Saturday, December 28, 2013

Eleemosynary

Eleemosynary.

Last night I encountered this chestnut in a novel my sister gave me for Christmas. It made me laugh out loud because I had no idea what it meant. Scrambling for the dictionary, I learned it means “of, relating to, or dependent on charity.”

A really worthy word.

I savored the word, re-reading the dictionary definition and imagining conversations:  “I just met someone with deep eleemosynary tendencies!”

“Contemporary eleemosynary institutions compete for philanthropists’ largess.”

I found it hard to keep hold of the spelling, getting up once in the middle of the night to look it up again. It’s that double “e” that seems so exotic and hard to remember.

I've been a sesquipedalian from way back, a love that dares not speak its name in country schoolrooms, except at spelling bees. Though I never studied, I usually won. Thank goodness I never got "eleemosynary."
I remember using big words as a boy to bolster a tender, flagging ego. I prized big words because few people understood them. It was a way of feeling special, of (intuitively perhaps) not giving up entirely to the self recriminations with which I would excoriate myself after another failure at sports, or after false and shamed efforts to date and be popular.

Logically enough one of my many family bonds is a shared love of a statement of my Grandfather’s that was apparently popular in one version or another in the 19th-Century. I don’t know where he learned it, perhaps from his father or brothers, all of whom like himself attended Amherst College. I wonder if it was a way to overcome his shyness and master the overpowering feelings of homesickness I hear he suffered from. I imagine his landlady’s surprise when the awkward, shy young man from Tacoma, Washington pushed back from the table announcing: “My gastronomical satiety admonishes me that I have reached the ultimate culinary limitations consistent with the code of Aesculapius.” This was the closest we ever came to a football chant in my natal home, all of us practically shouting it together. It was a Berge thing. Mom knew we loved her food.

As an adult, normally I work hard to write and speak simply, using a vocabulary that helps people to know better about God. This is such an important goal. I often scrub out words that take attention away from it.
Living in community we discover words can shred us. Living cheek by jowl we know just what to say to hurt or diminish or force one another into silence. Words wound.

Fortunately the travails of intimacy are not the last word on religious life.

Franciscan life is very eleemosynary. Without charity, without love, it is nothing. The community is also a place where old hurts are healed. It is a place where we can be ourselves and speak simply of the truth of God’s love acting in our lives. Words heal.

There were some curious lapses in my education. Somehow I got to seminary with no clear idea what “incarnation” meant. I remember a classmate’s astonishment as he said, “You know, Christmas!”
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word saves.


It’s eleemosynary, my dear Watson.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Airlines School of Prayer

Last month the New York Times printed some letters from people about airplane etiquette. I laughed with recognition as I read the column (November 10, 2013): nytimes.com/travel.  Many of the letters seem to be complaints about air travel, and the other people travelling: they smell, they’re noisy, they dress inappropriately. All stuff you would expect people might say if given a chance to vent about the exigencies of air travel.
But there was one voice which appealed to me, prodding me to deeper reflection. A guy from Canada wrote: “I fly up to four times a week. Though flying resembles a bus trip now with its many deprivations, it is wonderfully fast. Flying allows me to get somewhere and put in a full day’s work at the same time. As far as I am concerned, this outweighs all the challenges. More than this, I have come to appreciate that I can’t control others on a plane, but I can control myself. I am learning to treat the staff with respect and other passengers with consideration and mercy. I confess I was a disgruntled flier when I began to fly all the time. Since I decided to change my attitude and be thankful for the way flying has opened up the whole world to us, the whole experience has become eminently better.” (Thanks to Philip Hills for his contribution to the NYTimes)
 I was reminded of all this last week on a trip to England—a quick trip for me, only seven days. We were delayed, the whole business seemed aggravating and too much. But then I thought: “So what? What are you going to do about it?”  I decided it wasn’t worth a coronary, and just count my lucky stars I was going to England!
I logged over 63,000 miles this year, a lighter travel schedule than normal. During moments of recollection and relative sanity, my own philosophy is that air travel is transportation, not something to bolster my ego. I reject the come-ons telling me I deserve better, and the ranking of platinum, gold, silver, elite and all the rest of it. Perhaps I am unique among Franciscans, but I think that if I am asked by my seat mate what I do, I don’t want to admit to being a religious vowed to poverty while sitting in a First Class seat. Like the writer above, gratitude can change my attitude from a snide, persnickety and critical outlook to one of acceptance. It takes the sting out of travel.
I am reminded of the old saying: watch out for what you pray for. I am always praying for patience, compassion, and love to be more deeply part of me. So God puts me in situations where these are exactly the things I need to cultivate and exhibit. It’s not possible to be patient unless you are in an aggravating situation!


Friday, November 8, 2013

GTS Alumni Reward Remarks November 7, 2013

I was supposed to receive this award last year, but it was one of the casualties of Sandy. It happened without a hitch this year. They presented me with a beautiful silver bowl!

What a pleasure to be here tonight; many thanks to the Alumni/ae Association for this Award! To say I was surprised would be an understatement. Stuart Kenworthy had to convince me it wasn’t a prank call. This year the evening is tinged with sadness as I remember the death of Don Sullivan our former Franciscan brother and alum and member of the Alumni Board of this Seminary who was to introduce me last year if Sandy hadn’t spoiled our plans. May he rest in peace.

When you rattle off 25 years of accomplishments and activities it sounds so much more impressive than it was plodding through it all (thank you Br. Jude for that introduction). I think at the heart of this event is the Seminary’s recognition of the value of the Franciscan vocation in the Episcopal Church. By recognizing me you are recognizing all of us who have made the decision to become Franciscans, and tonight I want to hold up for you to appreciate the beauty and joy of that life choice and commitment.

But maybe I should be honest and tell you I nearly turned away from it. October 15, 1989 Bill Harper (also GTS ‘84 was driving me out to Little Portion to join. I’d been living and working in Tacoma, WA, then attended language school in Mexico. He agreed to deliver me to the Franciscans with my two suitcases of belongings. At LIE exit 63, where you turn off to go north to Mount Sinai, I shouted “Stop! Stop!” I wrenched the car door open with the (fortunately) dry heaves. I told him we’d better forget it, it didn’t feel right anymore. But Bill said no. We’d come all this way and I had to spend at least one night. So many people need to be recognized for their part in getting to this evening.
Let’s be frank.
To choose to become a religious is an oddball choice.
However, as I have said elsewhere:

The Holy Spirit
calls us,
moves us,
helps us
to be brothers and sisters
in religious orders.

But the Holy Spirit
never forces us.
We are called, not pushed.
Everything
happens
in freedom.

To profess the vowed life
is to step through
a gate,
to set out
on a journey
led by the Spirit.
As one brother says:
“We go looking for trouble.
We go looking to be disturbed.
We go to change the world.”

In retrospect, I think the vocation lurked there thirty years ago as a seminarian when I wrote about the church, the community of faith, the liminal witness of church in society—all the sorts of egghead-sounding topics seminarians write about. I longed for a radical kind of Christian life and witness; I was one of two students in Dr. Hood’s seminar on the Christian Marxist Dialogue in 1984. I took a course at Union with Dorothee Soelle. I also opened a shelter for homeless people for the Metuchen-Edison Clergy Association and later I was part of a parish effort to open a shelter in Times Square at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin. And I lived in it—that was glory! After I left New York I became part-time Chaplain at The Annie Wright School in Tacoma, WA, a private, independent Episcopal school. Soon, I knew I wanted a rougher life! And as the years went by I wanted to find a resolution to the on-going psychic drama of sexuality and spirituality. I harbored the na├»ve hope a vow of celibacy would take all that out of my life and leave me serene and calm. Go ahead, laugh! But many people have recognized in the call to the religious life the opportunity for radical ministry and for personal healing. As one of our senior brothers once observed, “God uses whatever we offer.”
As I have learned, the vows are not just a “no” to something, but heartfelt affirmations of a much bigger prize:
For instance,
…chastity is not just about sex.
Chastity teaches us
to pray for pure hearts,
not to say mean words,
not to laugh when others hurt,
not to fight,
not to tell stories against people.
Because chastity
means shaping our lives
around the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
“love,
joy,
peace,
patience,
kindness,
goodness,
faithfulness,
humility,
and self-control “ (Galatians 5:22).
It is about truth and faithfulness
with gentleness,
in all things.

For me,

The vows protect
in us
deep down
the courage and strength
to live for God,
to help God
create a world
we want to live in,
a world of love.
Our world
is full
of violence,
poverty,
no education,
sickness,
pollution.
Either we can live
with all this,
or we can choose
to change it,
doing whatever we can
to shine the light of Christ
all around us.

Just how we shine that little light is where it gets interesting.
Foremost the Franciscan life is about God. We are called into celebration and penitence, to take great risks for the Gospel’s sake and to protect and comfort the most vulnerable among us, following the example of Jesus Christ. It can be done, St. Francis proved that, the alter Christus of his day and age. And many of us are doing it today in every walk of life, not just friars.

The Society of St. Francis has 139 brothers in five provinces. We have an incredible breadth and depth to our apostolic witness. We care for the poor, the sick, for children and the elderly, prisoners, the environment and the earth’s creatures. We try to forge bonds of respect and understanding across religious and cultural divides of every sort. We stand alongside outcasts whether they are migrant workers, or LGBT people on Long Island, in California, Canterbury or wherever, or lepers or wayfarers in the Solomon Islands, or refugees in Leeds, England, juvenile delinquents in Oro Province Papua New Guinea. We walk the streets at night in San Francisco, visit the sick in hospitals in Brisbane, Australia. We offer retreats and days of quiet and reflection in all our friaries, take leadership roles in helping people think about and commit to living more lightly on the earth and caring for the environment. The friaries and churches we run are safe places for nearly everybody who can find their way to us. Sometimes it is exhausting. But all of us wish we could do more. There is joy in ministry. You know that! One skill our leadership has to master is not freaking out at the financial picture and reaching deep into spiritual reserves to do the next right thing.
As Minister General, I support the brothers. I travel on average 85,000 miles a year to be with them (yes, the Order pays a carbon offset tithe and wish I didn’t have so much air travel). I travel to be in relationship with the brothers, the local people and clergy. I meet with Bishops, attend all of the provincial chapters: network, network, network! I am supposed to be the guardian of the rule. Sometimes when we reach an impasse I can look at things from a different perspective, informed by conversations and experiences from the other side of the globe. I preach whenever they ask me and sit on every Chapter, so I have a chance to speak my piece though I don’t have a casting vote. Sometimes I have to talk to them like a Dutch Uncle, as my mother would say. I am not sure exactly what Dutch Uncles are about, but she always uses the term when delivering a few uncomfortable home truths. But I work alongside them, wielding a machete in the South Pacific, shuffling cooking pots and washing dishes, windows, walls, toilets, typing and re-typing the statues, norms and policies of several of the provinces. It helps to forge fraternal bonds that enable great intimacy when one is covered in sweat and grime, swatting flesh-eating fire ants and mosquitos. Nothing gives a tongue-tied novice greater confidence than teaching the Minister General to kill chickens and to pluck them quickly and cleanly—or sharing any of the menial tasks we encounter on a daily basis. Life in SSF, anywhere in the world, is “really real” as one woman said after one of our more eruptive liturgies at Little Portion Friary, NY.

The Franciscan vocation and our community life is evidence of God’s creativity. The sum of our life is so much greater than what you’d expect from the parts. Even though in many instances traditional life-vowed religious life is declining, and we are no exception, Franciscan spirituality continues to convert and fascinate and inspire. There are a variety of movements, new monasticism among them that are seeking to renew the religious vocation for a new time. I am very happy about that. But I find myself praying this vocation pioneered by Francis and Dominic--of being a life vowed consecrated celibate religious living in community with active ministry [friars!]--will endure. It won’t out of sentiment but it might if we pray and love, love, love. That’s what’s got to inform our thinking and action. And if it doesn’t endure, I have already entrusted my life to God’s care and keeping, so I have to accept what comes.

Thank you, thank you, thank you my sisters and brothers of the Alumni Association for this really great honor. This has been a beautiful couple of days!! I have only one favor to ask of you: keep your eyes peeled for likely prospects for the religious life among your parishioners and encourage them. We want passionate pray-ers, spiritual adventurers, hardy souls. Everybody deserves a chance at it. It’s not a disaster if it doesn’t work out, but who wants to wake up at 80 years old and say “Damn, I wish I’d just tried it!”

God bless you my friends.


General Seminary Alumni/ae Memorial Eucharist Sermon

Chapel of the Good Shepherd
Br. Clark Berge, SSF

So here we are, at last, no thanks to Sandy. Storms strike and things get messed up as we all know. But storms, whether meteorological or political or emotional or theological, raise questions and challenges. God help us, we can’t go back to business as usual. But as we clean and sort and then re-order and re-build our houses, relationships, or our own serenity we have to take into account what that storm (which ever) was about and how we are being called to live. In terms of last year’s storm, climate change, petroleum-based lifestyles and other issues that have become part of the critique are forcing the question of how we are to live. The same is true with death. Like storms, many times it is unexpected, or we only get a few brief days or hours to accept the inevitable breaking over us. Every Memorial Eucharist is an example of how Christians sort through life, proclaim the goodness and value of everyone and move forward into an enlarged life, this one is no exception. So what are we being called to consider? What core values and teachings can help us to know and live more fully into the mystery and joy of our Christianity?

We are reminded in Wisdom that the death of the righteous is not a disaster. We hear the assurances from time immemorial that they are at peace. They have access now to blessings where there is no pain or grief. Fortunately we don’t read the next passage from Wisdom which is all about the destiny of the wicked. We impute righteousness to our dead, which is the least we can do. Because we don’t really know what happens after death. When we inculcate in ourselves and our community the values of magnanimity and charity, wishing the best for the dead, it changes us. We live more forgivingly, graciously. We can let go of them with joy and gratitude. Perhaps we even feel called to live more recklessly in a Spirit-led way, taking risks on happiness, beauty, joy that might not be anticipated in the conventional calculus of success. As we can infer from the book of Wisdom, our holiest hopes and values can be a charter for our lives. As we pray, so we long to live.

For me the choice to live a more reckless, Spirit-led life (my decision to answer the call to become a friar), didn’t spring from a particular death, but from a dawning awareness that I would someday die; even at 29 I thought that might happen sometime! I didn’t want to look back at the end with regret over an invitation spurned, a glimpse of something I feared to grasp! So I say live boldly, be compassionate, forgive others. It is how we make God known to others and encourage them in their journey.

The Gospel of John defines salvation as inclusive. Jesus says there are many rooms in my Father’s house. Thus it is in heaven, so it must be on earth. We must make room for others, suspending judgment and acknowledging God’s ways are higher and better than our ways. We don’t have to condone everything we just don’t damn people. Often it is we ourselves who have to change. Humility is a great thing when you are talking about salvation. And Jesus not only talked about it he showed it, demonstrating inclusivity, welcoming tax collectors, women taken in adultery, Roman centurions, lepers—you know all those Bible stories too. I think he is saying at least in part “Do as I do” when he says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Certainly you can’t go wrong casting your net wide to bring all people into the loving embrace of God through Jesus Christ.

This connection between death and our ministry—the spur to evaluate our lives perhaps—is very interesting. Thinking back over the lives of the alumni I knew, I think about my life. As I find out about what these people’s lives were like I am often astounded by the beauty of them all, the faithfulness they showed. I think about all the lives that were touched, sacraments celebrated, sore hearts healed, work for social justice. And I also think about how many of them probably struggled with futility. They probably wrestled with a sense of failure, taking criticism to heart faster than praise. They may have wondered, at an early morning Eucharist with only the sexton there, if it was worth it. A few had brilliant careers, but so many of us don’t—in our own estimation. So I want to remind us that in the big picture each and every one of us is a kind of miracle. At the end it won’t be about the grades you got in seminary, balanced parish budgets or mastery of the latest technological gadgets. (At least I ashamed at my inability to understand how the things work and sometimes mask my confusion and shame by insisting they are a threat to the spiritual life or something.) At the end life and ministry is about love. Love will heal our sense of failure. Love will magnify every act to reveal the power behind it. Jesus said elsewhere whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters you do to me. That puts ultimate value on every little thing.

It isn’t even so much about how much we love, but it is about how much God loves us. God’s love has a way of burning away the “Yes, but’s…” the qualifications we put in the way of really experiencing love. It’s all about God’s initiative. I believe God’s love is so great that we will find peace. No matter how difficult or tormented the life, we always say that they are at peace now. I think we say this so that we, the living, may find peace too. That’s the way it is with God’s love. They will find rest; we are promised rest too. They will find new frontiers of existence; we are invited to discover the rhythms of redeeming grace. At this feast today, our Eucharistic feast, it is appropriate to speculate about the heavenly banquet. I am sure we will find the people we least expect to meet there, sitting right next to us and it will be okay. Better, it will be a cause for joy because we will no longer see them as a source of aggravation or provocation. We will have the larger vision, the magnanimous perspective of God’s love. What better memorial to our departed brothers and sisters than to practice all that now? I am saying, God’s love is a source of power to transform our lives. Let it transform your life. Cooperate with it! A fundamental value of our faith is to open our hearts and be changed by God’s grace in order to grow more and more into the image and likeness of God: love is a mystery that animates every bit of what we are about in this place today, and have been for so many years.

Someday our names will be read here. Don’t be anxious. Pray with trust and gratitude and know that our life is God’s work in God’s time. Still Jesus calls us over life’s stormy seas. Follow the Spirit’s lead; turn a deaf ear to power and prestige and look out for the poor ones, the sick ones, the outcasts. You can always do those things. And let the Church sing out with gratitude as we do today: well done, good and faithful servant.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Magic Soup

It's been a long time since I posted: hard to get the right balance between inspiration, internet access and time to fiddle with it. But I'm in Los Angeles at the moment with all three in fair abundance and remembering an experience I had while in Papua New Guinea in August.

I'd been travelling to different friaries, eating whatever was put in front of me--including, during my stay at Alotau, bandicoot. Read rat. My easy accepting attitude toward food is generally rewarded with pleasant surprises. But I hope never again to eat bandicoot. During my time at Haruro, St. Mary of the Angels Friary, I came down with diarrhea. Not an uncommon illness. It usually passes with a few pepto-bismal tablets. But this time I was laid low. I think the culprit was unrefrigerated food that had been re-heated after sitting out all day. But who knows? I missed prayers. I scuttled to the toilet all night and all day. Sometimes in time, sometimes not. Pure misery.

The brothers brought me a warmish coca cola to settle my stomach. Then they brought me crackers and papaya. Transit time for these foods seemed about 15 minutes. I was beginning to wonder how long it could go on. I began to remember every terrible story of travelers suffering (and some dying) from unchecked diarrhea. Which made me pray harder. And turn my life over to God's keeping.

God heard me. The brothers came with greetings and a message from two sisters from the Community of the Visitation of Our Lady, another Anglican Religious Order in PNG: "Come down stairs, now!" I said no. But they insisted, and the brother carrying the messages was getting agitated. So I went and they greeted me with a huge pot of soup. My stomach clenched at the smell of it. "We heard you have diarrhea and made you some of our famous magic soup!" they said. They laughed a lot and cajoled me into looking into the pot: it was greyish with orange lumps and green stems. I was reluctant.

In the past the brothers and sisters in Melanesia have tried to help me out with traditional cures for all sorts of ailments and difficulties, but the treatments have never worked. They covered their bases by saying it is probably because I am white that it doesn't work. But this soup the sisters said had worked on a whiteman before, so they knew it would work for me. So I ate a bowl of it. "Eat more!" they said. Surprisingly it tasted good and my stomach rejoiced in it. Then I broke out into a flop sweat, water streaming off my body as if I were under a shower. My clothes sopping wet, hair clinging to my scalp. "It worked," crowed Sister Anne. Sister Beverly went into great detail with the recipe: chicken stock, papaya, pumpkin leaves and stems, cut up green beans, and the leaves and fruit of soursop. Soursop is known throughout the tropics, by many different names. Spanish speaking countries call it guanabana: green spikey skin peels back to reveal a white flesh with big black seeds. It is a delicious fruit. The sisters swear by it for every ailment. When I got back to Google-land I learned more about it, both that many people find it has wonderful healing properties and that there is no scientific basis for it. I leave it to the chemists and pharmacists. I also learned that if you are in the northern hemisphere and have diarrhea blackberry leaves (or if you are strong enough or have a robust friend, the roots) are a great treatment for diarrhea. I'll keep that in mind... Maybe Google will fund research into better living with soursop?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In the Center of the Labyrinth


Last Wednesday the brothers hosted a labyrinth walk at Little Portion. It was great to be here for it. The weather was beautiful, there was a good crowd. What was most important for me was the sense of an on-going ministry. I built the labyrinth 15 years ago, and people are still coming to visit it, finding it helpful. I had a feeling of almost parental pride, as much as I know anything about that. I never thought it would last so long. When we built it we had the idea that we'd missed the moment for labyrinths, that they were passing out of fashion. So we used wood chips to pave the paths, telling ourselves that it would grow over quickly if we wanted to allow that. The labyrinth was an experiment.

What we have discovered is that people still appreciate it. As I walked it, I found myself contemplating all the journeys I have taken in the last several years. I am often asked how I find "life on the move." I think all itinerant people have their ways of coping. For me, the most helpful thing is the constancy of prayer, and the familiar thread of our Office Book which allows me to feel connected with the other brothers and sisters around the world who use it. We are all basically on the same page on the same days--the international dateline notwithstanding. The labyrinth has helped me to pay attention to how I develop a contemplative perspective on my life--learning to stay the course, walking the path and being as present as possible to the events and emotions that surface for me. Sometimes I am gobsmacked by joy, other times I cringe with embarrassment. But when I can suspend the inner critic and accept the memory, forgive myself and if necessary resolve to forgive others, then I can move on. Eventually there is a time of connection: a deep and honest conversation, or a laugh shared with a friend that comes from deep within and sets me free from many petty concerns. Knowing people, being with them, puts the petty aggravations of travel into perspective. that is what I call a contemplative perspective--trying to see life from a larger perspective, to remember what is important.

So, after three weeks at Little Portion, I am packing to go to Papua New Guinea, where the brothers have prepared an itinerary for me that will take me up and down that country. I've been to all the places and know what to expect--the unexpected! I am looking forward to seeing them all again, hearing about their lives and ministries, sharing their foods.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Simply Living Mission: We Did It!


This mission has been a little bit of an endurance test. I never really had the time to blog. When I had time, I didn't have an internet connection. Sometimes both were available yet I had no energy. C'est la vie. So it was basic, simple living, indeed! We went from Hilfield friary in Dorset to Plymouth in the diocese of Exeter, to Lichfield Diocese, Chester Diocese, Blackburn Diocese, Ely and Ipswich Bury St. Edmunds Diocese, and London diocese. We slept on concrete floors in some places. In others the bathing facilities were not only in another building, but we had to take a bus to get to them. We ate lots of sandwiches and quiche, though a really terrific meal every evening. But as St. Paul reminded us last week: endurance produces character, character, hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint us. And our hope is that all whom we met will have had a glimpse of a simple Melanesian, and religious, life--and a deepening sense of the possibility of living a simpler life, how it might be possible for you. As we’ve gone around England on this Simply Living Mission, two Scriptures became for me the keys for understanding what we were doing, Paul's first letter to the corinthians and the Beatitudes in Matthew's gospel, which was our Bible Study for the Mission.

First, from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians: how God chose the weak in the world to shame the strong, and we know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. We weren’t trying to shame anybody. But in his letter to the Corinthians Paul touches on the universal power of a small group of people witnessing to the power and beauty of holiness. We are a small group of pijin speaking people from one of the world’s most exotic cultures. We must appear a band of innocents abroad to cosmopolitan Brits! I am put in mind of Leonard Wibberley’s wonderful 1955 story “The Mouse that Roared” in which the Grand Duchy of Fenwick faces one of the world’s superpowers (the USA) and wins a war with them. The Solomon Islands, with a population of half a million is one of the smallest nations. On the Human Development Index it is 144 out of 185 nations--one of the poorest nations. Yet listen to us sing: The mouse that roared, indeed. We have met and ministered to and dare I say conquered the hearts of lots of people. We met with lots of elderly women, lots of school children. Some clergy days were fully booked, several were cancelled. It wasn’t a Billy Graham Crusade! As I have thought about this I realized we were exhibiting the beauty and power of littleness, or minority, as we call it in the Franciscan tradition.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit” Jesus said in Gospel terms.

Minority living is manger living. God chose to be born in a manger, hidden and vulnerable, not in a palace. Blessed are the meek! From that place, the power of simple living has been shown to the world.

What could this mean in a world where senseless killings threaten the social fabric and heighten suspicions, divisions, hatred and more and more people have access to guns? In a world where war and killing seems the most sensible, effective way of achieving social change? In a world where climate change is making itself felt in longer, colder winters here, violent storms in America and the South Pacific, firestorms threaten homes and environment in Australia and America? It’s all well and good to talk of minority, but what we really need is a large scale change in society and a massive re-orientation of values.

During the mission we heard of tornados in Oklahoma and we sang of the butterfly: "God made the butterfly fly… " St. Francis and many of the world’s mystics from Hildegaard of Bingen to Rumi teach us we all come from God, the one source of everything. Physics teaches us no action takes place in isolation from the whole. Everything is interconnected. If a butterfly’s fluttering wings can be construed to make a difference to the earth, then there is no deriding or undervaluing the power of prayer, friendship, love and play in an era of war and widespread chaos and turmoil. Christians must always exhibit these things, even in times of persecution: we must be faithful! Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake!

Our Christian vocation is to proclaim Christ crucified. The symbol of our faith is the Cross, not the sword. We see Jesus hanging on the cross, not riding across the sky in a chariot pulled by six white horses. But the Crucifixion isn’t the end of the story. Paul is pointing to an enduring reality, one we have affirmed over and over again in our Mission. We created little power point talks on prayer, social justice and the environment. In a sense we aired our dirty laundry, the problems facing Solomon Islands. We talked of the simple things we do—offering friendship and hospitality, to address these problems. That it is in our brokenness, our vulnerability, that God can use us, fill us.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

One of the gifts we tried to bring was the willingness to talk about our brokenness, to show how such vulnerability can be an open door for Christ to come into your life as well as a liberating gift to others who suffer.

Being small, we can actually draw near to power in new ways. One brother said he was so surprised and happy at how humble and simple the Bishops of the Church of England are…

They may or may not be so simple and humble, but the brothers and sisters certainly invited everyone they met to talk simply, share honestly, dance and sing—fixing you with their friendly smiles, you couldn’t get away with anything less than that! Who could refuse Br. Albert’s invitation to dance to the panpipes? We danced in Ely Cathedral evensong with the girl’s choir (and the Dean) spilling into the aisles, at Selwyn College and with the dean there too, with the Mother’s Union—everybody! If you wanted to relate and connect with us, you had to say what you meant and be willing to dance and laugh and play. Quid pro quo. We drew near to power like the small mouse in Aesop’s fable called the Lion and the Mouse, in which the mouse chews through the rope netting that has captured the lion. The moral of the story is that there is no being so small it cannot help a greater one. Small, tiny, things can liberate the mighty and powerful: some may choose to leap from the high up places and join us of their own accord. Confronted by a simple joyful life live by our team, many may look at their lives in a new light and seek to change.

Simple living isn’t easy living. It isn’t about having nothing to do. But it is about engaging your neighbours and all the tasks of daily life, as many as you have, with clarity about your priorities. Earth and her peoples first! Live with passion. And let go of life’s disappointments with prayer and forgiveness. They are sure to bring you down and complicate everything. Be honest with yourself and others. With interior freedom like that you can accomplish prodigious works, find pleasure in your tasks and know the joy of simple Gospel living in the struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

I think if we can give you an enduring challenge, the legacy of the mission—let it not be nostalgia for our singing or fascination with our traditional dancing, wonderful as they are. To hang onto those things alone is pure sentimentality and a waste of time. Rather we challenge you to read your Bibles, and shape your lives as best you can by what you read and what you learn from trusted friends and associates. Become people who play on the floor with children. Spend time outdoors everyday, and take up a sport to play as often as you can. And sing—at the top of your lungs, in the shower, on long walks in the country side; but don’t be ashamed to shout out in church. If nothing else, singing like that simply makes you feel 100% better! Somehow it all comes right if you just let it out. God can’t do anything when your lips are sealed! Share food, tea, stories. Money even, if you have any. That should be your first priority—share what God has given you, don’t count the cost. People will very likely share back with you. And lastly, if you take our example to heart, travel whenever you get a chance. An American travel writer always says “all travel is political“—it changes how people understand each other, how they see and live on the earth. It challenges perception. You don’t have to go as far as the Solomon Islands. Go anywhere on the train or the bus—but get out of the house if you can. And do your own mission—laugh and talk with the people you meet. Like us you will very likely not meet too many powerful people, though you may be lucky like we were and meet some.

It is a simple way to open yourself to God’s grace. With God’s grace you will find a life that is happy, joyous, free, even if you happen to live it at full throttle. As the saint said long ago: the glory of God is the human person fully alive.

As a famous old aunty counselled: live, live, live!!