troubles into perspective.

Tomorrow I fly to Darwin to visit Brother James.

Friday, October 2, 2009

St. Francis Day in Asia Pacific

Happy St. Francis Day!

I post these greetings while news of tsunamis, storms and earthquakes dominate the world headlines. All The Solomon Islands have escaped these storms, but we are watching the news and keeping our Pacific neighbors in our prayers. It is sobering to watch these terrible events, and know how fragile is our own safety. There are several places in the Solomon Islands where people have begun to move away from them permanently because of rising sea levels due to global warming. Weather patterns have changed such that formerly dry seasons are wet, and at other times we wonder where our water will come from (most of the friaries depend on rain water for drinking water). And changing weather means the crops are affected. So this weekend my prayers are for a deeper awareness of the earth and nature, and the demands for justice and healing which are laid upon us all. It is hard to watch my brothers grapple with these events, telling stories of dislocation, crop failures.

For too long we have not taken care of our Mother Earth. So let us dedicate ourselves anew as we celebrate the life and example of St. Francis to his radical understanding that every creature and the whole earth share the same source and we are all kin.

Last week I was in Kira Kira, and spent a week with the brothers there. I preached at the Cathedral, we had a party for some friends. But it wasn't all roses. A brother who no longer lives at that friary once tore up a floor board in order to spit betel nut juice. He chose for some reason to tear up a piece of flooring from the hallway! And the other brothers, though dismayed, did not fix the hole. I stepped in it and nearly broke my left leg. So I am black and blue from the knee down! But not so impaired I couldn't grab a piece of wood and fix the damn hole!!

I have had to follow my own advice about letting go, praying for others and trying not to carry burning resentments. The struggle continues...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tinakula Volcanoe

During my visit to Temotu Province last week, I was able to arrange for a visit an active volcano, Tinakula. A tall plume of steam and smoke streams from the top of a majestic cone rising direct from the sea. When I arrived at Lata Airport in Temotu last Saturday I noticed the volcano, and as Br. Jonas and I were crossing the beautiful bay I pointed it out and said I'd love to go. So for the price of a can of gasoline (Solomon Dollars $400.00--for six gallons. Divide by 13 to get USA equivalent.) First we visited a village on an island across from the volcano, populated by people who have fled the island. There we found two young men to guide us. Wednesday we set off. It was a two hour trip in driving rain. There are only two tiny beaches acccessible by canoe, the rest of the island is impregnable because of cliffs facing the sea. We took aim at the largest, about 100 yards of tumbling black stones. Our guide instructed us to make a tight circle with the canoe to position ourselves for a fully accelerated run at the beach between two huge submerged boulders. We waited for a big wave then with engine roaring at full speed we headed for the beach. He cut the motor when we seemed to hang over the beach, and we all jumped into the waves to catch the canoe and drag it above the water line. A most memorable landing. I was a bit shaky afterwards.

There is an old man, Hubert, who prefers to stay on the island. So his family comes out to visit him. Our guides were family and we were invited to stay for lunch. After an hour, a huge bowl of wild yams, steaming hot, was place on the floor of the hut. A Melanesian treat.

Lunch finished we threaded our way through heavy jungle to the beach and launched the canoe in reverse of our landing procedure: picking it up we dashed into the water, chasing a wave which carried us out beyond the submerged rocks, and we hauled ourselves panting into the canoe. We circled the island, which seemed lush and harmless until we rounded a point and saw the steep black face of stone. Boulders were detaching themselves and bounding down the cliff amid a shower of sparks. I quickly realized the stones were glowing red! No wonder the sensible portion of the population abandoned the island...

Most of my visit was less dangerous. I weeded the potatoe gardens at the friary, celebrated Eucharist, helped out in the kitchen. One night we stayed up late as I told stories in answer to their many questions about my travels. My stories began to sound like a luxury tour, though , when they shared about their recent travels. Four friars live at Holy Martyrs Friary. Their work is mostly pastoral, visiting both people locally on Santa Cruz Island, as well as going "on mission" to remoter places. The brothers undertook one such mission recently, leaving July 6 for a three week tour of some nearby islands. When the tour was complete, however, they had to wait a month for a boat to transport them back to Lata. When one finally arrived it was a cattle boat, and over 200 people camped on the exposed deck for a 10 day trip, suffering rain and sun and no privacy let alone seats or a bed! They arrived home September 17!! They were philosophical about the travel circumstances, rather recounted stories of people they met, the small kindnesses of passengers and crew, and how much they are looking forward to the next mission, and the chance to preach the Gospel.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sharing the life of the brothers

No electricity since July. Sorry for the huge gap in postings...Today's is long to catch you up!

I never made it in August to Jimi in Papua New Guinea to see the Br. Justus Friary the brothers are building there. Br. Reuben and I left Popondetta harbor near Katerada on the "Calvados Queen" August 7. When we arrived in Lae the next morning we were met by Brother Robert Eric. We immdeiately set out in a small bus for Mt. Hagen, going via Goroka. The drivers of these buses are fanatics. We careened around twisting mountain roads, tires screeching. The scenery was breath-taking, progressing from heavy tropical vegetation to cool upland pastures and huge cattle ranches in the Highlands. I felt like I might be in Montana or somewhere as I looked at the vast pastures ringed by beautiful mountains. We arrived in Goroka about 2:00 p.m., had lunch in a small chicken restaurant, then caught another bus for Mt. Hagen. Br. Robert arranged for the driver to leave us outside the gates of the rest house where we were going to stay because he said it was too dangerous to walk around after dark. There seems to be very little in the way of civil government or infrastructure in Mt. Hagen. Amazingly filthy and apparently teeming with thieves, it is also much colder than the coast, so I was freezing and glad to get into the guest house. There a bishop was also taking refuge, Bishop Nathan, regional bishop for the area that includes our friary in Jimi, his transport had ben cancelled due to bad weather. I'd met him at Lambeth, so we had a happy time catching up. The next morning Robert and I tried to go on to Jimi, but discovered after travelling for an hour, that there was no transportation for the last leg of the journey because the drivers were "Sunday Keepers." We hung around hoping for a Seventh Day Adventist driver, but nobody showed so we took a bus back to the rest house in Mt. Hagen. Bishop Nathan and Robert then began considering the possibility of reaching Jimi and getting back to Lae in time to catch the boat back to Popondetta. Not possible, they concluded. On their suggestion we investigated plane tickets but these proved too expensive and the next flights still meant several days wait. Finally I suggested we go back to Goroka, Robert's home town, and stay in the village of Siomoromoro. This proved to be a good idea.

We had a warm if somewhat surprised welcome, and were given places to stay in the men's guest house. I've visted Siomoromoro several times in the past so felt much at home. We spent Tuesday resting. The next day the local parish priest came for the celebration of St. Clare's Day; she is the patron saint of the village. It was a beautiful open air Mass. We sat on logs laid on the ground and a small altar was placed in front, covered by a cloth. Nearly every worshipper showed up with a bouquet of flowers, so the area was soon transformed by a riot of color, lit by brilliant sun and cooled by a breeze. Squatting there in the dust I reflected how pleased Clare would be. Here was perfect poverty. The priest preached about Clare defending Assisi from the Muslims by holding up the Blessed Sacrament, telling the people Holy Communion was the source of great strength and power in their lives. I found it very moving. After a bountiful parish lunch provided by the Mother's Union, Robert and I set off to visit Bishop Denis in Goroka. I left Robert in Goroka and teamed up with Reuben who had taken advantage of his free time to visit his family in the area. Then it was back on the wretched bus for Lae.

We arrived after dark and went looking for the Anglican rest house. No sooner had we started to walk though, when we were surrounded by people pulling at our baggage and yelling at us. I felt my stomach drop. Fortunately these were Good Samaritans warning us of the folly of walking after dark with back packs. However since I could not understand their language I was not sure what was happening as they bundled us onto an empty bus. I was very relieved to get to the rest house. Reuben and I were shoe horned into a cubicle ("How much are they charging us for this?" I asked Reuben in total dismay. "Franciscan brothers are free," he replied. It was a small but real consolation). The only open shop at that hour was the gas station Qwik Mart, so we ate a tin of corned beef on crackers for dinner.

Another overnight trip on a ship and I was back at Popondetta for a six hour lay over. (Shower and breakfast with the brothers at Katerada.) Then another two night journey to Alotau. The trips to Lae were fairly gruelling: over crowded, hot, ripe with odors. I was regretting my decision to go all the way to Alotau on the ship. But reminding myself that this is the way the ordinary friars travel, I scrambled for a seat on a bench, spreadng my luggage out so I might have space to sleep. It turned out to be a wonderful trip. Only 20 passengers, and the ship stopped often to drop off passengers or take on new ones, so we had a chance to get off the boat and buy food and drink. It was exquisite weather, and I soon made friends with several other passengers. It was August 15, the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. I read my offices and found myself thinking about both the beauty and abundance of the earth and our voyage, plunging through the wind whipped, sun sparkled waters, and the poverty of the people and the copuntry. It seemed like an appropriate way to observe and remember Mary's life and obedience--poverty and beauty meeting together in the Incarnation. We sat together in the evenings on the wharf, eating whatever we had bought from the local women: fish, potatoes, sago pudding, cassava pudding, fresh bananas, coconuts, chestnuts (a tropical version thereof, heaven knows what they really are), and best of all, coffee. Arriving in Alotau at 8:00 a.m. we waited for three hours while a private yacht re-fueled. The yacht ignored our captain's repeated appeals to them to allow us to disembark, so we circled, peering in at the priviledged life of white North Americans: chef, waiters, ski jets, speed boats, young women in bikinis, and they peered down at us, a filthy ship, passengers raggedy, worn from three days travel, surrounded by frayed homemade luggage of palm leaf, betel nut stained mouths. I was so happy to be on the latter ship. Finally we were instructed to scramble off the ship onto a barge which was docked at the wharf, and cross over to land.

Br. Ham met me and we then got onto a flat bed truck that dropped us off at the end of the road leading to the friary. It was a joy to get there! First order of business was a bath in the river and then food. That evening we said good-bye and prayed our farewells with a young brother. I'd received his vows on Palm Sunday 2008, so it was with a real sense of ambivalence that I received his habit back. but he'd managed to become a father in the interim, so we had no choice. It was tearful.

The rest of my time was caught up with pastoral work with the brothers, meeting neighbors.

August 20 I flew (time was a-wastin') to Port Moresby and on the 21 of August I flew to the Solomon Islands.

Arrival in the Solomons is always a fairly easy ritual. They recognize my brown shirt and cross and wave me through saying "Welcome Brother!" After an overnight stay in Honiara, a whole truck load of brothers went to Hautambu for the first official Provincial Chapter since the creation of the Province of the Solomon Islands at our First Order Chapter last September. It was a good chapter and they enacted several changes, saying "Now we are a Province we must..." Most notable among these changes the Chapter adopted a zero tolerance no-alcohol policy. One drink and you are out. Alcohol abuse has wreaked real havoc on the friary buildings, spoiled the vocations of some wonderful men, compromised the reputation of the Franciscans within the Church of Melanesia. Brothers have stolen from the friary budgets to buy drink, diverted funds from their appeals. Completely fed up, I said "We need a policy that can be enforced! Enough preaching and moral exhorations!" I was surprised by how quickly they responded. A committee met and the next day the new policy was adopted. Most brothers expressed relief and gratitude. Some weren't quite so pleased but recognized the need for it. So far nobody has had to leave! When I visited the Archbishop later the next week he was delighted and hopes a similar policy will be adopted by the Melanesian Brotherhood.

After Chapter finished I offered my services to teach the novices and postulants, and so have spent a very happy 10 days doing that. I've been indulging my love of storytelling, recounting tales about St. Francis and then making connections between the stories and the brother's lives, helping them identify Franciscan values and giving an introduction to Franciscan spirituality. I took advantage of the free time to get back in shape, running every other day, and am now back to my usual form.

The most amazing and wonderful event during my stay in the Solomons so far has been the baptism of Clark Elcuwyn Kae Kae! His parents asked to name him after me since they asked me to pray that they would have a child during my last visit to the Solomons. His father Selwyn was a brother during my first visit to the Solomons in 1995-96, the mother Ellen Fox was a sister of the Sisters of Melanesia. He joins a sister Cuthberta (named by my predecessor as Minister General, Br. Daniel).

Tomorrow I go the most remote friary of the Province, in a place called Temotu. It is several hours by air, and then involves a canoe ride across a lagoon.

On the ride into town today I was thinking that today is September 11, and remembering the events of 2001. Thank God there have been no more attacks, I pray for a speedy end to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and deepening relationships of trust and understanding with Muslims.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Going to Jimi

Once the celebrations were over, the brothers had to quickly shift gears and prepare for Chapter. Fortunately Monday was a free day. Everybody slept. Some friends stayed on to help clean up and prepare a special lunch for us. I got in a satisfying six mile run into the Cathedral and back. Then, late in the afternoon we moved ourselves to Hetune Convent with the Commuity of the Visitation of Our Lady (the CVL Sisters). They'd bravely welcomed us even though their generator wasn't working so there was no electricity, and no running water. We couldn't have cared less!

Tuesday was a Quiet Day with addresses given by the retired Bishop of Dogura, Bishop Sanana. He talked about the adventure of our calling. I was all ears. Much of what he said rang true to me and echoed many of the things we'd heard in America during the Formator's conference. A very pleasant surprise.

Then there was Chapter: reports, discussions, votes. We elected Brother Charles Iada to Life Profession, Br. Samuel Pokia to First Profession. We welcomed back into the noviciate a man (Jerry Ross) who been a brother before (and shared the same date of Profession with me--I was professed in New York October 16, 1993 and he'd been professed that day in PNG). There were a few farewells: the Guardianship of Haruro changed because Wallace's term was up. We elected Selwyn Suma the new Guardian. Br. Gabriel was released from Vows.

As familiar as the process was to all of us, it had a sense of being extra important: the first provincial chapter of the new Province of Papua New Guinea.

We were bone tired by the time we got back to the Friary Friday, but there were still loose ends to tie up. So Saturday was spent waiting. Unfortuantely it took until Saturday night to get everybody together to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's".

Sunday I celebrated and preached: oofdah! But then it was bathing in the river, sleeping in a cool breeze, reading a novel.

Thursday of this week I head off on an adventure: going by ship overnight up the coast to Lae. Br. Robert Eric will meet me and we will leap onto one of the huge trucks cum rural bus called PMV's and travel most of a day to the point closest to the trail head which we will then hike to a village called Jimi and visit the place Br. Justus Van Houten died in 2006. The Brothers have built a friary there, named after Br. Justus. I am also going to meet with the people and assure them of SSF's love and gratitude to them for all that they did for Justus.

50 Years in the Pacific

After my arrival in Papua New Guinea, I was housed, with Brothers Brian, Alfred, and Giles at a guest house in Port Moresby. The chief distinguishing characteristic of this guest house was the size of the cockroaches: the largest I've ever seen in my life! But they were a source of amusement when the conversation flagged to track them down. In many ways this gathering was like any family reunion: out of town guests sitting around motel rooms. Special meals and outings. Some of us had never met, some were very familiar. Finally it was time to go to the airport to fly to Popondetta for the manin event. After only a half hour flight we arrived and I could see out the window a small bevy of girls in traditional costume. Each of us was greeted with a flower lei. A new bench mark for airport arrivals! Then we got into a hired van and were driven to the friary.

Br. Brian was asked to knock at a temporary barricade set up across the road, and then a voice called out a challenge. I was nudged from behind and told to say "We are Franciscans!" We did this three times and then the barricade came down to reveal maybe 50 people in feathers and tapa cloth, with drums, spears and flowers, shouting "Oro! Oro! Oro!" (Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!). Led by a man I concluded must be the chief, they sang and danced all of the way to the friary central lawn. There we had speeches, more singing and handshaking, nearly every brother in the province was there to greet us. It was particularly moving to see some of the older people in the crowd fall on
Br. Brian with shouts of joy and tears. One of the men I noticed I later met as the man who built the friary 50 years ago.

The next day, Saturday, we spent being entertained in grand Papua New Guinean style. Meanwhile there was incredibly intense activity going on behind the friary and in the surrounding area. I could hear axes chopping wood, women singing, smoke spiralling into the air. At one point a pig, trussed and suspended on a pole was carried through the central lawn, accompanied by the same band of singers and dancers, singing much the same sorts of songs as when they greeted us. It was a way of rejoicing and giving thanks for the pig and its life. Poor pig. But the food was fabulous. The brothers organized a vocational school with catering classes to prepare the food for the weekend. It was all local food, but beautifully presented: bananas of many kinds and divers preparations, yams, taro, aibica, papaya, chicken, rice, cassava, kau-kau. Heavy on the starches, but absolutely delicious and just the right thing to serve on this occasion. SSF has become entirely Papua New Guinean.

Br. Oswald officiated at a beautiful Solemn Evensong Saturday evening. We'd intended to bless a plaque presented by the European Province brothers commemorating the first 4 SSF brothers to go to Papua New Ginea in 1959 (Geoffrey, Mark, Steven and Andrew). But during Evensong we could hear hammering and the sounds of cement being mixed in a barrel nearby. Obviously no plaque would be placed there that night. But by morning, the forms were gone, there was a beautiful pedestal and the plaque was there, covered by a piece of brown cloth.

The solemn procession began at the friary gate, with the Bishop Protector Joseph Kopapa (a novice in the Third Order SSF) shovelling incense on the thurible. The smell of incense mingled with the smell of roasting pork and vegetables from the four stone muu-muus (traditional stone ovens) ranged behind the friary. Several hundred people had stayed up all night long to prepare three pigs, tons of sweet potatoes and yams and other delicacies. Then they donned their costumes and escorted us into church through a large crowd of other people, pressing in and waving. The brothers had designed a terrific liturgy, with every local institution sending a group of dancers. We danced the Gloria, the Gospel procession, the Offertory, the Great Amen, and then danced our way out to bless the plaque in the memorial garden/graveyard behind the Chapel. Br. Brian's sermon recapped the adventure of the early days and the incredible generosity of the people who originally welcomed the Brothers. But he spoke to larger themes, illustrating Franciscan spirituality with all that he said. It was masterfully done.

Then came the feasting. More dancing. And then presentations to the brothers. Some were invited to give speeches, but there seemed to be several spontaneous ones. As always children featured prominently in the festivities, and provided some moments of hilarity as they toddled among their parents, all decked out as tiny warriors. I was particularly struck by the number of teenagers among the performers. I asked one parent who came to rest near me: "Do you have trouble convincing the teenagers to dress up in traditional costume and dance like that?" I was assured they loved it and were proud of their culture. The whole weekend was animated by a passionate sense of a living cultural tradition which has embraced the Gospel message and Franciscan way of life. I was particularly moved to see the brothers in their full Franciscan habits overlayed by feather and shell ornaments, their faces marked with painted designs.

I had wondered how we might assess the impact of 50 years of the Order in PNG. But there was no mystery to it. The presence of many bishops, hundreds of people, representatives of the government, children, cats, dogs and domesticated jungle creatures that one woman permitted to crawl all over her I knew that the Society of St. Francis had made a difference, and been changed forever in the bargain.

Thanks be to God.