a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Do I Really Want to Follow Jesus?

A few years ago while I was living in North Carolina, I discovered an intentional Christian community in Durham called Rutba House. While I have flirted with some sort of monastic vocation for the last twenty years, this was my first exposure to "new monasticism", and as I read about this community's life, mission, and vision, "my heart was strangely warmed", to borrow Wesley's delicious phrase, and I began reflecting on what it really meant for me to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The immediate fruit of that prayerful reflection was an attempt and ongoing struggle to live a simpler life, to try and reduce my carbon footprint and live greener, and to be more intentional about finding and loving Christ in the poor and oppressed (read spiritual as well as physical poverty here.) The seed that is still gestating is a call or desire to take a bigger step toward reorienting my entire vision of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be Church, and what it means for me to be a priest. At the risk of sounding judgemental (and I suppose I am), there seems to be something missing in Church for me. Maybe I'm wrong, but I wish the Church would be more about living the Gospel and following the Way of Jesus, and less about playing politics and preserving an Institution that is more like the world than the vision of God's reign that Jesus proclaimed had come among us. (and I wish I could articulate that in a less acerbic and more grace-filled way).
Let me unpack that a bit: what do I mean by living the Gospel? As I understand it, the heart of the Gospel message is Jesus' new commandment to love God with all of one's heart, mind, soul,and strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. The context for knowing, experiencing, and giving and receiving love is community. Our baptismal incorporation "in Christ" is in fact an initiation into the "body of Christ", which is a metaphorical description of that community of disciples of Jesus Christ from all times and places, in heaven and on earth. And, our incorporation into Christ's Body is an incorporation into the life of God- an incorporation into the loving community of the Most Holy Trinity. I still remember when, through Henri Nouwen's help, I had an "a-ha" moment with Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity/Visitation of the Angels when I realized that the empty space in the circle was a space reserved for me (and you) to join in the sacred dance of eternal love between the members of the Divine Being. My Holiness roots had called this union with God, "sanctification", an idea similar to the Eastern Church's teaching on "theosis", the life-long(and beyond) process of becoming by grace what God is by nature. If then, we are united in Christ and are becoming partakers of the Divine nature (1 Peter 1:4), and if the Divine nature is in essence love- since God is love- (1 John 4:8), then how can we live any other way than the way of love- which is the way of God proclaimed by Jesus? For God love is sacrificial, self-giving, unconditional, unending, and available to all.
If we share in God's nature, then we are called to love the same way- which is real life terms means sharing our bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, and healing the sick. It means taking the words of Jesus seriously when he said to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to turn the cheek, to forgive those who abuse us, to welcome the stranger,and to liberate the oppressed (and the oppressors). It means speaking out against injustice and working to tear down the powers of evil- both in ourselves and in the kingdoms of the Church and the world- which rage against the Reign of God and exploit the people of God. It means caring for the world and the environment, not just because God called us to be care takers of the world, but because a life rooted in love is a grateful life which respects God's creation and preserves it for those who will live on this planet after us.
Is this Gospel life the way of life that most Christians live? Is it the way of life that I live? Can I be (remain) a partaker of the Divine nature and not live this way? Can I claim to love God and ignore the plight of the poor? If I am becoming by grace what God is by nature, then shouldn't I be working to end poverty, and working to bring gender and racial equality? Shouldn't I be working to form a truly inclusive church where everyone really is welcomed as Christ without the General Convention or the Lambeth Conference telling me via a resolution that is ok for me to welcome them? Shouldn't I denounce the powers of consumerism and materialism that pull me away from God's Reign and cloud Christ's call to love my neighbor. Shouldn't I be praying for those in the Church who deny me a place at the Table of Grace and intentionally working for reconciliation (NB: cracks like "akinola- assahola" are not faithful expressions of the ministry of reconciliation. I'm pretty sure that's not what Jesus had in mind when he said "do good to those who hate you, pray for those who insult you and persecute you.." (Matthew 5:44).

This is not the life that I am living... but I want it to be. That is not the life that I see the institutional church living- but if it doesn't awake from its slumber and "be" the hands and feet of Christ in the world- (pardon the awkward grammar) then it will become utterly irrelevant. (and maybe it already has... )

Luiz and I have mused on these thoughts for several months. We've also been reading Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution, which seems to be offering us greater clarity into what it might mean for us to follow Christ's way of love. While both of us have at various points in our Christian journeys considered monastic life, neither of us feel our vocation is to "leave the world" in order to serve the world through prayer. Don't get me wrong, I have tremendous respect and admiration for those who enter the religious life, and their contribution to the Church and the world is an invaluable service to the Kingdom of God. However, that does not seem to be the path that I am being called to take- at least in its intentional form. I am feeling called to an intentional ministry of transformation in the world- (again, cloistered monastic life also participates in the ministry of transforming the world; the various paths of living out discipleship are not better than another- only different). During our conversations we have reflected on how and where our vocations will participate in Christ's work of transforming the world.
We have been dreaming of creating our own "new monastic intentional Christian community." Although we still do not really understand what that will be like, our dream is to find a residence in an urban area, where 6-12 people would live in intentional Christian community, under an adapted Benedictine Rule. We would worship together daily, share meals in common, and work together with the poor and marginalized in the area. The core of our dream includes the creation of an art atelier which would train the poor in the visual arts, host exhibitions of their work, and manage a shop which would sell their work. The emphasis would be on the creation of liturgical arts- vestments, icons, statuary, paintings, sacred vessels, stained glass, etc.; but other forms of art would be encouraged as well. The atelier would also offer after-school classes for children and youth, and the community would assist the poor with food and access to medical care and spiritual formation. Our deepest dream would be to create a community that modeled greener living for the urban poor, by the creative planting of plants and vegetation, by designing urban gardens, recycling and re-purposing "trash", etc.

More needs to be fleshed out; I have no idea how this would work, where it could be, or how to get there. I envision myself working at least part time in a parish as well, and I would think members of the community migth also have jobs outside of the house. But, this is only in the dream phase. While both of us are excited about the possibilities and open to the Spirit, we will have to trust God to direct us from here. If this dream interests you, and you at least want to be a part of the conversation, contact Luiz or me, and let's talk.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:55 PM | link | 8 comments |

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Thoughts on Honduras

One of the most rewarding parts of the Mission to Honduras was my interaction with the children. I have never played so much soccer, UNO, and baseball in my life... neither have I received so many hugs and warm smiles from hearts thirsty for affection and acceptance. One of my favorite moments was when one of the boys asked me to read a book with him. I had brought a few children's books, so I got a couple and we sat ont he ground and took turns reading. Suddenly it started to rain, and we went running for the nearest shelter, which happened to be the laundry room. We sat there and chatted until the rain stopped, and then he said that he was late for bed and had to go ... but first he ran to me and gave me a big hug. As strange as this might sound- it wasn't just a hug- it was filled with love and thankfulness.

The next morning I was walking and praying the Rosary and one of the boys that I had played soccer with came up to me and asked what I was doing. I showed him the Rosary and said I was praying but that we could talk- He wanted to see my Rosary, but he was distracted by my Celtic Cross necklace, and after touching it asked if he could have it. "O, no," I said, "this one is very special to me becuase it was given to me by my son." "But padre, I'm your son too, no?".... Well, how does one argue with that. Thankfully I had the Rosary in hand, so I showed him the Rosary and asked if he'd ever used one. He took it, and he made the sign of the cross and kissed the cross and said "I love this- may I have it?" "Yes, this you may have, if you promise you will say your prayers with it." He took it, put it around his neck, hugged me and went off to do his chores. After I left I received an email from a parishioner who stayed there for an extra week saying the boy had not yet taken off the Rosary... I hope he knows he is loved- not just by God, but by me and others...

One way that you can help this ministry is by sponsoring a child. When one sponsors a child, one is able to enter into a relationship with the child. If you can not speak Spanish, there are volunteers in the States who will translate letters for you and the children. There are three ways to sponsor a child:

You can sponsor a child's education for $600 a year or $50/month
You can help pay for a child's Room and Board for $900 a year or $75/month
You can be a Full Sponsor for $1500 a year or $125/month

To enquire about sponsoring a child, please go here and fill in the application form and mail it to :

El Hogar Ministries,
70 Church Street,
Winchester, MA 01890

Here are the pics of two boys that I will be sponsoring. I am so proud of them- and ask that you would say prayers for them when you can.

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 6:05 PM | link | 1 comments |

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Trinity Parish Mission Trip to El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

A small group from Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, VA- the parish which sponsors the Canterbury Club at the University of Mary Washington where I am a Chaplain, spent a week at an Episcopal school and home for children in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. El Hogar is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras to the poorest of the poor. Some of the children are orphans, but most come from single parent homes and are rescued off the streets because the parent is unable to care for them. Some children return home on the weekends; others do not because it is not safe for them to return home. The children of El Hogar are given an education, and are grounded in a faith and morality that will empower them to be productive citizens of Honduras. The mission of El Hogar is "to provide a loving home and education in a Christian environment for abandoned, orphaned and hopelessly poor children, enabling them to fulfill their ultimate potential as productive human beings in Honduras."

The ministry includes three campuses: the elementary campus- where 96 boys and 12 girls live in community, the Instituto Technico de Santa Maria and the Episcopal Agricultural School and Farm. El Hogar has recently opened its doors to girls, and a new dorm is being built for them in hopes of bringing more girls into the orphanage. More information about the orphanage and school and about all of the schools can be found here.

I'll be posting more photos and musings on my experience there, as well as introducing you to some of the children and youth who touched my heart in days to come.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 12:49 PM | link | 1 comments |

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Icon for the Visitation

Please say a prayer for me; I have been sick for several days- and as I am the only priest in the parish this weekend, I am trudging through three masses today anyways... but I feel like crap... This morning we had a visitor from "the third largest parish in the Episcopal Church" in Florida, apparantly, who decided to give me some advice on how to more gracefully celebrate and project my voice... It took all of my Southern Hospitality and fake-kind temperament to say "O, I am so sorry my sickness inconvenienced you on the back row- but I am the only priest here this weekend and this is the best I can do." UGH one more mass and then I am going to bed....

When I am better I will write about my trip to Honduras... Pray for me...
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:33 AM | link | 2 comments |