Friday, March 25, 2011

Leaving Lincoln heights

Preaching, cooking, housework, food pantry, and running, going to meetings: it’s been a full month in Los Angeles.

The greatest part has been working in the kitchen. I almost never get to work in the kitchen on a daily basis anymore. Simon taught me how to “supreme” an orange. The weekly food delivery from the food pantry the brothers run (and live off of) brought out all my creative impulses. What to do with grits, 20 pounds of them? Beans, beans, beans…

Every afternoon I sat on the verandah to drink a cup of tea. After a few days I recognized the neighbors, and they me. Now we greet each other with a nod or a smile. One tot who goes by with her Grandma every day waves enthusiastically. I sure wish I spoke Spanish; add that to the bucket list.

The Church of the Epiphany has long been a community anchor. Although attendance has declined in the past 10 years or so, it has an amazing past. And with the SSF brothers here, I wager it has a brilliant future. Throughout the Sixties through the Eighties, the Church was “the storied Lincoln heights church that hosted United Farm Workers organizer and former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and was a center of Chicano civil rights activism” according to The Episcopal News, the diocese of Los Angeles magazine.

Last Tuesday Br. Tom Carey and I went to a book signing for “Blowout!: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice” by Mario T. Garcia and Sal Castro. It was mesmerizing to listen to Sal tell his stories of how he helped students organize perhaps the largest student demonstration in history, and to hear about how the folks from Epiphany church helped and shared their lives and parish facilities for dances, speeches, teach-ins. I kept thinking about the stories of the Chicano students and their desire for education, for opportunity and respect here in America sound so much like the students in Tripoli, Sana, Cairo and the other cities where we see students speaking out against oppression, fighting for opportunity.

There is still so much to do here in this neighborhood and around the world.

Tonight I fly to New Zealand to spend some time with the brothers there.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Praying through the news

The T.V. has been on already this morning, and we have been watching scenes from Japan. Then they cut to scenes from Libya. People have been phoning with news about my “step-nephew” who lives in Nagoya, Japan (he and his family are okay).

Something about watching disasters and wars that make me feel impotent, sometimes a bit frightened and wondering what the heck I can do….

Pray, of course.

The real task is to take this chance to get in touch with who I am and be ready for whatever might happen in my life. Because we never really know what might happen. I am traveling soon to New Zealand, we know earthquakes strike there. I don’t have any plans to visit a war zone, but I feel I need to be ready, if I find myself in harm’s way to do what I need to, to help others; ready to work to find safe solutions, promote peace. Necessary skills, when you come to think of it no matter where we are…

Do I have choices about my involvement? If I choose to be involved in a protest or demonstration or contentious conversation (try “abortion” at the dinner table) am I at peace inside? Am I still equipped with my sense of humor and compassion? Am I motivated by love? If not I need to watch out I don’t get caught up in a situation that pulls me into a place of forgetfulness, governed by fear and anger.

Sometimes we don’t have a choice: even more we need to remember who we are. I remember speaking with some monks who escaped their burning monastery in the hills above Santa Barbara, CA a few years back. How did they feel? One reported he felt concerned but not panicky, able to follow instructions and to look out for the welfare of others. I hope I could say the same! After watching the response of many during 9/11 I think many of us have deeper reserves of strength than we suspect.

I spoke with a nurse a few years ago in the Solomon Islands after a tsunami warning had her moving patients from the Central Hospital to higher ground. How did she feel? She admitted to feeling frightened but glad of work to do; happy to be helping others. It turns out that experience was a real wake up call for local authorities who would have only been able to save half the patients if disaster had struck.

But the nurse, the monks, they are people who were able to walk through frightening experiences, grounded n an understanding that they were accompanied by God.

They did not expect exemption form trials and disasters. They were able to find comfort and meaning in their faith which made them much more effective.

“Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist writes. I pray this often. Not that I will sit still and avoid life, but that I can maintain a calm center, a quiet heart, a sense that God is with me. Then I find my decisions are sounder, my attitude is saner and I am of better service.