Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Visit to San Francisco

I have spent almost three weeks in San Francisco, staying with the brothers at San Damiano Friary. It has been a wonderful visit. In addition to the daily prayers and the usual sorts of things we do every day in any friary: daily office, Mass, diary meetings, cooking, shopping, cleaning...I spent several happy days weeding and pruning in the back garden, especially cutting back Br. Jude's blackberry bushes ("brambles" as he calls them), which present an ever malignant threat to the rest of the garden. I am from the Pacific Northwest, and the notion of planting blackberries in your garden is just shy of shocking. But these are heavy with berries, and will be ready for harvest in a week or so. Such are the bizarre glories of gardening in California!

I preached for the brothers shortly after I arrived, and made a visit to the Community of St. Francis house here in San Francisco where I celebrated Mass for them. It was a poignant visit; Sr. Cecelia might have known who I was, but she certainly couldn't hear anything I was saying. She rests in bed all of the time now, and the sisters and often the brothers along with other care givers do their best to keep her comfortable. She is a remarkably strong woman; I have so many good memories of her: especially of my time here as a novice. She had just finished as Minister General, I believe. At any rate she was full of good humor and showed me warm affection both in 1992 and now in 2015.

This past week I spent time with our two SSF novices, Juniper and Damien Joseph on the vows. I talked with them, using my book, The Vows Book as the basis for our conversations. They are alert, inquiring men, and we had some very fruitful, engaging times together.

The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have used the opportunity to run, working on speeding up! I've decided that 2016 will be the Year of the Race. Perhaps a marathon, definitely a half marathon. Since September will be my "holiday time" I'm considering a run in Jackson Hole, Wyoming or in Arizona. The run in Arizona has the added attraction of being sponsored by the Hopi People. I would love to run that; conditioning is my only worry.

After searching around on-line for articles about running a marathon, I've found lots of advice. I am trying to do the work that seems most common-sensical. That includes gradually increasing my distances, taking rest days, and doing other exercises to strengthen my core. I can do 10 push ups and about 20 stomach "crunches." I think my concern about conditioning is legitimate!! On the other hand I can run about 13 miles fairly easily. One trainer writing in a magazine article posted on the internet suggested jumping rope. I have lots of happy memories jumping rope as a school child, so I bought one. But I have found I feel very self conscious jumping rope on the city side walks of San Francisco, and keep forgetting to take it to a park...I'm trying to push my boundaries at the same time practice a little loving kindness for myself, which I still see as an awkward, uncoordinated self!

I find encouragement from Bruce Tift, a psychotherapist and teacher at Naropa University who has written: The basis of compassion with ourselves and others is to stay embodied and present with the difficulty of being human. That's how we actually keep our hearts open, not trying to transcend our difficult feelings.

Running a race is not just about exercise. It is a very mental challenge, one of the biggest mental challenges is stilling the voice that says "You are a fool! Forget about it. And besides you are too old." My mental riposte is that is pure nonsense.

So why do I keep thinking about it?

Monday I leave San Francisco and go to Seattle for Christmas with my family--the first time since 1988. Every Christmas since has been with the brothers. But since this is the first Christmas after my father's death, the brothers thought it would be a good idea for me to be with my Mother; so do I!

Below is a picture of the burly brothers of San Damiano.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Unconditional Cheerfulness

Saturday I attended a wonderful day of reflection at San Damiano Friary facilitated by Dave Richo. He gave each of us a booklet of "Quotations to Ponder" and among them was this one which I have been pondering:

"Empowered to turn negativity into a resource, I found flowering in me an unconditional cheerfulness and patience that is indestructible, because it is not based on the rejection of obstacles. . . I learned how to crack my habits open and discover the luminous, enlightened energy frozen within them--energy which became available for creative work and joy. . . I understood that virtues are always cultivated from their opposites: patience is the ability to accommodate impatience, courage is the ability to handle fear, and wisdom is not possible unless confusion is allowed to emerge. Therefore I developed immense respect for my mistakes; without them, my discoveries could not have been made." by Stephen T. Butterfield.

Reading this I was reminded of a comment my bishop Vincent Warner, Bishop of Olympia in 1990 when I wrote to him about the confusion of joining a religious order, the confusion of coming out, the confusion of wondering what I was supposed to be about in my life. He wrote back: "We need to have the courage of our confusion!" I took that to mean stop chasing after answers that won't come until its the right time. I always wanted answers right away.

Now I still wonder the same things, but the answers are right there alongside the questions. The only thing I need to do is to be open to the challenges these answers present.

Do I want more intimacy in my life? I am surrounded by men who want the same thing, do I have the grace to accept what God is offering me? Do I have the charity to see them as God sees them?

Do I want to be a great advocate for social justice and a leader of people? I am surrounded by situations and people who need help. Do I have the humility to help those at my right side and my left? Or do I simply long for the spotlight of glamorous aid given to people in the news, far away?

Do I want more joy and laughter in my life? I am embedded in a life of serendipity and weird connections, extraordinary "synchronicities" (to coin a phrase) and hilarious absurdities.

These are the sustenance for the road. With them I can share my faith, serve the world in Christ's name. Joy and unconditional cheerfulness can come from being aligned with reality. Reality exists apart from my fondest dreams, It is something I have to actually accept on its own terms. When I live a reality based, love infused life, I discover (over and over again, alas--such is this amnesiac) the joy of my life as a man, a friar, a priest--Lover writ large.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Franciscan pacifist

A friend of mine, Barbara Crafton, has observed that the list of names and titles at the beginning of the Gospel passage (Luke 3:1-6) are often used to establish the preaching of John the baptist in history, when it happened. But, she wonders, perhaps it’s not the when but the WHO. Not to Tiberias, not to Pilate, not to Herod or Philip, not to Lysanias, not to Annas nor Caiaphas. Not to the political and religious leaders. Not to the “big boys” (as she calls them) at the helm of the important institutions of government and religion. But the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. It came to a virtual nobody, nowhere.

This choice is Good News. It privileges our puny lives. God chose the weak to shame the strong (sounds familiar to Franciscan ears, doesn’t it?), and to let the “big boys” know that they won’t last forever. The meek will inherit the earth; “every valley will be filled up, every mountain levelled off…” We tend to think of the meek as the milquetoasts, but really it is the poor people the minores. They can be brave and endued with power when they work together. John’s message is a warning to the rich and powerful: “Watch out!” Things are going to change, you don’t know when, but they will change when you least expect it. John got his head chopped off for speaking truth to power. but his populist message is durable. It is part of our cherished tradition and recalled as requisite in our preparations to welcome Christ at his coming. In other words, you can make a difference, and every one of us matters. The people around John were the Occupy Judea Movement. Who isn’t stirred at the thought of a capacious and inclusive vision like John’s? Maybe the rich, but that’s the point!

The trouble is that fear can corrupt the populist message of hope and inclusion, turning it into vigilante nightmare where ordinary people become judge and executioner, arming themselves with guns rather than equipping themselves with skills of negotiation, reserves of compassion, the attributes of love. This fear based flip makes it extremely important that Christians cultivate a profound awareness and relationship with Jesus Christ. Now is the time to make the Christian difference felt. The qualities of forgiveness and love and skills of negotiation and collaboration are the truly good qualities that St. Paul tells the Philippians only Jesus Christ can produce. We know that they are produced in every religion, but our profession requires a radical Christ consciousness. To make the road ready for the Lord we need to pray for love. For forgiveness. For courage to speak truth to power. For the largeness of heart to transform the fears we have into vulnerability. For the grace to be vulnerable and honest.

Our country is grappling with a watershed moment of truth about guns. Instead of guns, I am calling for courage to enter conflicts unarmed. Instead of protecting self and loved ones with bullets I am calling for skilled listening and negotiating, radical forgiveness. This foolish approach has worked with Boko Haran in Nigeria, where the Anabaptists have faced the terrorists in their villages, befriending them in some cases, and at the cost of their lives in others. As a Franciscan friar it is the only way I can live out my commitment with integrity. It is a chance to show the world what being Christian means. We cannot just wring our hands about this terrible situation. Each of us must live differently, gather under the banner of John in the desert where we can confess our sins and prepare ourselves as heirs and heralds of the most radically loving God-initiative in human history.