Sunday, November 28, 2010

Declaration from Solomon Islands Social Justice Conference

DECLARATION OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE FOUR RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF MELANESIA ON SOCIAL JUSTICE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND ADVOCACY

Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, November 21-28, 2010


Beloved in Christ:

From November 21 through 28, 2010, we, 152 members of the four religious communities of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, have met together at Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, the headquarters of the Melanesian Brotherhood, for prayer, biblical reflection, discussion and planning on issues of social justice, human rights and advocacy in Solomon Islands and beyond.

We are members of the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, the Society of St. Francis, the Community of the Sisters of the Church and the Melanesian Brotherhood. It is the first time in the history of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) that the four religious communities have met together for such an event. We rejoice in the new friendship and cooperation that has emerged among us, breaking down old barriers and misunderstandings. We are also happy to be joined by some of our community members from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

We thank the initiator and a facilitator of the event, Br. Clark Berge, SSF, Minister General of the Society of St. Francis; four facilitators provided by Franciscans International, Mateusz Tuniewicz, Sr. Odile Coirier, FMM, Morse Flores and Sanjay V. Gathia; and local facilitators Lanieta Leo and Bishop Terry Brown. We thank the 27 facilitators from the four religious communities trained the week before by the same facilitators. We also thank the Society of St. Francis Legacy Fund for financial support for the event.

In the context of the daily Eucharist and offices, we have reflected upon the biblical and theological roots of social justice and human rights; gained an understanding of the variety of United Nations human rights declarations, covenants and conventions; gained skills in advocacy; examined our local social, cultural, economic and political contexts; and tried to discern our future work in promoting justice and human rights in Solomon Islands and beyond. Particular themes for discussion were women, gender and children; respect for the environment; and good governance, transparency and rule of law. These themes were chosen in light of the country's high rate of family violence, ever increasing environmental degradation and widespread corruption.

We affirm the world as God's good creation in Christ, restored by Jesus Christ's death and resurrection (Genesis 1:1-25, Colossians 1:15-20). We affirm the equality of women and men as created in God's image and companions for one another (Genesis 1:18, 26-27). We affirm God's covenant with Noah, blessing and protecting the environment (Genesis 9:1-17). We affirm righteousness and justice as put forward in the Jewish Law and prophets. We affirm Jesus' loving solidarity with the poor and suffering, leading to his death on the Cross. We affirm the Cross as offering forgiveness for our sinful ways, and life in Christ as a new way forward (Ephesians 2:1-10, 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21). We affirm our faith in the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who leads us to advocacy for truth and justice (John 15: 26-27, 16:13). We affirm that the whole Church, the Body of Christ, is called to advocacy for justice and righteousness both within itself and in the world at large.

In light of these affirmations and our work together this week, we discern the following:

1. Family violence, particularly violence against women and children, remains a widespread practice in Solomon Islands. We reject any cultural defence of this practice. We believe that the root causes of family violence (cultural beliefs, poverty, forced and/or very early marriages, lack of Christian teaching about marriage, poor communication in marriage, misuse of alcohol, etc.) must be addressed. We, both women's and men's communities, pledge to continue to support the work of the Christian Care Centre as a shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse and as an educational centre on this issue. Within each of our communities we also promise to address this issue, for example, with direct intervention in situations of family violence, inclusion of teaching against family violence in mission programmes that go out to the dioceses and the development of training programmes on family counselling within our novitiates.

2. We note widespread complaints about how the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) deal with alleged situations of family violence, often ignoring them as "domestic disputes" and refusing to intervene. Some police even side with the perpetrator, especially if he is a relative or friend, blaming the victim. We urge better training of the police on this issue and more frequent deployment of women police officers. We are willing to assist in this training. We urge that the rule of law be observed rather than ignored in these cases. Where police refuse to act, they should be reported to higher authorities.

3. We are concerned that there is widespread abuse of the human rights of children, especially girls, in Solomon Islands. Despite the government's programme of free and universal primary education, many girls are not allowed to go to school but are kept home to work. Adopted children are especially vulnerable. Many children and young persons are subject to sexual and physical abuse in the home, usually by close relatives. The country's shortage of secondary schools and tertiary education further disadvantages children wishing to pursue education at higher levels. We promise to encourage parents to send their girls to school. We also promise not to let our households become refuges for children who should be in school.

4. We are deeply troubled by parents who allow their under-aged daughters and young daughters to become "wives" of foreign logging crews (usually from Asia) for payment of goods and/or money. These relationships are often forced, not permanent and are really a form of child prostitution and slavery. Children born out of such relationships are very vulnerable. Especially where our community houses are near such logging camps, we pledge to counsel the parents and children concerned and place pressure upon logging camp managers to halt this illegal practice, publicly exposing it where necessary. We urge dioceses, parish committees and clergy to do the same and not to accept gifts from the logging companies concerned. We support the recommendations of the Christian Care Centre's 2007 report, "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in a Remote Region of the Solomon Islands". The same practice is also emerging in the fishing and mining industries. We also note with concern increasing urban prostitution employing local young women and the trafficking of women brought from Asia. We are also concerned about allegations that girls are earning their school fees through sex. We pledge to work against these practices and to minister to those involved. We urge the police to act in all situations where the law is being broken, particularly in remote rural areas.

5. While women are well represented in the civil service, including at the level of Permanent Secretary, only one woman has been elected to Parliament since Solomon Islands independence in 1978. We strongly believe we should have women Members of Parliament in Solomon Islands. Reasons for the absence of women in Parliament are largely cultural and economic, resulting in well-qualified women (of whom there are many) unable to get elected. We believe serious consideration should be given to 30 percent reserved seats for women in Parliament. We are pleased to see this development taking place in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. We also pledge to encourage well-qualified women to run in national and provincial elections and, while not endorsing specific candidates, urge voters to give serious consideration to voting for women candidates. Men do not have the right to control women's votes. Each woman has the right to vote for the candidate of her choice.

6. We are pleased that Solomon Islands Government has become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, we are concerned that Solomon Islands government has not met its international obligations in both implementing and reporting back to the United Nations on the two conventions. We urge Solomon Islands government to make the required reports to the United Nations on CEDAW and CRC immediately. We also urge Solomon Islands government to be transparent in developing public awareness programmes to show the steps it has taken to implement these two conventions.

7. We are deeply concerned at the widespread degradation of the environment in Solomon Islands, particularly through unsustainable logging and fishing, often by foreign companies in collusion with local politicians. Despite years of warnings, the Solomon Islands government has refused to reduce the level of these activities. We urge Solomon Islands government to reduce logging and fishing to sustainable levels. We urge a complete ban on logging in Guadalcanal, Isabel, Makira and Malaita and other islands, where we have especially experienced its negative effects (land degradation, flooding, destruction of water supplies, rivers and reefs, land disputes and prostitution). As members of religious communities, we shall discourage local communities from entering into contracts with logging companies.

8. We are concerned about the environmental and social impact of gold mining about to begin again on Guadalcanal, proposed nickel mining on Isabel and other mining projects planned around the country. Some of us have witnessed major environmental destruction caused by the current nickel prospecting on Isabel and urge that prospecting not take place without an environmental impact study. Aware of the disastrous environmental and social effects of mining in Papua New Guinea, we urge Solomon Islands government to move cautiously in this area and maintain maximum transparency with all parties about proposed projects. As members of religious communities, we shall urge local landowners to proceed with the greatest caution.

9. We are also aware that there are local environmental practices that need to be challenged and resisted: over-harvesting of marine and land resources, dynamiting of reefs for fish, destruction of endangered species and their habitats, careless use of land and sea for disposal of rubbish, destruction of mangroves, fruit and nut trees; and lack of rubbish collection in urban areas. We confess that we have sometimes failed as religious communities in these areas and pledge to try to make our households good examples of respect for the environment. We also pledge to assist village people to address these issues through change of practice and advocacy. We are also aware that for some islands rising sea levels and over-population are major environmental issues. We have met as island and national groups and prepared appropriate action plans. We shall be implementing these.

10. We have discussed issues of good governance within our own religious communities. We recognize we have sometimes failed and pledge the greatest possible good governance, transparency and faithfulness to our Rules in the future. The governance of large religious communities is not easy and further training is needed, for example, in looking after money and assets.

11. We have discussed the corruption and violence that frequently accompany national and provincial elections in Solomon Islands. We believe we can exercise leadership in areas of developing accurate voters' lists, encouraging well qualified women candidates, discouraging bribery, monitoring elections for fraud and preventing violence at polling stations. We also recognize the urgent need for reform of the nation's electoral laws by Parliament.

12. We intend to take the concerns expressed in this Declaration back to our four religious communities and the Anglican Church of Melanesia for consideration and endorsement. We also wish to continue to meet together as religious communities on issues of social justice and human rights. We recommend that the ACOM Religious Life Advisory Council appoint a social justice committee comprised of representatives of our four religious communities. We pledge to work with the ACOM, other churches, the Solomon Islands Government, non-government organizations and all other organizations working on social justice issues. We also ask for the solidarity of church partners overseas, especially in countries from which our exploiters come.

For us, this has been an exciting week, full of new learning and new friendships. Sent out on Advent Sunday, we make a new beginning, incorporating and moving beyond the peace and reconciliation work we have done in the past and will continue to do. We shall continue to "lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light ... the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:12-14, Collect for Advent Sunday) and actively seek justice for all.

Agreed to by the consensus of all the participants and signed on their behalf by:

Sister Mary Lulo, CSM
Head Sister, Community of the Sisters of Melanesia

Sister Phyllis Margaret Sau, CSC
Sister Provincial, Solomon Islands Province, Community of the Sisters of the Church

Brother Clifton Henry, SSF
Representing the Province of the Solomon Islands, Society of St. Francis

Brother Leonard Yanga, MBH
Regional Head Brother, Solomon Islands Region, Melanesian Brotherhood.

Advent Sunday, 2010
Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in the Solomon Islands

I have come full circle, back to the Solomon Islands. It is good to be sitting in the brother’s semi-air conditioned office again. I can hear the sounds of people laughing and talking outside. The friary is surrounded by people all day long; the sounds of laughter and conversation wake me up in the morning and are the last things I hear at night.

The brothers try to limit the crowds, and there are signs posted that say: “We discourage you from sitting around…” but it is hopeless. The brothers are all sitting around with at least two dozen visitors as I write. Everyone is busily chewing betel nut, telling stories. It is a kind of never ending reunion. I have learned that it is not wasting time. These meetings are the way social life (and a lot of business) happens, and a tremendous amount of information is processed. Of course some of it is not true. It is, in the memorable words of Dr. Shriver penned at the bottom of one of my seminary exams: “a jumble of things true, untrue, half true and almost true.” To get at the truth of a situation you need to talk to lots of people over a long period of time. But I think the most important thing for them is the connection that the never ending threads of conversation provide. It is a powerful web.

I am getting more and more Melanesian. My life is all about talking with people, and trying to keep up the conversation by email and phone calls. When I don’t hear from somebody for a long time, I suddenly have an urgent desire to re-connect.

The past few months have been full of travel, and I have seen some of the most beautiful sites: animals, the stars at night, mountains and rivers, incredible flowers in the strangest shapes and colors. Travel can be tiring, yet I feel very encouraged and inspired as well. Thomas Berry in “The Sacred Universe” writes: “To lessen the grandeur of the outer world is to limit the fulfillment available to our inner world. For the stars in the night sky over our cities to be blocked from view by particle and light pollution is not simply the loss of a passing visual experience. It is a loss of soul. This is especially a loss for children, for it is from the stars, the planets, and the moon in the heavens as well as from the flowers, birds, forests and woodland creatures of Earth that some of their most profound inner experiences originate. To devastate any aspect of the natural world is to distort the sublime experiences that provide fulfillment to the human mode of being.”
Right now everybody wants to know about Africa. I tell them about the little round mud houses with thatched roofs, lions and rhinoceros, swimming in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall in Nyanga, Zimbabwe. I conducted a retreat for about 10 folks, members of the Third Order, some friends, and the Brothers. At night I told them: look at the stars!! We put chairs on the lawn, and gazed in wonder at the night sky of Zimbabwe, reminding ourselves that god is great, the world is a beautiful place and we have been given a precious vocation not to forget these things in the midst of political turmoil. The weather was gorgeous, but of course everybody was praying for rain!

Returning to South Africa, a Third Order member and friend took me to several amazing sites: Freedom Park in Pretoria and Maropeng, the “Cradle of Humanity.” The Freedom Park was very moving as it is a tribute and memorial to all the men and women who worked and gave their lives for freedom in South Africa. Black and white. The whole complex is beautifully crafted out of stone; it is all curving lines and gentle slopes. Looking around the veldt surrounding the enormous exhibits about the birth of humanity it was easy to imagine the first humans and to think about them discovering fire and hunting techniques. It is incredible to think how quickly we humans developed and learned how to live and protect ourselves. I found myself wondering if we are capable of a new consciousness, of discovering a new way to be human on the earth today.

From South Africa I flew to Hong Kong: what a treat! I met with many people: bishops, seminarians, clergy and social workers. I met with women in a safe house and talked with AIDS activists. I was struck by the incredible vitality of Hong Kong and Macau. And it appears the relationship with China is not so scary, the people I spoke to in Hong Kong had a sense of hope and confidence. “Everything is changing, really fast,” I was told when I asked about the relationship with China and what the future might be like. Economic forces are driving the change. But another statistic I learned, the Chinese have printed over 8 million copies of the Bible; or is 80 million? People are discovering the Bible and there is interest. It is still illegal to proselytize, but still people go to and fro, contacts are made, there is much to celebrate, think about and work with as we ponder God’s call to us.

By the time I got to Korea, I was pretty wired: lots of information, lots of conversations and a sense of fullness. I went there to share in the celebrations of the Life professions of two brothers, Lawrence and Stephen. The Profession service was pretty much all in Korean except for a few parts that required the English speaking brothers to know what was going on. So I was able to let my mind roam and think about our vocation as SSF brothers and to marvel at how we are adapting to different cultures, learning new ways of sharing the Gospel life that Francis loved so much. We have definitely been given the challenge of learning to live differently on earth, to recapture the primal connections with Earth and the stars, the animals and plants, to work for healing and wholeness for all creatures, a fundamental commitment to justice.

Much of the rest of my time in Korea was spent trying to get the training books and information pulled together for the social justice training we are holding herein the Solomon Islands. I invited Franciscans International to come and work with the four Anglican religious orders. The four facilitators are either here or on their way! Starting Saturday 30 brothers and sisters will meet at the Melanesian Brotherhood headquarters, Tabalia, to get intensive training on how to develop social justice ministries around three issues that the brothers and sisters identified as most urgent: violence against women and children, government greed and corruption and the environment, especially logging. Logging in Melanesia actually encompasses all three areas of concern. More on that later…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

uMama weThemba Monastery


I have enjoyed a really wonderful retreat and quiet time--time catching up, in this beautiful Monastery of uMariya uMama weThemba, the Order of the Holy Cross Monastery in Grahamstown South Africa. I got here late Sunday night a week ago, and was welcomed by the Prior Timothy Jolley. Tuesday September 21 I celebrated 25 years as a priest, the brothers welcoming me to celebrate at their Eucharist. I am extremely grateful for this time of rest and retreat. Tomorrow, September 30 I go to Zimbabwe to visit the brothers of the Community of the Divine Compassion

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Peace and War


Peace is the message and working for peace is a preoccupation: peace in my heart and private life, peace in my community, working for peace in the world.

It is hard. After two weeks of anti-violence training in Solomon Islands, I got very angry with somebody and immediately began to think violent thoughts. However, we shook hands, the relationship wasn’t ruptured.

Not all conflicts are so easily solved. In the Solomons we heard stories about how the brothers worked to bring peace by befriending combatants and praying with them, reminding them of who they were as Christians. But the brothers wept as they told these stories. The violence is still taking a toll on them.

I left the Solomon Islands on August 30 and traveled to Sri Lanka. I visited Br. Lionel, SSF, who lives and works there; he spends most of his time and energy working for peace. He arranged a full schedule of visits up and down Sri Lanka to introduce me to the Church of Ceylon and to get an awareness of the situation of the country. He is very active promoting peace and reconciliation in collaboration with Roman Catholic Franciscans, with colleagues within the Anglican Church, and through interfaith relationships.

On the way back from picking me up at the airport, armed soldiers, demanding our documents and questioning us, stopped us twice. I learned too about the plans in parliament to change the constitution—effectively giving the president the right to run for office as often as he likes. Welcome to Sri Lanka! The national troops had put down a rebellion by the Tamil Tigers last year and the president is riding a crest of popularity. The armed soldiers and the constitutional reforms struck me as rather sinister.

Within 12 hours of my arrival, I gave a talk on Franciscan Spirituality and Reconciliation at the Diocesan Center next to the Cathedral.

At dinner at Bishop Duleep de Chickera’s house the next night, the conversation circled around the constitutional amendment. It is an alarming development, but one, they felt, which was about to slide in under the radar of most people. For the next few days we traveled in our little three wheeled “tuk-tuk” among crowds of people protesting against the proposed changes, and others demonstrating for it. But the crowds were measured in hundreds, not tens of thousands. Ordinary Sri Lankans, I was told, simply feel grateful that the Tamil Tigers have been squashed and they are willing to give the President anything.

Br. Lionel and his friends at the Diocese of Colombo were able to get a special pass for me to travel through the recent war zone to the northern city of Jaffna. Most outsiders are forced to fly because the government doesn’t want outside scrutiny of this area. We drove north, from Colombo to Jaffna: past soldiers de-activating landmines, past checkpoints staffed by wary teenagers with huge guns, past newly erected army camps, still sporting temporary fencing made of palmetto leaves. We drove past small tents with a few people sitting in front of them: newly returned property owners, sitting where their houses used to be. The strafe bombing of the Singhalese destroyed the homes of the Tamil people, and now that the Tigers have been defeated the people are subject to an occupying army, and the challenge of rebuilding their homes and lives with meager assistance. At lunchtime during our trip, we stopped at an orphanage. The building had been bombed, yet already part of it is re-built, providing daycare facilities and a place for older children to study and take their exams. The simple food seemed unusually delicious sitting in the bombed out precincts of the old orphanage: warm hospitality in the midst of heartache.

How does one work for peace in a land torn by war? Frustrated local leaders in Jaffna spoke of the low amount of assistance the government is giving to people. We met with the Roman Catholic Bishop, a Muslim leader, Anglican clergy and an interfaith youth group. Yet it was incredibly heartening to listen to them speak of the need to make friends and develop relationships across religious and language barriers: “we are all people, we all live here.”

We visited schools, orphanages; youth groups: the first building blocks for rehabilitation, the first initiatives towards a rebuilt country and peace. Over, and over again we met people who threw protective arms around the youth of the country. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims were working to create a deeper sense of their common humanity. And we shared meals. Eating seemed to be a necessary aspect to most of the meetings: plates of spicy curry, juicy slices of fruit, bundles of noodles, heaps of rice. (Everybody eats with their hands; it took a bit of practice to eat and keep the juices in my hand, off my forearms and elbows.)

In the center of the Island we met people working on the tea plantations. Pushing high into the mountains, we visited the Tamil people impressed into service over a hundred years ago. They have been are kept in subservient peonage. Education is substandard. Life in the villages is isolated. Health care is hard to come by. To be a Tamil in Sri Lanka is to experience tremendous inequities and discrimination. It was a real privilege to meet the young clergy who are active in these communities. They are creating educational programs, challenging the people to create opportunities for themselves and speaking up to the larger church about the terrible difficulties the people face.


We drove south to Galle, past the still visible devastation of the 2004 Tsunami. How much can a people endure?

I was riveted by the sight of elephants, water buffalo, monkeys, people harvesting rice with hand sickles, women carrying heavy loads on their heads wearing beautiful saris, barechested men wearing sarongs, clambering on construction sites. We careened through the plaited traffic, making our way along narrow roads, overtaking oxcarts, lumbering overloaded busses, and were overtaken in turn by cars, vans and busses. We could have been killed many times over or run over hapless pedestrians. By some alchemy of spirit and skill, we maneuvered unharmed and not causing harm.

Everywhere we met people I spoke about the Franciscans. I wanted to support Br. Lionel’s work, and I wanted to encourage everyone with the story of our community working for peace and justice in many places around the globe.

Working for peace: I felt like I was doing little enough, yet the important first step became obvious: people need to be in relationship with each other. Links of friendship and solidarity can help in time of the erosion of civil liberties. The more I know about places like Sri Lanka, the greater the possibilities are for the future. It is easy to feel indifferent about statistics, but impossible to ignore the claim of friends.

Francis talked about the interconnectedness of all people and all creation. I feel my trip gave me not only insight, but also friendships. In some way, I am a Tamil tea picker, like JFK’s claim to be a Berliner.

What does this mean for me and for the world?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Redeeming The Air Miles

Monday and Tuesday of this week a group of us brothers in the Solomon Islands cleared ground in preparation for planting new mahogany tree seedlings. Of course it isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. We had to clear thick underbrush from old cassava gardens, cut down scrub trees, then plant stakes in a meticulous grid pattern over a hectare of steep hillside. The ground was hard and slippery, and it was really hot!

The tree planting exercise was part of a week-long workshop the Province put on for the 30 First Professed Brothers. I opened the week with two workshops, one on the role of religious orders in Melanesia and then (later that same day) a workshop on leadership. My leadership workshop was the first of three the brothers had that week on leadership. I think we looked at the issue from every conceivable angle. It is obviously a high priority for the current leadership of the Province. By Monday we were itching to lead somebody somewhere. The workshop that day was about care for the environment. It was my turn again to facilitate and I decided to look at the issue of logging in the Solomon Islands. It is an issue which is front and center for most of the brothers and the workshop was really lively, especially when we discussed the two questions: “How have you suffered from logging? How has logging benefitted you?” Br. Lent is a dedicated environmentalist and advocate of the rainforest, and he helped the brothers recognize some of the less obvious costs to logging: depletion of oxygen, erratic rainfall, crop failure.

As part of my effort to offset the carbon foot print created by my travel, last year I sent some money to Br. Lent to plant trees; I was really happy to be around for the actual work! I am always attracted to big projects, and love hard physical work—I rarely get a chance since I spend so much time flying around.

Other eco-friendly efforts in the Solomon Islands Province include solar power panels in some of the remoter friaries. I trekked to one just to see what the panel looks like as I had been at the meeting in Australia when we approved the funds for them. Surprisingly small, but the brothers are delighted as they now have a light bulb in each room, making it bright enough to read

Not to forget about eating food locally grown in a sustainable way: nearly 7 weeks of eating sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage, and fish caught in local waters by spear wielding brothers. Yesterday we celebrated the conclusion of the conference for the First Professed Brothers. First we had to pluck the chickens and cut up vegetables, then build a table of sticks and a fireplace of large stones. After 4 hours we were ready!
Grace at dinner is perhaps one of the most heartfelt prayers: “We thank you God for the rain which fills our tank and gives us water to drink, for our gardens and the food they provide us and for the creatures of the sea; for these and all your many blessings we thank you Lord.”

July 9 to 25 was the Formator’s Conference, also held here in the Solomon Islands. Representatives from all of the brothers’ provinces attended plus Sr. Joyce, Minister General of the Community of St. Francis. Our theme was Francis and Peacemaking. A side benefit was experiencing life in a developing nation and being exposed to some incredibly creative teaching techniques by the Anti-Violence Project. Next week is my last commitment in the Solomons, the Provincial Chapter.

And then I’m off August 30 to Sri Lanka and a visit with Br. Lionel.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Clean Sweep

People do their best. Over and over again, I have to acknowledge this personal effort. Yesterday as I walked to "downtown" Port Moresby I passed a dozen men and women sweeping the streets and sidewalks with a clutch of straws. Men cutting grass with weed whackers. Throughout the city large black plastic bags bulging with garbage waited alongside the roads; occasionally they get picked up by city crews. Frustrated by the proliferation of rubbish, people sweep it into piles and burn it. The acrid smoke of burning garbage and clouds of dust from the crumbling roads make me sneeze and cough. I have to keep my eyes down, because sidewalks and pathways often are missing metal covers for sewers and utility holes. Sometimes the pavement has been broken to repair a water or electricity line (you can see the trench both sides of the walk way) but lack of funds to repave the place means in time the gravel filler erodes and there is a trap for the unwary. Public spaces invite public use: parks have been built but no money has been spent refurbishing as the moveable parts wear out or benches and equipment succumb to heavy use or suffer vandalism. So an old woman sweeps fastidiously around a metal spur that sticks out of the ground, obviously once part of the foundation for a park bench. The city has grown too rapidly to absorb the effluent that is produced by thousands of people; someplaces there are no sewers, other places the PVC sewage lines are broken, in someplaces I am sure the problem is due to older, discredited strategies for disposing of waste i.e. pumping into the sea: whatever the reason, there are warning signs about fecal coliform posted on Ela Beach next to downtown. The tide also brings an unmanageable load of plastic bags and other rubbish.

There is an urgent need for housing. People come to the city and move in with relatives, then build a small shelter behind the relatives' home. So many people living in small spaces mean that there is a gradual disintegration: windows get broken, doors sag, roofs leak, appliances wear out, plumbing breaks down. So the old appliances are shifted outside, tarps are put over the leaky roofs, extension lines get electricity to new structures, and hoses share water among neighbors. Everywhere the old women are sweeping, burning rubbish, sitting alongside the road to sell betel nut and cigarettes. But where is the money for housing and public works to come from? Citizens pay a sales tax, but no income tax. Most land is under customary ownership. The government seems to depend on aid from overseas: I spotted a sign saying a park had been built by the Chinese government, a hospital supported by the Australian government. No big tax base. With mining, timber and fisheries, the contracts are often with overseas companies, or the income from these industries does not provide sufficient national income to repair the infrastructure.

Some people have obviously made it. Large Land Cruisers roar along the pitted roads, swirling the dust. A handful of tall buildings rise out of the downtown area, armed guards glaring at the barefoot people who mill around in the streets. The national newspaper has advertisments for luxury housing, promising high fences and security guards, and praising the joys of swimming pools and airconditioning to a reading public most of whom squat on the sidewalks. I asked the brothers and their friends: "Where do all the rich people live?" One fellow laughed and said, "I've lived in Moresby for three years and never seen where the rich people live. Its all shit wherever you look." Good news for anonymous rich folks who don't want hungry hordes pulling the barbed wire down. Probably they all live in Australia. I got my haircut and as the barber and I were chatting, I asked if he owned the shop. "Oh no!" he laughed. "The owner lives in Cairns and just flies up once in a while to check on the business."

The brothers get one TV station with their rabbit ear antenna. It is the national TV station called EMTV. Every few minutes a pair of ads crops up, one for Coca Cola and the other for Digicel, a cell phone company. You'd think Papua New Guinea invented Coke, and if you drink enough of it you will get the car, the girl, the house and the laptop. I think advertising is ridiculous in America, but with a larger middle class the promises of the ads seems less shocking than here in PNG. Buy Coke and live the "Coca Cola" lifestyle. Judging from the millions of coke cans and plastic bottles everywhere on beaches and along the roadsides, the message is getting through--the promised joys must be in the NEXT can. At least cholera hasn't fizzed out of the cans yet as it has the taps in some of the poorest neighborhoods. Digicel has everybody "topping up" and staying connected. Everyday people buy these tiny sums of "time" for their cell phones. People love their cell phones as much here as anywhere. But all that connectivity seems like fools gold, the only ones seeming to profit is Digicel. It is possible to get rich here, you just have to get a large number of people to believe that what you have will benefit them somehow. So now brothers can call home to their villages or catch up with relatives in town. This is a great good; but the effort of keeping the phone going chisels away at the food budget. Its a balancing act. People do their best.

It is easy to carp about the terrible conditions: I could go on for pages about the calamitous condition of the local school: floor boards, walls, ceilings missing, no running water or electricity, no paths or stairs to help students scramble from building to builing on the precipitous site. It makes me angry that students here have to suffer such conditions. It is not just here: I have seen similar conditions in South Africa and Solomon Islands. I have read about places all over the globe where there is desperate poverty. I am not naive about the dereliction in USA; I haven't worked with the homeless in America for nearly 25 years and preserved my illusions from a privileged upbringing.

The thing that enrages me is that it is possible to sell a product to steal a fortune from a country a penny at a time. It is possible to create a beautiful lifestyle wherever: all you need are guns to keep it safe. And somehow it is all okay. We sweep around the wrecks, we press school uniforms, doing our best with what we can control. Here in PNG the government erects large bill boards promising a crackdown on corruption: probably an indication of thoroughgoing governmental corruption from top to bottom. Somehow we need to go beyond bill boards and mobilize the sweepers not just to tidy up but to clean out the whole system.

Cell phones are subversive in Iran. It's surprising the use you can put things to if you think about it.

I've seen the impact of collective action in holding corrupt officials accountable. I've watched things happen around the world in the last 25 years because people stood up to tanks, walls, violent oppression. Somehow enough people caught a glimpse of something better and were willing to pay the cost to move things forward. Some political leaders have suffered house arrest for decades because of their stand against oppression. The Buddhist monks of Burma have taken to the streets.

Next week I will be in the Solomon Islands with a small group of Society of St. Francis brothers and sisters from around the world and we will consider how to be peacemakers in the world, oppression shakers, violence disturbers. And we will bring it home to PNG, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, South Korea, USA, Britain, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time plans are progressing for a November program to train over 200 brothers in sisters in the Solomon Islands on how to develop a social justice ministry. Perhaps the word will go out. Burmese monks and Anglican friars and sisters!

We have to do the best we can with what we have: each other. We have to do our best with the dreams inspired by the Holy Spirit for justice, peace, shalom.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Life Profession in Papua New Guinea




Two weeks ago I was in Yorkshire, England. Now I am in Papua New Guinea. Yesterday, phoning my credit card company to make a phone payment, the account manager who helped me asked: "Can I hear jungle noises in the background?" It's a small world some days.

But cell phones don't always work. It didn't work in Bienga, the small village on the Ope River where a group of us went to celebrate the Life Profession of Brother Charles Iada on June 29, St. Peter's Day. The world seemed a big and scary place as we plowed up the river in our small boats. The banks were choked with foliage. The brothers had been warning me about crocodiles--Br. Charles' father had been eaten by one a few years back. As the story goes, the crocodile flipped the canoe and ate him. It was reassuring, as we arrived in the dark to hear the high pitched shouts: "Oro! Oro!" Welcome! Welcome!

We couldn't see a soul until some enterprising youths hooked up a flourescent tube light fixture to a portable generator. The roar of the gas powered engine couldn't compete with the vigorous singing by men in loin cloths, women in tapa cloth skirts and face paint. Modern technology illuminating some ancient rites of hospitality.

Village life is sort of familiar to me; but every time I find myself in these situations I feel like I've been sucked through a knot hole. We gathered in a thatched shelter to eat our dinner. In my mind I grappled with the things which set Westerners to jabbering: mud, mosquitoes (malaria!), crocodiles and sore bums from long hours on unpadded seats. I tried to act cool as I took in the latrine, spoon-sharing, the common cup at dinner--not enough to go around, so use your neighbor's! Meanwhile my hosts admired my sandals, urged me to eat more of--what was it? They asked "Where is America? So are you English or Australian?" I wonder did Lewis Carroll ever visit a small tropical village?

I awoke the next morning to a rain drenched scene, in a hut high on a hill top. Below was the village and we could see the makeshift church built of tarps and palm branches. The regular chapel was not deemed big enough for the expected crowd. A long line of young women was snaking from the river bank to the church. Each had a basin on her head. "What'er they doin'?" I asked. Rain had flooded the sanctuary and they were filling the low places with sand. Mud caked the hem of my habit and squelched between my toes as we processed into the church for the great day. Not only was it Charles' Life Profession, but it was the village church's patronal festival and the Archbishop's first visit. At breakfast they'd asked me to be the preacher on this great day.

Daunted, we nevertheless proceeded: thurifer, crucifer, torchbearers, Archbishop and friars in high church Anglican regalia. Everyone else in feathers and leaves and bits of bark, including two young women attendants for the Archbishop. Br. Charles wore a magnificent crown fashioned from the beaks of the Horned-Bill (?? that's what they told me--some kind of big bird) and feathers from a casuary bird. "It's probably the only moment of glory you'll ever get," the Archbishop quipped. "Enjoy it." He was escorted up to the Archbishop by his father's youngest brother. I spoke, trying not to make too many parenthetical remarks and unnecessary stories which is my default mode when I am trying to think of something to say. Not much needed to be said, as everybody was goggle-eyed at the thought of a man making a life profession of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience--no different from a crowd of teary aunts and cousins in New York, I thought. Nobody is too sure it is really the best idea but everybody wants to be in the spirit of the day. I hit joy, love and gratitude really hard.

The deed was done and we departed the by now steamy structure, rain having given way to full sun. I was not prepared for what greeted us at the door of the church: a pig trussed on a pole, laid on the ground; I was walking with the bishop and before I knew it an axe was buried in the pigs head, blood spraying everywhere. The people shouted and danced with joy. Swallowing hard, I walked along. It happened two more times. That was the moment I felt light years from home.

And yet the only reason I was there was because the same Gospel inspired me as it has Charles. The same stories of St. Francis, and friendship with a band of brown-robed men of every race and language and people and nation.

Won't you come and join our happy crew?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Visit to Walsingham

I have been curious about Walsingham for a long time. In 1982 I was introduced to Our Lady of Walsingham in a New York City parish. Urban decline had robbed her of her fleur-de-lys staff and she had a sheen of city grime, and I felt the whole business of an English Nazareth pretty far away and irrelevant. In those days, the parish was championing the cause of those opposed to the ordination of women so I rather lumped Our Lady of Walsingham into that camp, never kissing her image as some enthusiasts did.

But then I met some people who were as liberal as me (!) and held deep affection for all that Walsingham is about. So I have had a desire to get there and see for myself. A year or so ago SSF established a tiny friary there, and this year, during my visit to the European Province I made a point of going to Walsingham. Below are Brothers Paschal and Maximilian in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.


It is picture perfect, and early summer is the best time to see the beautiful gardens. I stayed in the bedroom used by the founder of the modern Shrine Fr. Hope Patten (upstairs in this house).


Yes, there are lots of people opposed to the ordination of women in Walsingham. But there were some women priests there, though not celebrating Mass. There were lots of school children and people of various races and social backgrounds. I had a chance to talk with the Warden, Bishop Lindsey, and he was quite emphatic in refuting my prejudices about Walsingham.

So, yet again I had to re-consider things. My spiritual journey has a well established pattern of adamantly held opinions gradually eroded away through exposure and prayer. I have an Anglican fault in that I make snap aesthetic judgments, and I can get quite worked up about "good taste." I didn't like the paintings in the Shrine so was ready to dismiss the whole thing. But then a small voice advised me to pray not criticize.

Sometimes I got a bit of a headache from all the prayer as thing after thing bothered me. Until I decided to live and let live. "Don't let it bother you, so!" I could friends' voices in my head.

In spite of myself I enjoyed the procession around the Shrine gardens during the evening, carrying candles aloft. Everytime we sang "Hail Mary" we hoisted the candles above our heads. I remembered our torchlit labyrinth walks at Little Portion Friary, and all the people from every faith and background who joined us on those pilgrimages round and round the labyrinth.


One of the themes that kept getting emphasized: "What has Our Lady given you in your pilgrimage visit?"

I wanted to disclaim: "I'm just here to visit the brothers! Not a pilgrimage!" But my journal is full of notes from a book I was reading at the time called "Reshaping Ecumenical Theology." I was especially intrigued with the idea of "reception." And the magazine on top of the shifting mound of papers in the brothers' common room in the friary had a long and helpful article about reception by Dame Mary Tanner--a theologian I respect. So I decided that this is what Our Lady had to teach me. Reception is the process by which the church welcomes change: slowly, and marked by integrity, humility and spiritual maturity. I read about the hundreds of years it took the Church to accept the Nicene Creed. Obviously it is about not jumping to conclusions, making snap judgments, adopting either/or, black/white positions. I thank God I am not an ecumencial officer of any denomination; but I am every day asked to give an account of the faith that is in me. If I hurt others, or diminish them, or write them off I am only demonstrating the insufficiency of my love and intellectual and spiritual stamina. To give up on other people is a sin.

Thank you Mary.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Visiting Alnmouth


Alnmouth is a tiny village in the far north of England, not far from Scotland. The brothers have lived here, in a rehabilitated house for a long time. I say "rehabilitated" because after it's salad days as a luxury home it became a night club ("and worse" as late Brother Edward might have said). You can just speculate about that...

As a friary it has been the staging area for missions throughout the North of England. Brothers are always coming and going out from this place, and it has hosted thousands of people seeking peace and quiet to sort through their life and vocation. Perched over the sea side it is a perfect place for mulling over the meaning of life.


But the friars don't let much moss grow on their feet. They are a busy lot, five of them hosting a steady stream of guests--cooking, cleaning, offering beautiful worship and attentive hospitality. The Franciscan flavor of it all is that there is no separation between guests and brothers. No separate guest house, no separate dining room, everyone included in the prayers and chapel life. Sometimes of course it can be a bit much, but as elegant as the surroundings are, it is all about poverty: no control over much of life, having to accept and thrive in the circumstances where we find ourselves, offering to God our longing to run away from it all and finding grace to be gracious--yet again and again. I admire all that they do.

Today, Sunday, we are getting ready for the annual Garden Open Day sponsored by the Rotary Club in the village. Rotarians are everywhere erecting tents and different games. It is a money making day to support various local charities. It's raining but everybody still expects a good turnout, as the English never let a bit of rain spoil their fun! The friars collaborate with the Rotary Club by offering the beautiful gardens as the site. So I have spent the week gardening: mowing the lawn, weeding, sweeping. I find these kinds of activities deeply healing, transporting me back to my adolescence when I worked as a lawn boy and all around jack-of-all-trades for various people. I lose myself in a dreamy state of mind, moving to rhythms of lawn mower and broom, bending, lifting, praying and giving thanks. Sometimes people express concern for my "busy life" not knowing it is only busy on paper. The actual living of it is slower than most peoples' lives. The only sacrifice is stability.

But what mendicant wants THAT?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Praise the Lord!

This morning we heard a rousing homily from a brother from Belfast on the need to praise God. It certainly captured my mood. There is much to be thankful for: a terrific week of meetings here at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, England, not forgetting beautiful weather (always remarkable here in England). The people, the setting, the sense of new things happening has inspired me.

The week began with a pilgrimage from the local nearby parish in Cerne Abbas to the friary. It is a yearly event, and very neighborly. About 40 people walked through the stunning countryside. Great fun, and a chance to show off their dogs,
the event is truly a pilgrimage, a visit to a holy place. The walk is punctuated with scripture reflections, and upon reaching the friary, a huge "cream tea" is set out, a collaborative effort between the parish and friary community featuring cakes and sandwiches. The event culminates in a lovely Evensong.

The theme of pilgrimage continued into the meetings during the week. The brothers had an historic meeting here, in which they decided to have an annual all brothers' Chapter. There was a strong sense that it was time for such a development in the province, and the brothers are eager to see this happen. As one brother pointed out, the community has traveled a long way, andenjoyed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is a high level of enthusiasm for sharing the responsibilities in the province. I was deeply moved by the seeming transformation among the group as they met in small groups and then came back to the plenary sessions eager to move forward. I was braced for cynicism, but there was none of it. The facilitator listened particularly well, and skillfully named the deepest longings of the group and framed the discussion. A very heartening process.

But it hasn't been only about the meetings. The community at Hilfield has also continued to develop and proceed on it's pilgrimage together. Both friars and other people have been living together at the friary, and it is great to see the things that were talked about before actually happening! The sheep are lambing, chickens are laying, the garden is growing. Patches of lawn are given over to wildflowers, encourage different insects. It really is about a conversion, learning to see and value things differently. I love neatly tended lawns but they are not always the most helpful to the ecosystem.

The Community of St. Francis, our First Order Sisters, are moving out of Compton Drville, their huge old manor house in Somerset. They are moving to much smaller premises. During a break in our Joint Chapter we moved some furniture out. The tone deaf piano enjoyed a last hurrah curbside.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

We have had quite a busy few days: and Chaper is not even half over. Here we are all pictured with the Bishop of Long Island after Mass on Friday



One of the first things we did was to welcome our new novice, Br. James-Paul


Sister Jean, Minister Provincial of CSF spent a couple hours knotting the new ropes for the four brothers who were professed today.


At noon today, Br. Jude, the Minister Provincial of the Province of the Americas opened the liturgy where we professed four brothers; it has been many years since we professed four men at once.


From right to left, we professed Brother James, Brother Maximilian Kolbe, Brother Ambrose Cristobal, and Brother Simon. Pictured at the far left of the photo is Brother Jacob, one of our first year novices.


Here the Brothers are signing the documentation of the vows they have made.


Following the Profession (with an amazing sermon by Br. Richaard Jonathan the Novice Guardian, we all went upstairs for a terrific Mexican lunch of soup, salad and tamales! There was a huge cake.

And then it was back to work in the Chapter room; what an exceptional day it has been.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pay Attention!


One of the keys to a happy life is to pay attention to people and circumstances. Tripping obliviously along does not bode well for the spiritual life either.

But I don't always pay attention. Sometimes it is because I am tired. Other times I don't pay attention because what needs attending to is beyond my ken and unavailable to me.

For instance, Saturday I was returning from a short run and, relishing the golden sun on Mt. Sinai harbor, I decided it would be the perfect evening to inaugurate the canoe for this season. Br. Max was willing, so we wrestled the craft upside down onto our shoulders, hiding our heads, and bumbled like an enormous sow bug down the hill from Little Portion to the little bit of marsh which is our "beach." Cars slowed way down when they saw the four-legged green thing alongside the road.

We opted for the shortcut to the harbor, and blundered through sticker bushes, over fallen logs and through sharp bladed grass. Finally we reached the harbor.

"Uh-oh," said Max.

"What's wrong?" I asked peering from beneath the canoe.

"Tide's out."

"The tide?!" I stammered. "I never thought of that."

Being naturally impatient I tried to slog through the mud and grass to reach the water. Max held back, laughing. I sank up to my knees in viscous, odoriferous muck, only saving my shoes by clenching my toes tightly. I admitted defeat.

"But I am not carrying this thing back up the hill until we get out on the water," I vowed.

So we stashed the canoe in a bramble thicket, deciding that nobody would be inclined to grapple with it and the menacing vegetation. And if they were, they would be welcome to the boat.

Sunday Br. Derek announced: "High tide at 12:45." We were learning to pay attention to new things.

Unsurprisingly, the canoe was still there. We slid it easily into the water and glided out across the grasses to the open water--several feet above the muddy sea floor. There is a line in Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" at the very beginning, when Water Rat says to Mole as they set out in a boat: "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing," he went on dreamily: "messing--about--in--boats; messing--" So begin their adventures and misadventures together. Reading them today I am reminded of the friars sometimes. But that line of Water Rat's has stayed with me from childhood. It expresses the epitome of pleasurable leisure.

So we paddled lazily, sometimes bumping into things, watching egrets, herons, ducks, geese and swans. Max saw a school of fish. We marveled at a jelly fish. We speculated on the happiness of the people who lived in the huge water-side mansions compared with ourselves in our canoe. Surprisingly (but why should it have been?), we knew some folks on one of the lobster boats and shouted greetings.

"Look at that!"

"Look at that over there!" we told each other. There was much to see and pay attention to.

Sometimes being told to "pay attention" can be threatening or chastening. But as we prepare for Pentecost this Sunday, it can be an invitation too. Consider yourself invited to take note of the breath-taking beauty around you, unimagined riches right in our back yards.

Alleluia. The Spirit of God fills the whole earth; holy widsom, herself unchanging, in Christ makes all things new. Alleluia.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Little Portion Friary

Home again, home again!

When I arrived late Monday evening, I pushed open the door of my room, to discover the unmade bed just as I left it in a rush in January. The half-full coffee cup on the bedside stand. The bathtowel at the foot of the bed.

No photos of that!!

A bit Dickensian: Miss Havisham came to mind. Since I left in winter the room had been left shut up tight, and the stale air reinforced the sense of possible spiders and dust everywhere. The only change was the presence of five huge packing boxes in the middle of the room: my drum, a favorite painting, a few books, and a suitcase of sweater and liturgical garments.

So Tuesday was devoted to unpacking, changing linens, getting organized.

Wednesday I washed windows: always try to reintegrate in friary life as quickly as possible!

The rest of the week has been bits of this and that. The highlight was the Confirmation of my friend Terry (she is the secretary at Little Portion).
It was great fun going off to the Cathedral and standing next to her as the Bishop anointed her and said a prayer. I was full of memories of my confirmation. Was it 1971? My word. A former curate from our parish was my sponsor. I was extremely nervous and keyed up. In those days Confirmation was also First Communion. We'd gotten some pretty heavey duty instruction on the significance of it all. So when the moment came to receive Communion I was holding my breath. Trying to drink from the Chalice I coughed explosively, spraying myself and everyone else with wine. Which made me laugh with mortification, and earned me a lecture to take the Sacrament seriously from the Rector. What a memory. Terry survived the day with great aplomb.

Later we had a delicious red velvet cake!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Entertaining Angels Unaware

Every Friday night the brothers go out with a team from St. John's parish in Sao Paulo to distribute food, water, dry socks and blankets to the homeless. Nine of us squeezed into a VW van, which was loaded with huge vats of soup, plastic bottles of
water. we sat on folded blankets. They follow basically the same route in and around the neighborhood near the Anglican/Episcopal parish of St. John, stopping at every heap of refuse or muddle of blankets to shout "Good Evening!" Soon enough a beaming face would appear, and the team busily gave them basic survival supplies. Twice we were warned off with an expletive; but nobody blamed them--sleep is precious enough in a noisy place like Sao Paulo. The amazing thing to me was how delighted most of the people were to see us. One man wanted his picture taken with us. By 2:30 a.m. we'd given away all we had. We learned that other outreach teams have been visiting the same people; welcome news in one way, but it will mean a revised strategy.

Brothers are involved in direct service to the homeless in every SSF province around the world. Some are also involved in citizen's organizations that work to end poverty. In New Zealand I was asked if my vow of poverty meant I liked poor people
to be poor. Far from it. Degrading poverty is a sin. Religious poverty is about radical sharing. At every meal I pray: "...and make us mindful of the needs of each other and the poor." Some people have challenged us about enabling addicts; we
should be getting them to face the consequences of their actions and pushing them towards sobriety. Yes; but if they are dead from exposure or starvation, what is the good in that? In my own work with homeless people since 1983 I have learned that for
every "hopeless case" there is another ready to do the necessary hard work to get out of the bind of homelessness. But you just can't tell which is the one when you first meet.

We got up at noon, and I was feeling drained by the crazy sleep schedule. Then the door bell rang and three of Br. James' friends from across the street swept us off for a meal. Laughing, teasing, joking.
I felt I could have been in New York or
San Francisco--just got to crack the code of their lingo. But the bond of friendship, the joy of giving and receiving brightened the day.

As it did the night.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Peace and Love

"What is America like?" "Are there many guns?" "Do you have adult education classes?" "Do all students have computers?" The questions came fast, reflecting popular ideas of America as a rich but violent nation. Br. James (pictured on the right, with some of his teaching colleagues and Br. Elton) translated the questions and my replies. Trying to nuance the discussion when I don't speak Portuguese was difficult. Br. James had invited me to tour the school where he is Assistant Principal, and we stopped to speak with the Grade Seven Adult Education students, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties, and lived in the nearby favela, or slum. A place too dangerous for us to visit, James said. I tried to let them know most Americans don't get shot at, but it is a lively fear for some in poor urban neighborhoods. And hard to believe if all you see of America is CSI and other crime shows. The US Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms, so many people have guns in their homes. But as a Franciscan I am horrified by it all, implacably opposed to guns. The same with the materialistic U.S. society. Yes we are a rich nation, but I wonder if it isn't too much so. Franciscan poverty is not the most popular cultural discussion. But the most important thing during the visit to that classroom was goodwill, the chance to share a moment of connection, me saying "obrigado" and them saying "Good evening" and all of us laughing with embarrassment and pleasure at the chance to meet.

Later we ate dinner with the students and the lunchroom rocked with pulsing salsa music. The school provides free meal and a snack to every student. We got rice, beans, shredded beef (or was it pork? Mystery meat--school lunches are the same in USA and Brazil!) and a chunk of papaya. "Hello! How are you?!" I was greeted over and over by students who'd obviously just been coached. What a great evening.

The next day I visited Templo Zu Lai with a friend. The temple is in Sao Paulo, but over half an hour from the center of town, in a leafy garden suburb. As we munched on vegetarian food we speculated on the popularity of Buddhism among so many middle class Brazilians and Americans. Despite a sign warning against public displays of affection (especially kissing, the sign said), there is a definite interest. Perhaps the emphasis on meditation rather than listening to sermons? The cultivation of a personal meditation practice that can be done either alone or together? The strong emphasis on compassion and awareness? We are both Anglican/Episcopal priests and not inclined to become Buddhists, but our hearts are warmed by what we know of it. And the longing for spirituality we recognize among the Western seekers, we decided, invites us to look again at the things we talk about, to consider how we nurture people in their spiritual journey. The internecine conflicts in Christianity sometimes smother the flame of joy, generosity and compassion we believe God lit in the world with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Welcome to Brazil


Sao Paulo is a vast city, organized on the chaos theory of urban planning. At least that is how it seems to me. Maybe I've just been spending too much time in small Melanesian villages... Yet not being able to read or speak Portuguese, getting lost is a nagging anxiety. But the Resurrection message is not to be defined by our
fears, so I am exploring the city. Fortunately the brothers here, Brother James and Brother Elton, have the same fear for me and they always accompany me. And I am getting the insider's perspective.

Sao Paulo was founded by the Portuguese, and has a decidedly Non-Brit mentality of how to be, at least that is how I understand Br. James when he tells me: you must remember Sao Paulo is not an English city. "We like it this way!" he said
with a laugh. "It is our culture." Everywhere it seems to be "downtown" and at the same time on the fringe. How can both be true? I don't know. Major buildings and teeming avenues don't all cluster in one place. You just come upon them after
traveling on narrow winding streets.

Discovering a city of tremendous history (founded in 16th Century) and vitality is pretty exciting.

The brothers live in a tiny apartment that they also share with Br. James sister. Here Elton is in the tiny kitchen. Fortunately everybody is fanatically neat. The team from "Queer Eye" television show would approve. We pray at the table which you can see Br James must use as his computer room and dining table in turn, the brothers have doubled up to give me a room of my own, which makes me feel very awkward and grateful. My jetlag has been worse this time than I remember from recent trips, and I have been awake all night, tossing and turning. Thank goodness I haven't had to worry about bothering somebody else.

The brothers have made some good connections in the city over the years, and last night we ate dinner with the OFM Friars.

There are other meetings planned with other people during the week ahead.

But mostly we are getting to know each other. I've only spent time with James at Chapter meetings, I've never met Elton before. Sitting next to each other at a Chapter meeting has a degree of intimacy (maybe 10 degrees). Nothing like sharing a
tiny apartment for 10 days.

My favorite tourist activity so far has been to visit the Central Market. One vendor let us taste six or seven kinds of fruit I've never seen before. I have no idea what they were, but it was truly amazing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Rain Falls on the Just and the Unjust

I was thinking of the psalm phrase, "the rain falls on the just and the unjust," as I was caught in a rainstorm yesterday afternoon while I was jogging. It was a real "gully washer" as we say back home in Snohomish, and yet as I slogged along, I began to feel exhilarated. Another man out jogging caught my eye and started laughing loudly: "Hooray!" he shouted. Yet another man shouted "Twenty bucks for an umbrella!" I find Australians to be very friendly. And getting wet in Brisbane is like taking a warm shower: no chill at all. There was a brief sense of solidarity among us caught in the autumn freshet.

The television has shown pictures of people caught in airports due to the volcano in Iceland. It doesn't matter if you are the Governor General of Australia trying to get to a state funeral in Poland or a tourist or business traveler in Europe, or even just wanting to get to Europe. Everybody shares the same fate: you gotta wait! It seems to bring out the creative impulse in some. A young couple exchanged vows, witnessed by family via skype; they missed the reception back in Britain. Others are just glum, some are teary. With the ash streaming out of the earth and up into the jet stream, the whole globe will continue to be affected for a while more. The depths of the earth and heights of heaven impinge upon each other.

It is a graphic example of our interconnectedness on the earth. You can never escape being part of the Earth and being one of her creatures. Volcanos are natural; imagine if all that mess was radioactive! It is interesting that we are having nuclear reduction talks at the same time that the volcano blows, as if to say: this is what it might be like, this is a bit of a foretaste or maybe a dress rehearsal.

The choice is ours. Can we really pretend much longer that we are NOT connected? If we foul the earth in one place, soon many people feel the impact. This reality of our fragility and interconnectedness is one of our core Franciscan insights, and it is both a source of inspiration and a missional challenge. One of the interesting programs SSF offers for our brothers is a spirituality program, part of ongoing Franciscan formation, originally intended to help the brothers in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. It grew out of the idea that we are all one community, interconnected and resources to each other. Here Brothers Hilton and Isom from the Solomon Islands stand outside the Friary Chapel at Stroud.

But we can't forget interconnectedness works both ways: we experience the negative impact as well as the helpful assist. We are never alone. As I have traveled around the Australia/New Zealand Province of SSF I have met brothers from Solomon Islands, others originally from England, Italy, Sri Lanka: a web of families and cultures that can quickly provide strength and needed vitality as we share what we've got. The spiritual, intellectual, and cultural resources among us are enormous.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some pictures from PNG and NZ

Br. Philip Etobae, the parish priest at St. Francis, Koki, in Port Moresby, welcomes the Ministers on our arrival in Papua New Guinea, Feb 28.



We were greeted at Haruro, St. Mary of the Angels Friary,Popondetta, Oro Province for the Ministers Meeting. It was a huge, elaborate ceremony. This warrior was the first to greet us.



Nothing says welcome like a swig of coconut water. Here Br. Laurence is preparing a nut for us to taste. Its a real trick with the machete. The knife can bounce around if you don't know what you are doing (which includes most of the visiting Ministers!)


One dark and stormy night a tree fell. It missed all important structures, including the station Cross: "God is still with us!" the Brothers exclaimed. But cleaning up the mess was a very labor intensive business. Here two brothers use a cross cut saw. I'd only seen one of these in photos of logging in the Pacific Northwest USA. They were popular over 100 years ago! I kept to picking up the smaller branches, not willing to risk amputating a digit!


After the Ministers left, I stayed on, and the brothers asked me to teach a class on prayer. We had a week or so talking about prayer in a lovely palm leaf classroom!



From PNG to New Zealand. This is a picture of me and Brother Simone at St. Peter's School in Cambridge, NZ where we spoke to the student chapel services. Happy flash backs for me from the days I was Chaplain at The Annie Wright School in Tacoma, WA, USA

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Sacred Rhythm

One of the realities of my life is the intermittent access to the internet! I've been in Papua New Guinea for all of March, participating the the Ministers' Meeting and then on to New Zealand for two weeks, conducting a Holy Week mission at a parish and a church school in Cambridge, NZ. Easter Week I was feted and fed beautifully, but often having to give a short talk or presentation about our life in SSF; it culminated with a Quiet Day on Saturday of Easter Week. I flew to Sydney on Sunday and came to Stroud on Monday.

I think my favorite part of my work is getting to stay around after the other visitors go home. Life goes back to normal for the 16 novices and brothers in the friary where I was staying. In Papua New Guinea it meant no more chicken and fish and meat at every meal. We ate piles of bananas--boiled, baked, roasted, fried and raw, and lots of crook neck squash, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many days nothing else, and we were happy to eat them. Their days are broken up into "periods" and the afternoon is always "work." What this meant for us during my visit was clambering all over a tree which fell in a heavy rain storm, hacking at it with machetes and hand saws. I am a danger to myself and others with a meter long knife, so I contented myself with hauling the branches away. I cursed my choice when I began to get bitten by myriad ferocious ants in very private places! We all suffered so I couldn't quit. The next day the ants had decamped for some other tree in the forest and we labored in tranquility. Plunging into a waterfall after such heavy work is heavenly--soothing to skin pulped by ants, mosquitoes and thorns.

I taught two short courses for them, one on prayer, and another on how to tell your spiritual autobiography. We had some really moving evenings as we began to tell each other how God has moved in our lives. What impressed me most was the way so many of us have experienced God's Spirit working in our lives. Our stories are testimonials to the working of God in the lives of ordinary people. I found the rhythm of the days very restorative: up at 5:30, praying with the brothers by 6:00. Breakfast at 8:00 then classes at 9:00. Midday prayer and lunch, then "solitude" which always meant "nap" for me! Then the hard labor under the tropical sun after which I often went running. Evening prayer at 5:00 so we'd have enough daylight to read by. Dinner then the evening class. Drop dead in bed by 9:30. You think I am crazy to say it is restorative! But the pattern of prayer, study and work, living in community, even bathing together in the river and eating foods we gather from the garden feels like pure gift. A tremendous amount of work gets done even though we only do manual labor about 3.5 hours a day. Bees work just about 5 hours a day...so why do I sometimes put in long days and nights over a hot keyboard? I am trying to keep to the balance.

One of the things the folks in PNG take really seriously is welcoming visitors. When the Ministers arrived, it was huge: a crowd of men and women singing, giving us flowers. But when I went to visit places for lunch or drop by for tea, there was always an elaborate (to my sensibilities at least) welcome. I tried to get the brothers to ask the people not to do this, just let me come by and visit, I whined. They were adamant. Never. This is about honoring our customs and it is who we are as a people. If we didn't welcome you we would feel ashamed. So I had to learn again the pleasure of being welcomed and of eating from every dish offered to me. Lovely bananas! Again!

In New Zealand, I stayed with the three brothers at Hamilton, two of whom I know and love. I met our new novice there, Br. Simone. He was born in Italy not so long ago, so we had some very interesting intercultural, inter-generational conversations, with me high from the Papua New Guinea rain forest experience, but from America, and curious about New Zealand. He and I shared the preaching load during Holy Week. He had never preached before, but by Easter Sunday he'd given 13 sermons! Really good ones too. But it wasn't all work and sermonizing. We went with a friend to Rotorua and gaped at the geysers and boiling mud. Then we went to a spa and jumped in steamy pools of mineral water--the best way to get psyched up for the Triduum I've found yet! Easter week, one day we went spelunking in the Waitamo Caves. Like me, Simone enjoys running, and he curbed his pace to adjust to mine, and we had some really lovely runs. All of this framed by the daily office and friary life. And a richer diet. The brothers hosted a pizza party for friends to come meet me (It was the only night it rained my whole stay). Easter is in early autumn, so we enjoyed corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, fresh broccoli and crookneck squash (but only at dinner). By the time I left Simone was truly a brother to me!

Over the years the brothers have done extraordinary ministry in New Zealand, and for many years there were several more brothers in the country. Franciscans are very popular, and we enjoy some really good relationships with church folk there. The Archbishop comes by for coffee and to join in the prayers. He organized a luncheon to give some clergy in the diocese who might not otherwise have a chance to meet and talk with me. We spoke about the environment, prayer and community life: we shared some very interesting perspectives.

During the Quiet Day which I conducted for about 21 people my last day in New Zealand, I spoke about being interconnected. St. Francis talks about these relationships in his Canticle of the Creatures: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Everything is kin to us, we all come from the same source, God. The reality of being interconnected and the invitation to live this as fully and responsibly as possible is part of the core Franciscan message. The ins and outs of relationships and daily activities is the sacred rhythm of our lives.

Welcome to SSF, Korean Brothers!

Today was an historic day. We welcomed the Korean Franciscan Brotherhood into the Society of St. Francis and elected two of them, Br. Stephen and Brother Lawrence to Life Profession. They have been mentored by SSF since 1993, and agreed two years ago that their special covenant relationship would come to its end ad fulfillment at this chapter meeting today. A third member of their group, Br. Raphael, was welcomed as a novice in SSF.

But it was also the first time we'd ever conducted a chapter meeting in SSF with several members joining us via skype. It wasn't without its traumas, it took nearly an hour for all parties to get connected, then a bit longer to get all of us sitting so we could see each other (almost). But now we've broken the ice. I'm wondering about further possibilities. Much depends on facilities available in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea for video conferencing.

Blurry images couldn't obscure the joy we all felt. Many of us have got to know the brothers over the years. I stayed in the friary in Gangchon in 2008

Stephen and Lawrence had an interpreter with them, Sister Catherine, SHC. She has known the brotherhood the whole of it's existence and played a part in many of its key moments, so it was a very fitting role for her to play.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Remembering while waiting for the next flight

I am at Sea-Tac airport after nearly three weeks at home: of late mornings spent sipping rich brewed coffee, contemplating the mist shrouded garden; of struggling to decide did I want chicken or beef or seafood for dinner tonight (Mother's love is voiced in her desire to satisfy any food craving I might have). The arid, airport lounge atmosphere which is so familiar to me makes me already long for home. Instead of listening to airport noises, I would maybe pass the late morning supine on my favorite couch hovering between sleep and a novel then heading out for a run along the country highways lacing the hills around my parents' home in Snohomish, WA. Afternoons often found me sipping coffee or tea, catching up with dear friends, or volunteering to make the evening salad. Evenings we'd watch the Olympics.

Home seemed so precious to me this visit. So many family friends are getting older, my parents are getting older. I am getting older. My brother-in-law's father passed away last week and we attended the funeral yesterday.I felt so sorry for him, and tried to breathe into the family future. Yet the preciousness did not dispel the old aggravations and patterns of behavior I have adopted at home since age 10. I might be 52 but I still have a long way to go to some days.

Some friends have asked why I choose to go home for such long periods of time. I go because it helps me to remember who I am. A close friend preached about remembering on Sunday, and it really struck home with me. I remember I am a son, I come from Snohomish, nothing too la-de-da. I am not self sufficient, but count on the love and care of family and friends. And I need the help of God to get out of my head, to unplug the "hard wiring" that makes me reactive and childish.

It is good to be mindful of these things heading to Papua New Guinea for the Ministers Meeting of the First Order Brothers and Sisters of the order. There is so much about famly life and home that permeate our Franciscan life. We call each other brother and sister for a reason.

I think the order is in a good place. We'll see what everybody else thinks soon. I feel better having sunk my roots down into home soil. We have to remember who we are, it will give direction and focus to our talks. Please keep us in your prayers!.