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…

1 comment:

Bavi said...

Brother Clark, I am telling the story of the work of reconciliation of the Melanesian brothers in my sermon tomorrow. I would love to teach the congregation the closing prayer/chant we sang at Lambeth, but to be honest, I haven't sung it in awhile, and I am away from home. I think I have the tune in my head (more or less) but the words escape me. If you can send them I would be most grateful.
Pax et bonum