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!!