Listen to Him

St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC

Lent 1B / 1 Peter 3:18-22 / Mark 1:9-15 

How do you hear the voice of Jesus? And what does he say to you?

Two Sundays in a row, we encounter in Mark’s Gospel a voice from heaven. This week speaking to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son.” Last week, speaking to the disciples (and to us): “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Listen to him. Words not just for Peter and James and John on the mountain of Christ’s transfiguration, but words for us, as well.

From heaven, we can almost hear that same voice say

Listen to him, who proclaims good news.

Listen to him, who declares God’s justice.

Listen to him, when he says feed the hungry.

Listen to him, when he says heal the sick.

Listen to him, when he says love your enemy.

Listen to him, when he says do not judge.

Listen to him, when he says “take and eat”

Listen to him, and take up your cross

Listen to him, and do not be afraid

Listen to him, beloved of God. Listen to the voice of Jesus.

So simple, it seems – but not so simple. Because we hear other voices. Voices not from God.

Voices that draw us off the path of life. Voices that distract us from our focus on Jesus.

In Lent, this 40-day season of simplicity and focus, we are invited, over and over again, to return to God. To return to the One who created us, who loves us, saves us, heals us, strengthens us, challenges us to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world, to be a people of love and justice.

In Lent, we learn to listen, again. To listen to the voice of God, to hear the voice of Jesus more strongly than all the other voices. To listen with the ear of the heart, as the Rule of St. Benedict says – the deepest listening, from the deepest place inside us, to the deepest longing in the heart of God.

But how? How can we learn to listen?

It may not surprise you that the church has no shortage of “helpful” tips. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional Lenten shorthand. Fish on Fridays, give up chocolate, and all the rest.

Maybe it was always this way, but it feels like Lent has become a kind of spiritual “bootcamp,” a chance for normally laid-back Christians to go hardcore in a disciplined spiritual life, to undertake a massive program of repentance and self-improvement – a second chance at those pesky New Year’s Resolutions, a moment to confront our destructive desires, to undo the habits that keep us stuck in a festering dissatisfaction, to set aside the built-up resentments and fears that divide us from one another.

It may also not surprise you to learn that – in my younger days – I was a bit of a spiritual overachiever.

At Pilgrim Congregational Church in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, I sang in the choir, starred in the Christmas pageant, took up the offering as a junior usher, and made sure to have perfect attendance at Sunday School. At home, I prayed before meals, even when my parents didn’t, and I would listen to hours of evangelical radio preachers at night before bed.

But I was so jealous … of the Catholics. Not only did they get to leave school early for Catechism class, but they came with ashes on their foreheads once a year, made the sign of the cross when they prayed, got to be altar servers, and gave things up for lent.

So, it also may not surprise you to learn that when I found the Episcopal Church in college, I embraced Lent with gusto.

I was into every spiritual discipline – no meat on Fridays, formal prayer four or five times a day, no shopping, giving away most of my discretionary income, silent retreats, centering prayer, Wednesday soup suppers at church and the plan to make my way through every Lenten devotional booklet on offer at church – Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner, Episcopal Relief and Development, Forward Day by Day.

I did it all. Or at least I tried to do it all. Because if there is one thing that is true of every Lenten discipline, every spiritual practice I have ever attempted, it is this:

At some point, it was a failure.

A failure, at least, in the fact that it didn’t go exactly as planned.  And this, I think, is the point.

Because the disciplines (in and of themselves) are at best irrelevant and at worst foolishly-offensive to God.

On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Isaiah reminded us that God has absolutely no interest in the particular, visible signs of piety like fasting from food, or putting ash on our forehead – unless they also lead to the fast of God’s choosing, which Isaiah tells us is this –

to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin.

Lent is not a second chance at New Year’s Resolutions. Not a 40 day wilderness self-improvement program. Not a chance to emerge holy and proud of ourselves when Easter comes. Not about being the spiritual overachiever of my childhood dreams.

No, Lent, at its best, undoes us, pierces us, unravels us, exposes us.  It is precisely our Lenten failures which bring us closer to the voice of God.

When we try, and fail, to fast –
we feel the competing hungers in our bodies and souls.

When we try, and fail, to pray –
we notice our distracted, hurried days; our weakness even in the simplest things.

When we try, and fail, to give alms –
try and fail, to share our bread,
try and fail to break the yokes of injustice
we confront the power of evil, the weight of the sin that ensnares us all.

When we try, and fail, we begin to come out of hiding. When we try and fail, we begin to notice the many voices calling our name. We begin recognize the voice of Jesus.

Give up chocolate; take on prayer; stop and talk to a person living on the street, ask them their name; turn off Facebook for a week, a day, an hour; open the Bible and actually read it.  Whatever else you do or don’t do for these next forty days, bring yourself to the place where you hear Jesus.

And that place can be anywhere. Because as distracted as we are, as tempted by other voices, as prone to wander as we may be, we are never outside of God’s saving power, never that far from the voice of Jesus.

Nestled in our New Testament reading today is one of the Bible’s hidden gems. Jesus, it tells us, “went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah.”

This is the scriptural source for an old Christian teaching called the harrowing of hell; that during the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus went down into the farthest reaches of death’s grap, to proclaim Good News to everyone – even to those who were most unwilling to hear God’s voice in their own time.

Christ’s descent to the dead, which we proclaim in the Apostles Creed, is a symbol of just how far God will go to reach us, a proclamation that no one, and nothing, is beyond God’s salvation. Because, we remember, the rainbow covenant made after the flood, was not just with all humanity, but with every living creature – past, present and yet to come.

With that confidence in God’s presence, let yourselves be broken. Let your failures be a blessing. Take on some practice, for sure, but learn from your struggles and failings, and focus on the fast of God’s choosing …

And listen, listen hard, listen deep for the voice of Jesus – a voice calling out to you, even to the depths of hell, even to the depths of your heart.

How do you hear the voice of Jesus? And what does he say to you?

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For more about listening from the heart, I recommend this reflection by former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold: http://www.crosscurrents.org/griswold.htm

Be Prepared

Sermon preached at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, New London, NH

“The bridegroom said Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Sisters and Brothers in Christ it is so good to be here with you on this day and at this hour.

When I was living down the road in Wilmot and working on the Bishop’s staff nearly 5 years ago, the thing I loved almost as much as coming to church at St Andrew’s was the chance to travel around this beautiful state.

Once or twice a month, I’d get up long before dawn and pile into my little Ford Focus just barely in time to make it to Keene, or Plymouth, or Durham for that 8AM Eucharist.

Without fail, somewhere along 89 or 93 or Route 10 or some back road, the sun would creep up behind the mountains and the brightness of new life would warm this earth again.

It was glorious.   This morning, as I drove down from Burlington Vermont, I smiled again at the sunrise, as a small bit of grace and hope washed over our world.

As you may know, I’m in town this weekend for an event in Burlington with Kids4Peace Vermont, as they celebrate more than a decade of interfaith peacebuilding with youth from Jerusalem and Vermont’s own Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.

I’m blessed to have Kids4Peace as my full-time ministry: as director of a global NGO with a main office in Jerusalem and 10 chapters across North America, now serving more than 400 families who are working together for a just and lasting peace in our world.

At a time when there is so much tragic, frightening and polarizing news coming from the Middle East, Kids4Peace is a glimmer of hope, a bit of grace and warmth and joy rising on this world.

So thank you for your support of Kids4Peace, and for welcoming three of our young peacemakers to speak to you here.   I won’t even try to tell the K4P story as well as they did, so let’s turn – for now – to Matthew’s Gospel.

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It’s a curious story today. Five bridesmaids brought extra oil. Five did not. They all fell asleep while waiting for an unexpectedly-late bridegroom, but the ones who were prepared got to enjoy the wedding feast, while the others – who had to do a last-minute late-night shopping run – found themselves locked-out of the party.

It’s a curious story, one that can grate on our sensibilities.

First, it’s about the end of the world, something we Episcopalians don’t think so much about. But here it is, in the Bible, paired (for extra effect) with a passage from Thessalonians.

A passage which serves as the dubious biblical justification for the rapture, a belief that before the end of time, the “saved” will all disappear and meet Jesus in the sky and be whisked off to heaven, as portrayed in the Left Behind series of novels and movies.

Second, the story of the bridesmaids grates on us because some people are clearly left out, excluded. The bridesmaids with the dried up lamps are not welcome at the party, not invited to the table. Their failure to stock up on oil brings eternally disastrous consequences. “Not all are welcome; there are some exceptions.”

But we would be wrong to read this story as a descriptive prediction of the future – wrong to take it at face value, or to dismiss it out of hand.

The story is a parable, that curious and confusing genre through which Jesus reveals what the Reign of God, the New Creation, eternal life, is really like.

The lesson of a parable – the teaching that nudges us closer to the Good News, closer to the life of God – can often be hidden in the midst of puzzling details.

But this time Jesus is clear. The moral of the story is right there in verse 13: “Keep Awake” – also translated “Be Prepared.”

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Be Prepared. That’s a lesson I can get behind.

For most of my life I was a Boy Scout, and this motto was drilled into me. Be Prepared. Carry a first aid kit and extra water. Dress in layers. Have a backup plan; a raincoat; an emergency exit.

Be Prepared is a good, New Hampshire lesson, too.

When my early morning drives to Plymouth and Keene and Durham happened in the winter months, I’d load up my trunk with a shovel, blanket, kitty litter, hand warmers and a few Cliff bars in case I ended up stranded in a ditch. And I remember you coming to church with stories about installing whole-house generators and splitting logs for the wood stove.

Be Prepared. Stock up.

It’s a good Boy Scout Lesson, a good New Hampshire lesson. But is it a good Gospel lesson?

Good question … since Jesus often frequently tells us the exact opposite.

Don’t be quite so prepared. Don’t store up treasures on earth; sell your stuff, drop your nets and follow me; take only the clothes on your back and the sandals on your feet. Don’t worry about tomorrow; consider the lilies of the field.

Travel light. Risk it all. Be bold. Go for broke.

That wild and unbounded Gospel invitation took a while to pierce my comfortably granite soul.

So which is it? Be prepared or risk it all? Stock up or travel light? What is the Good News? What is the way that leads to eternal life?

This weekend, I’ve been following your Diocesan Convention on Facebook and Twitter.

Bishop Rob, in his Convention Address, spoke about five practices through which we participate in the eternal life of God, sharing the ministry of tending the vine with God, the Divine Vinedresser.

  • First, we show up. We present ourselves and open our lives to God’s presence.
  • Second, we tell the story. The stories of our lives and the story of God, woven together.
  • Third, we splash water. Baptized, washed, joined with God and a broken world; connected, nourished, flowing.
  • Fourth, we share the food. At table, offered and blessed, broken and transformed, where the hungers of this world are truly satisfied
  • Finally, a practice not of our doing: God surprises. The Spirit breaks through in ways beyond our control or imagination.

I like those five practices.

When Christian life seems too hard or too confusing; when God seems too distant or too weak, when anxieties pile up and problems overwhelm, those five practices still seem right and good and possible. I can wrap my heart and soul and mind and strength around that way of love for God and one another. I can show up. I can tell a story. I can splash water and share food and boy can I be surprised.

But if I can be bold enough to add to the Bishop’s list and offer a sixth practice, it would be this: We continue.

We don’t do the other practices just once. Not one shared meal or one splash in the water or one story, as powerful as any of them may be. We abide in the life of God, which means we show up again and again and again – just as God’s steadfast love shows up for us.

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So that extra oil in Matthew’s Gospel?

Maybe it’s all about going the distance with God. Being ready to abide, to stay – sleepy or awake – in the presence of the holy one.

Maybe the bridesmaids with the extra oil were wise, because they knew that this world-changing wedding feast, the New Creation, would not arrive as quickly as any of us hope. Maybe they knew that that redemption is slow, fragile … but also real.

Over my eight years with Kids4Peace, that’s the lesson I’ve learned.

Peace comes not in a moment of glory, not in presidential handshakes and photo-ops, but in the dogged determination of thousands of ordinary people who will not let go of a vision about what this world should be like.

People who continue, in the face of conflict and against all odds.

People like Mary, a young Palestinian Christian who continues, even when her friends call her a traitor or spy. “You wouldn’t believe what they say about us,” she tells me.

People like Nitzan, a young Jewish girl whose father was the driver of a bus in which a suicide bomb went off. “I don’t want to grow up to hate,” she tells me.

People like Arie, a Jewish dad who doesn’t want his son chanting death to Arabs.

And people like Samar, an Arab mom, who dodges endless checkpoints and road closures to get her son to school, all without hating the Israelis who seem to stand in their way.

People who believe that kids have power, that religion can unite – not divide, that Jerusalem can be a city of peace again,

In my eight years with Kids4Peace, we’ve faced the first Lebanon war, and the second. The first Gaza operation, and the second, and the third. At every turn, it would be easy to give up.

But new life requires that we desire and cling not just to the destination, but to the path; not just to the wedding party, but to the extra oil that will get us there.

Thomas A Kempis, author of the Imitation of Christ said this: “all men desire peace, but few desire the things that make for peace. “ 

Wise bridesmaids, wise Christians – desire not only peace but the things that make for peace; not only eternal life, but the things that make for life; not only a wedding banquet, but enough oil to last the night.

We prepare, with extra oil, not in case something goes wrong – the way I did in the Boy Scouts or winter adventures in my Ford Focus – not as a backup plan in case something went Haywire.  We prepare, with extra oil, because we need it when things go right.

We show up, we tend the vine, we show up and show up and show up again.  Not for a day, but for a lifetime.

God Surprises. We Continue. And a New Creation begins.

Here Comes That Dreamer

Sermon preached at St Mark’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA
August 10, 2014

[The brothers] said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; … and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  – Genesis 37

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Today I want to talk about dreams – the kind of dreams that change the world. The kind that show us how life could be. The kind we struggle to believe in.

Today we read the story of Joseph – the passionate, precocious, slightly annoying youngest son of Jacob.  Joseph, the favorite child, spoiled by his father, loved more than all the others.  Joseph, whose Amazing Technicholor Dreamcoat got himself thrown into a pit, left to die, and then sold into slavery in Egypt.

This story is partly about jealousy; partly about brothers who could not stomach their father’s un-equal love.  But the story is also one about dreams. Dreams that Joseph had about himself, his brothers, their future.

“Here comes this dreamer” they sneered at him, during his visit to the flocks at Shechem; a not-so-subtle mission from his father to check up on the other brothers. But what were these dreams of Joseph? What made the brothers so mad? Our lectionary leaves these verses out, but I’ll read them now:

“Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?”

What kind of dream is this that you have had, Joseph? What world do you live in, Joseph? What makes you think that the oldest would ever bow to the youngest? What makes you think these dreams might come true?

And yet, they did come true. Joseph, annoying younger brother, sold into slavery, thrown into prison becomes not only a dreamer but an interpreter of dreams, advisor to Pharoah, ruler over the land, ruler over his brothers.

Joseph’s dreams of bowing wheat and bowing stars seemed to have no basis in reality, seemed to be a far-fetched fantasy of a spoiled, self-important, disruptive seventeen-year old. But in those dreams was revealed the plan of God.

They were, in the end, not so much about Joseph, his fancy dreamcoat or delusions of grandeur. They were a glimpse into an unlikely series of events that would, in time, save his people from famine and disaster.

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Today, I have the honor of visiting St. Mark’s with Kids4Peace: an interfaith youth movement of Christians, Muslims and Jews; a community of young dreamers from Palestine, Israel and here in Seattle (a few from St. Mark’s), who are gathered for a camp this week in Mount Vernon, Washington. Fortunately for all of us, their dreams are a little different from Joseph’s.

Dreams not about ruling over others, but about living together–

Dreams that Muslims, Christians and Jews can partners in healing this world

Dreams that children of the holocaust and children of the Nakba can lead the way to a different future.

Dreams that violence will one day cease.

Dreams that hope will one day prevail.

Dreams that truth can be spoken in love.

Dreams that enemies can be friends.

Dreams … that one day Jerusalem will be the city of peace, again.

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But this summer, as violence rages across the Middle East – as rockets fall and bombs drop, as death and devastation seem to be the norm, these dreams of peace can appear as naïve and far-fetched as Joseph’s sheaves of wheat.   For nearly a month, I was glued to Twitter — restless in my sleep, haunted by images of suffering, waking up way earlier than I usually do, to check the latest live feeds from Gaza and Jerusalem.

For nearly a month, I heard broken-hearted stories from our Kids4Peace Jerusalem staff and families.   Stories of vengeance unleashed in the streets, stories of homes raided in the West Bank, stories of peace activists assaulted on their way to demonstrations in Tel Aviv, stories of Palestinian family friends killed while calling for justice, stories of parents tearfully sending their soldiers – their children – off to war.

The pain, the fear, the injustice of it all can be so overwhelming that we lose the ability to dream. 

And yet, we must dream, because these dreams of peace are from God. These visions of hope are from God. And these dreams are good for our soul.   In addition to a week at camp, we bring our Kids4Peace groups to a church, a mosque and a synagogue. For many campers this is their first time to set foot in the house of worship of another.

A few years ago, at our camp in Atlanta, we visited a synagogue where we had been for many years. This year, though, the Rabbi did something different. He invited three children, one from each faith, to speak during the Friday prayers, each in their own language: an Israeli Jew, an American Christian, a Palestinian Muslim sharing their dreams for peace. It was the first and perhaps only time, that Arabic was spoken from that pulpit, that a young Muslim was the spiritual teacher of the day.

And as he explained this choice to his congregation, the Rabbi said this: “All year long, every day, I struggle to change in the world as it is. With Kids4Peace, I get to experience the world as it should be.”

Dreams are not enough, for sure. Change will come only through hard work and courageous action. It will take advocacy and activism, pressure as well as dialogue.   But we must dream. We must remain in touch with our deepest hopes, our wildest visions.

For if we live only in the world as it is, we risk not only endless frustration and despair, but also doing violence to one another because of our pain.   We risk become captive to our present reality, enslaved to our past. We can spend a lifetime blaming ourselves and others for what is and what might have been. For wrong decisions and missed opportunities, all clear in hindsight. We need to learn from the past, to acknowledge its power, to heed its lessons – but we need no less to be moored to the future, propelled forward by a powerful hope which keeps oriented to God’s true vision for this world.

Dreams draw us into and through uncertainty. Joseph, I’m sure, had no idea what his sheaves of wheat and bowing planets would ultimately mean for his family and his people. Our understanding of dreams is always imperfect, yet our challenge is to take the next faithful step along the path that God is unfolding for us.   And as we go, to listen to the dreamers: to hear in them the heart of God, the hope of the Spirit.

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And so this summer, as violence spread through the Holy Land, as calls for vengeance became the norm — every parent of our Kids4Peace Jerusalem community — Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli — more than a hundred strong.

Every parent chose to continue meeting, chose to send their kids to camp.   As rockets fell and bombs dropped, they reached out to one another, they spoke together, face to face, in the pain and the anger and the tears, amid despair and hopelessness.

They knew there was at least one place in their life that still held a dream, and they would not let it go.   Because of that dream, a new reality is coming into existence: a new creation.  Where Muslim, Christian and Jewish children grow up together. Where trust and respect, understanding and equality, dignity and justice are the foundation for the future. Where a new generation can dream their dreams.

Earlier this week, our camp facilitator Pam asked the kids this question: “what kind of world do you want to live in?” And so the dreams began….

  • I want to live in a world where everyone cares about each other
  • Where there is no starvation, and no war.
  • Where everyone is equal.
  • Where each person can wake up in the morning and choose what to do
  • Where poor people have opportunities
  • Where we all care about the environment
  • Where people can live without harming each other
  • Where there is no violence
  • Where there is freedom.

Among our campers is our very own Joseph (Yusuf from Jerusalem), and his dream is one I share: for a world where everyone can go to a camp like Kids4Peace.   It’s not because I love Kids4Peace so much, though that is true. It’s because I believe that we all need this chance to see and live in the world as it should be.   We need to experience this new reality for ourselves, to come close and discover that it is more possible than we ever imagined.

  • What if every child of Israel and every child of Palestine had the chance to see each other face to face, to hear each other’s stories and know each other’s pain.
  • What if thousands upon thousands of young Kids4Peace grew up together, in the Holy Land, and in our land, side by side in security and freedom.
  • What if prejudice and injustice melted away in the face of powerful relationships of love that would not tolerate anything less than full dignity and freedom for all

What if we let ourselves believe, just for an instant, that this dream might come true?

Probably we would find ourselves, like Joseph, the object of hatred. They may say of us, as they did of him, here comes that dreamer.  We may find ourselves in our own pit of isolation, we may lose friends, suffer ridicule, loss and even more pain.

Buy we may also find other dreamers, unlikely friends, partners, companions who share a vision of the world as it should be. Because we know in our heart that these dreams of peace are true, that they come from God, and so we continue to dream, to listen to the dreamers, and to live – for a while – in those places where dreams come true.

For Joseph, his dreams changed the lives of his family and his people. May our dreams do the same, this day and always.

The Daily Work of Good Soil

Sermon preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill (Washington, DC).
July 13, 2014

His name was Donald Sheehan, a long-time adjunct professor of English at my alma mater, Dartmouth College. He was a wise old man, and he looked the part. A long white beard, tweed jacket with well-worn elbow patches, dozens of index cards scribbled with his latest thoughts – stuffed in the left pocket of his never-ironed shirt. He even had a dog: a trusty old black lab, usually found curled up on his office floor.

By day, Donald Sheehan was a renowned English professor, whose freshman seminar on Rene Girard’s theory of violence was one of the college’s most popular courses. With a gripping, soft-spoken tone, he unraveled the mysteries of human desire, imitation, rivalry, and scapegoating that lay at the deadly core of civilization.

By night and on the weekends, Donald Sheehan had another life. It was nothing scandalous, so don’t get any wild ideas.

sheehanOutside the office and the classroom, he was Subdeacon Donald Sheehan, a leader in the local Orthodox Church. He was one of the world’s foremost scholars of theologian Pavel Florensky, a Russian priest, scientist and mathematician, who was dubbed the DaVinci of his generation. Florensky’s life was cut short by the Bolshevik revolution, but not before he authored his great work, The Pillar and Foundation of Truth.

Donald Sheehan had a study group that read Florensky’s masterpiece, chapter by chapter, every Tuesday night on the second floor of the college library. I was a Russian major, interested in diplomacy and the foreign service, but also with a curiosity about theology, so one of my other professors encouraged me to go. I was petrified as I stumbled into a room full of faculty and grad students, having understood almost none of what I was reading.

But then, much to my surprise, Don invited everyone to stand and pray.

Before any study, before any discussion about whether Creation, as a physical manifestation of the feminine Divine Sophia is in fact the fourth hypostasis of God (yes, Florensky argued for a Trinity, plus one), before debating whether the ancient orthodox liturgy of friend-making (adelphopoesis) was historical evidence of the holiness of gay marriage (yes, Florensky wrote about that too, nearly 100 years ago).

Before any debate about the influences of secular philosophy or the blending of science and religion, Before anything, the group stood and sang, in meticulous four-part harmony…

Come Holy Comforter, The Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things.
Treasury of blessing and Giver of Life: come and abide in us,
and free us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good one!

And so began my journey with Donald Sheehan, who would be my thesis advisor, mentor, and spiritual companion all rolled up in one. He introduced me ­– a proud, Pennsylvania Protestant – to the desert fathers and the spiritual traditions of Orthodoxy.   He taught me to pray the psalms (all of them) and the Jesus prayer – that monastic shorthand for prayer without ceasing: with every step, and every breath, offering the words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And so when I became the intern at the Episcopal campus ministry Center, I invited Don to speak to all of us students there. He opened his session with a question that I remember still to this day: “Is there anything we can do, in order to receive the grace of God?”

Ready to show off for my professor, I just about raised my hand and shouted, in true Protestant fashion “No, it’s a free gift!” We’re saved by grace through faith, not by works!  Martin Luther would have been proud.

But Don had a different answer. “Yes,” he said, “We can. The daily spiritual practices of the church, the ascetic path – prayer, fasting, study, service – prepares our hearts to receive the Spirit.”

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“Listen!” Jesus said, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up, and you know how the rest goes….

This Parable of the Sower is deceptively familiar to us, especially since Jesus gives us a seemingly straightforward explanation. God is the sower, the seeds are the Word of God (grace, for short), and we are the soil. There are several soil options: rocky, thorny, bird-infested, or good. And we know which one we want to be.

But the fact that Jesus is telling this parable at all means that some in the crowd – and some of us – have soil that is not in the good and fruitful category.

I expect there might have been some mean snickers, judgmental grins and snarky comments in the crowd listening to Jesus that day, pointing fingers: rocky, shallow. But I expect, too, that some people found the words of Jesus cutting to the core of their soul, speaking an uncomfortable truth about the way their own hearts had become choked by thorns of wealth, whose faith was more shallow than they cared to admit, whose lives had been derailed by temptation, over and over, with every bit of goodness snatched away before it could take root.

I wonder what kind of soil we are here today. Rocky, thorny, bird-infested, good. Anyone want to raise their hand and confess?

It would be tempting to categorize ourselves and others as permanently good or bad, ready or not ready to receive God’s grace, fruitful or not so fruitful, worthy or not so worthy. And we could imagine all kinds of reasons why some of us have good soil and some do not. Christian history is full of the deadly wreckage of this kind of thinking; saved, damned; righteous, heathen; holy, sinner; and the list goes on.

But I have to believe that Jesus tells this parable not to judge, but to inspire us toward better soil; hearts more ready to receive the seed of the Gospel, more hospitable to the grace of God.   If you’re like me, all those soil types feel so familiar; at different times, different places.

If this is true, if the parable is meant to move us, then there is another wrinkle to this story; we are not just the soil, but the soil-tenders, gardeners of a sort… acting on ourselves to become more rich, fertile, open, alive. We can see the state of our dirt, and do something about it.   We can soften the path, prune the thorns, add depth to our lives with God.

But, before we do too much soul excavation and fertilization, we need to remember the most important part of this parable. Seed is sown everywhere; not just on the good soil. It is free. It comes to us as God’s gift, no strings attached. It falls on us, ready or not. And it keeps falling, over and over again. The seed of the word of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit, is alive! The initiative to grow comes from within it … and the seeds of God are powerful ones.

Like other stubborn seeds that manage to grow between the cracks of the sidewalk, that take root in the shallowest of soil, the seed of the Gospel can strike us with such power that it changes everything, so much so that we might say we are born again.

And we know that even sturdy plants that grew up from seeds in the best of soils – seeds that bore fruits a hundredfold in their day – can still be undone, by a flood that washes their roots away, wind that renders them feeble, weak; human violence that cuts them off in a tragic end.

Despite the seeming simplicity of this parable, the clear categories of good and bad — we know that the seed of the word of God grows in ways we cannot fully control. It may take root in us despite the poor condition of our soil; and good soil is no guarantee that the fruits will last forever. We are all of us rocky, dry, bird-infested, shallow AND good.

And yet, if this parable is true, the work of our lives is to cultivate, more and more, an openness, a readiness for the presence of God. With all the uncertainty in our lives and our world, with all that is beyond our control, the best we can do, the best chance we have for the fruits of the Gospel to flourish in and through us is to tend our hearts, day by day, inching closer to better soil.

How do we do this?

That’s what Subdeacon Don Sheehan was trying to teach me with his question many years ago: “Is there anything we can do, in order to receive the grace of God?” Yes, there is a well-trod path of spiritual practice, a treasury of wisdom, teachers that have probed the depths of the human heart, prophets who have led the way in transforming this world – and themselves.

We know what makes for good soil: pray, study, serve, give, fast, listen, care, forgive, love, tell the truth, confront evil, confess our faults and each time we fail stand up and begin again. It was Martin Luther King who said “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

And that struggle, a joyful struggle, every day is what will – more often than not – prepare our rocky and shallow soil for yet more of the grace of God; prepare us to be more faithful in our work as Christ’s hands and feet in this world.

But we have to actually do these things.
It’s not enough to want good soil, we have to work for it.

+

In my day job, I am the Executive Director of Kids4Peace – a global interfaith youth movement that is working, with all our might and by God’s grace, to bring a measure of peace to Jerusalem, and to divided societies here at home. We are now more than 500 strong, youth and families, driven by the values of our faith; Jews, Christians and Muslims – working together, side by side, to create a world more like the one God intended, where all can live with dignity and hope.

These last few weeks have been so difficult for us. Our prayers have been mixed with tears, and fears, and anger. Our Jerusalem chapter of Kids4Peace is a community of Palestinians and Israelis, from all parts of the city and the neighboring West Bank. Our youth and staff are personally linked to all sides of this conflict.

After the deaths of Eyal, Gil-Ad, Naftali; Muhammad Dudeen, Mohammad Abu Khdeir, we have watched vengeance spread through the streets, fires burn, rockets rain down, hatreds fester and erupt in a deadly, fear-driven reality that has consumed now over 150 more lives in Gaza, whose names we have already forgotten. It is madness, a spiraling of violence, a mimetic rivalry like the one Rene Girard described, like I read about in Don Sheehan’s class, seeking resolution through the destruction of the other, no matter the cost.

Many voices have risen up against this escalation of violence. And while denouncing violence is good, it is not good enough.

Thomas a Kempis, the author of the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ said this: “All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.”

Just as it is not enough to wish for good soil, it is not enough to wish for peace. We need to work for it, day by day, week by week, with all the effort of our lives. We need to offer an alternative to the violence that we deplore.

In Kids4Peace, we see this happen: courageous Palestinians and Israelis step toward each other, not in a naïve harmony that papers over the unjust realities of the status quo, but in honest, painful, loving conversation where hard truths are spoken and heard.

Kids4Peace is not a one-time encounter, not a carefully-crafted photo-op or idealistic mountaintop experience. It is a way of life. When kids come to their first summer camp at age 12, they are beginning a six-year, year-round commitment to a program of interfaith dialogue, leadership development and nonviolent action. More than that, they are growing up together; week by week, across real and imaginary borders, struggling to know and understand and love and trust their supposed-enemy enough that they can live differently in this world, as friends and partners.

It’s a community of people like Nitzan, a Jewish girl whose father, a bus driver, was nearly killed by a suicide bomber in the second intifada. Like Nizar, a Muslim boy beaten and arrested by the Israeli police in a nonviolent protest outside his home. Like Michael, a young Israeli from a posh settlement looking for an alternative to his friends who shout “Death to Arabs” at every soccer match; like Amin, a Palestinian from the Qalandiya refugee camp desperate for an alternative to throwing stones.

This past Wednesday, more than sixty youth and parents gathered in Jerusalem for an interfaith iftar; breaking bread together, as one family, at the end of the day’s Ramadan fast; at the end of a day of rockets and bombings. They spoke and listened, prayed and cried together, seeking strength for the work ahead. It was a small step, but a brave one, in a world that is driving them apart.

They are cultivating in their communities, and in themselves good soil, places ready for the gift of peace to take root and grow. Each year in Jerusalem, nearly 200 families apply to join this community, but we can take only 50 of them, limited by finances alone. With enough support, Kids4Peace could be ten times bigger, not 500 strong but 5,000.

There is so much soil in this world that needs daily cultivation – in Jerusalem, countless places of violence, poverty and injustice around the world, and here at home. We know the change that is needed, but what will we do? With enough support, and enough work, by enough people, strong communities of peacemakers and justice-seekers could be the loudest voices, the one shaping the agenda in Jerusalem, and beyond.

It is an ambitious goal, but it is possible to do as we move from desiring change to doing change, from wanting good soil to creating it. The work of peace, like the life of faith, like the cultivation of good soil, is a struggle for the long haul. And we continue, with only one guarantee – that the grace of God will continue to be sown in us, powerful seeds of the Spirit coming our way, over and over again, until that day when the whole earth will be made new.

That’s what I learned – and still learn — from Donald Sheehan, now of blessed memory.

May it be said of us, that when the sower went out to sow, the seeds fell on good soil.

Amen.

Fr. Josh Thomas
www.frjoshthomas.com

 

 

The Danger of Broken Hearts

“Our hearts break at this week’s continued violence, which has touched the Kids4Peace community in direct and personal ways. Kids4Peace was born in a time of pain and fear, when all hope seemed to be gone. It is my prayer that we will face this moment together, in honesty and faith. May God strengthen us in the days ahead.” – Fr. Josh Thomas

Our hearts break.  Those were the only words I could find this week, as a cascade of tragedy swept across the Holy Land.  Children dead.  Families mourning.  Streets ablaze.  Bloodthirsty cries for revenge.  Friends afraid to leave their homes.  The city of peace divided even more than before, with no sense of what the next day — or hour — would bring.

Our hearts break.  Those words opened dozens of statements by NGO’s and political leaders, including one I wrote for Kids4Peace.  Our hearts were — and still are — broken and crushed by the weight of human suffering.  Pierced by tears of loss.  Shattered by fear at the brutality we human beings can unleash on one another.  For me, far away in the United States, my heart was torn by distance; cut off from those people and places who have become so dear to me.

But broken hearts are dangerous, too.  Our spirits become fragile and our emotions raw.  We are quick to cast blame on the ones who hurt us.  We feel compelled to take sides.  We are vulnerable to the power of long-suppressed rage.  We discover fears deeper than we had imagined.  We feel the seductive lure of vengeance and the paralyzing temptation to withdraw.  Up close, it comes in bullets and stones, chants and blows.  At a distance, it comes through vicious words and festering silences.

In these days of broken hearts, we can be changed in another way.   Christian spiritual teachers have long said that penthos, the tears of a broken heart, are the gateway to change. One scholar describes it as “a grief that leads to a determination to act.”  When our defenses are stripped away, when we confront with honesty the reality of our lives (and of our world), we can discover a new compassion for others and a flood of new energy, welling up from the very life of God.

This kind of broken heart is dangerous, too.  It will change us.  We can no longer be (willfully) blind to suffering.  We can no longer hide behind the protective shell of the status quo.  We will need to confront our own complicity in evil, the excuses we make for ourselves and others.  We will need to speak honestly, to listen deeply, and to feel the weight of pain.

And there is so much pain.  I fear that more tears will flow in the coming weeks, and that many more hearts will break before they are healed.    I only pray that some of us will allow our hearts to break with compassion.

Cпокойной Josh (284 days later)

“In our monasticism, we have been content to find our way to a kind of peace, a simple undisturbed thoughtful life.  And this is certainly good, but it it good enough?  I, for one, realize that now I need more. …” (Thomas Merton. Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook)

Cпокойной Josh

When I was a sophomore at Dartmouth, I spent the fall term in St. Petersburg, Russia.  For a frigid 12 weeks, I studied diction with appropriately fierce instructors, enjoyed the museums and opera ($3.50 on my student discount), and daily climbed 12 flights of stairs to get to my dorm room, since the elevator was usually broken: не работает” (not working) signs were everywhere in 1997 Russia.

Before our concert at the Bolshoi Zal of the St. Petersbury Philarmonia
Before our concert at the Bolshoi Zal of the St. Petersbury Philarmonia

In those days, my Christian faith came alive, as I prayed in restored Orthodox churches, confronted widespread poverty for the first time, and leaned on the Holy One for strength in a land far from home.  Not one for drinking tons of vodka, I needed an extracurricular activity.  So as a proud member of the Dartmouth Glee Club,  I signed up for the St. Petersburg State University Choir.

It was ill-fated from the beginning.  I took the bus in the wrong direction on the night of my audition. Thirty minutes late, I stumbled to find an available seat in yet another frigid room, only to discover that we were not singing great Russian choral works, but an Italian composer’s mass setting in Latin.  Gloria in excelsis Deo.

A few weeks later at rehearsal, a fellow baritone came up and asked me (in English) why I wasn’t mingling with more people.  Other exchange students (so I was told) jumped right in, made tons of friends, and learned fluent Russian right away.  “Cпокойной Josh” they called me.

Cпокойной (spokoyny) – calm, quiet, reserved, peaceful.  It’s how you say Good Night in Russian: Спокойной ночи.  “Why are you like that?” My fellow baritone wanted to know.  “Это просто Я” (It’s just me) was as much as I could manage.

My calm, peaceful, balanced nature has been one of my greatest strengths.  It’s helped me to lead organizations through times of transition, to be a good pastor through moments of crisis, to offer a bit of steady and steadfast love in this world.

But, like most things, being so cпокойной has its down sides.  I can easily withdraw, put the needs of others before my own, and stay silent when I have much to say.  One wise counselor it’s because I am a “highly sensitive person” — noticing everything, observant of subtleties, easily overwhelmed.

Start Blogging + 284 Days

When I added “Start Blogging” to my trusty ToDoist task list 284 days ago, I had the best of intentions.  I was going to write about my life as a priest and peacemaker — spiritual reflections about my work in Kids4Peace.

I even had the first line of my first post ready “On the eve of negotiations, the hard work of peace continues…”  

I was going to say that whether John Kerry’s efforts succeeded or failed, the true and lasting work of peace would continue to take place between people – in the honest, compassionate, complex communities like Kids4Peace.  (Post-negotiations, I still believe that).

“Start Blogging” never happened.

Other items have come and gone from ToDoist: prepare a budget, fix the car, call my mom, visit volunteers, raise money, do laundry, reduce my inbox to under 50 emails (which I miraculously maintain).  Why has it taken 284 days to push “publish” on this post?

Many mentors have said that I ought to blog, to be a ‘thought leader’ in this field.  Others advised that it’s a spiritual practice and good for my soul to reflect on matters most important to me.

Beyond a Simple Peace

All that is true.  But over and over I struggled about what to say, and even more whether I was ready to say it.

Conversations in public, especially online, can be vicious.  Am I prepared to count myself among the peace leaders who are, every day, attacked by both sides?  Am I ready for my loyalties to be questioned, for friendships to unravel, for my Спокойной calm to be disturbed?

The relationships that Kids4Peace nurtures —  among Muslims, Christians and Jews; among Israelis, Palestinians and North Americans — are delicate and fragile, even as our commitment is strong.

We are just beginning to learn how to live together.  We stumble over cultural misunderstandings, yearn to understand each other’s deep longings (and fears), we laugh and pray and work hard to plan the programs (and raise the money) that peace building requires.

Thomas Merton.  "Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy."
Thomas Merton.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”

In that process, I love to be the listener, the facilitator, the coach and the guide — helping others to speak and be heard, in the midst of all the complexity, joy and pain.

But after 284 days, the time has come to take a next step – to share more openly, risk more fully, teach more boldly (without the protective garb of pulpit and stole).

Thanks to my spiritual buddy Thomas Merton for this new (to me) treasure:

“In our monasticism, we have been content to find our way to a kind of peace, a simple undisturbed thoughtful life.  And this is certainly good, but is it good enough?  I, for one, realize that now I need more.  Not simply to be quiet, somewhat productive, to pray, to read…. There is a need of effort, deepening, change…” (Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook).

For me too.  Here we go.

Because of the Works Themselves

Sermon preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, OH
May 18, 2014
| The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me”

Her name was Miss Daisy Jones (Miss Daisy, for short). The distinguished, silvered-haired, perpetual Sunday School superintendent at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Plymouth, Pennsylvania.   For more than a decade, Miss Daisy was a fixture of my Sunday morning routine. As a child, I would walk the four blocks to church, with or without my parents and siblings, always on time for the 9AM Opening Exercises of Sunday School. Now, I wasn’t always crazy about the rest of Sunday School. Classes were kind of boring, and gluing cardboard cutouts of Jesus onto popsicle sticks got old fast.

But in Opening Exercises, the kids of all ages came together to sing.

Sometimes, we would sing the Welsh hymns of our ancestors (Guide me O thou Great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land). Other times, it would be more theologically questionable songs like Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War. But there was one song that we sang every week, without fail. In words that would make a Stewardship Committee swoon, as we dropped our quarters into the miniature offering plate, we would belt out “Our giving time is a happy time, a happy time, a happy time. Our giving time is a happy time, we give our gifts to thee.”

And as Mr. Ralph, the perpetual Sunday School pianist, improvised on that catchy tune, we would recite together the words of John’s Gospel: “In my Father’s house are many mansions; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

In those days, my world was comfortably small. In the safety of my working-class town, my loving family, my old time religion, Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ table, science fairs, Boy Scout camp, everything was pretty good. Most of all, I knew I was going to heaven. I knew I would spend eternity in one of those mansions in my Heavenly Father’s house, and I was so excited (especially that I wouldn’t have to share a room with my brother in this world without end).

Sometimes during Sunday School, I would daydream in exquisite detail about my mansion – what it would look like, what would be in each room, who would be there with me. It was cozy, happy, secure.

The biggest conflict in Plymouth, Pennsylvania was between Catholics and Protestants, but not because of religion; it was because of football. Protestants cheered for Penn State, Catholics for Notre Dame. And the rest was history.

If you told me then that I would become the director of a global nonprofit organization committed to interfaith understanding, social change, and the end of violent conflict in Jerusalem and around the world, I would have had no idea what you were talking about.   My world was too comfortably small.

But a lot changed in the past twelve years, and here I stand, bringing you greetings today on behalf of more than 250 teenagers, 500 parents, and 1,000 volunteers at 10 local chapters in Jerusalem and across North America, who make up the community of Kids4Peace.   We are a movement for change – dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in divided societies around the world.

We are women and men; Muslims, Christians and Jews; Palestinians, Israelis, Americans (even some Canadians!) who are giving our lives for peace. We believe that religion can bring us together and not simply drive us apart.

That children can create a new reality, not just in the future, but now, if we give them half a chance.

That the conflict in the Middle East will not last forever.

That violence in our cities can come to an end.

That children of the Holocaust and children of the Nakba; children from the East Side and the West Side, from downtown and Over the Rhine, can live together and chart the way to a different future, a new possibility ­– one so big and so bold that we can barely dream it for an instant, before the tempter tricks us into hopelessness and despair.

On the surface, Kids4Peace is a lot of fun. We bring together twelve year-old children for summer camps and year-round after-school programs. They laugh and play soccer, swim and sing songs, they stay up late rocking out to hits by One Direction and swapping stories about being a kid in Jerusalem, in Atlanta, and hopefully soon, Cincinnati. Being together seems so natural for them.

They observe one another at prayer – the most intimate moments of their lives. You can almost hear a pin drop at camp, as a twelve year-old Muslim boy, often with a shaky voice, begins the call to prayer Allahu akbar! God is greater. And the laughter and smiles beam so strongly, as Palestinians kids and staff learn to braid challah from their Jewish friends, and feel the joy of Shabbat.   They step into new worlds, as they visit a synagogue, a mosque, a church for the very first time.

But Kids4Peace is not a naïve, pie-in-the-sky fantasy; it’s not wishful thinking born out of optimism. To the contrary, Kids4Peace came to life in Jerusalem during the worst fighting of the Second Intifada, when hostility between Palestinians and Israelis was at an all-time high. And Kids4Peace came to the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, when all of our wonderfully small worlds were rattled by a new reality.

It wasn’t enough for me, anymore, to dream of mansions in heaven. Something was happening here on earth, and I needed to pay attention. My faith was undone by the consequences of the unholy alliance between religion and violence, in what scholar Scott Appleby calls the “ambivalence of the sacred.”

While some parts of our society wrongly lashed out at Muslims the enemy in our midst, my gaze turned to my own Christian faith and our legacy of violence, an ambivalence of the sacred which runs through our texts for today.

Stephen, one of the church’s first deacons becomes its first martyr, stoned to death because of a theological dispute gone awry.

And if, as a child, I had read further into the Gospel of John, beyond my heavenly mansion, I would have discovered the haunting verse that “no one comes to the Father but by me.” A battle cry of Christian exclusivism, damnation and superiority, wielded by those who would say to the unbeliever “convert or die.”

And even our lesson from Peter has a tragic legacy. None other than the golden- tongued St. John Chrysostom would say that the stone the builders rejected was Jesus, and builders who rejected him were the Jews. And because of their rejection of Jesus, they also ought to be rejected – crushed by the stone into powder, was the image he used. And so this saint of the 4th century laid a theological foundation for generations of persecution and death, all in the name of God.

Where in this is good news? What does it mean to follow Jesus, the way, the truth, the life, in a world where religion can so easily become a conspirator of evil, suffering, and pain? Where is the power of life in the midst of death, on this Sunday when we pray for the church in South Sudan, bravely working to the end violence that has displaced more than a million people in the last five months, where famine and genocide may come yet again into our world?   Where is the good news when this week’s New York Times editorial declared: “Mideast Peace Effort Pauses to Let Failure Sink In?”

The good news is not found in a return to cozy, comfortable realities which probably never existed in the first place. It’s not found in circling our wagons, walling ourselves off, closing our ears or hardening our hearts. It’s not found in building a protective shield against those who are different from us or leaving people to their own devices to let failure sink in.

For me, the biggest temptation in the work of peace is giving up, losing hope, washing my hands Pontius Pilate style and letting the sin of this world run its course. We can so easily feel powerless in the face conflicts, divisions, and injustices; the barriers can seem too high to cross, the pain too strong to heal, the fear too intense to melt, the first step too hard to take, the sacrifices too great to bear.

And yet we follow Jesus, who says this week to the always-confused disciples not only am I in the Father and the Father is in me but if you still don’t believe THIS — “then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”

Each time I read John’s Gospel, I am drawn into this mystical connectivity between Jesus, the Father, and us. Thomas and Philip can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that in Jesus they have seen the Father, they have seen the way. The distance, the separation, the confusion that seems so strong is just an illusion. Abide in me, Jesus will tell the disciples, in the next chapter of John, dwell in the very life of God.

And here in Chapter 14 there is I think something even more interesting, another avenue into divinity through the works themselves – not just the works of Jesus, the miraculous healings, the compassionate forgiveness, the revolutionary fellowship that turned his world upside down … but also the no-less-miraculous works that God is doing through us.

As we step into the way of Jesus, as we follow his footsteps into the broken, fractured, conflicted parts of our world – and ourselves – we will discover there the power of God.

The Holy Spirit pulsing through our veins. The energy of life. The possibility of peace.
A new world in Jerusalem, and here at home. Worlds we were told are impossible coming to life before our eyes. On the hardest days of Kids4Peace, I believe because of the works themselves

  • Because of David, who refuses to chant “Death to Arabs” at a soccer game with his friends.
  • Because of Daniella who confronted her Jewish teacher about stereotypes against Christians
  • Because of Nitzan, whose father barely survived a bombing that destroyed the bus he was driving; a father who sent Nitzan to Kids4Peace so she would not grow up to hate.
  • Because of Nizar, a Palestinian teenager arrested, beaten and jailed during a nonviolent protest to protect his village, who spoke with honesty, dignity and challenge to his Jewish friends.
  • Because of Asiya, a Muslim American, who turned to Kids4Peace for support, after her “friends” at school asked if she is “one of us” or “one of them.”
  • Because of Kenzie, an Episcopal college student who put her Kids4Peace lessons to work by rallying the Jews on her campus to provide a prayer space for Muslims.
  • Because of Sewar, who in the face of rejection stays with Kids4Peace, because, she says, “I’m doing this for me.”
  • Because of hundreds more stores I hope to share, as we take this peacebuilding journey together.
  • Because against all odds, there is a community of Christians, Muslims and Jews who come together in the midst of conflict, in the midst of pain, to undo a legacy of violence and fear, and to live a new dream of peace, no less miraculous than turning water in to wine.
  • Because even a little kid from Miss Daisy’s Sunday School class can grow up to change the world.

In these stories, in these works themselves, lies the power of God. The way of Jesus. There is truth. There is life. There is the cornerstone for a house we can barely imagine, the first fruits of a dream we can barely dream.

Where is Jesus leading you today? What world-changing dream does he have in store? Take the first step, and find the power of God.

Look well to the growing edge

Look well to the growing edge.  All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born.

The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge.

It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor.

This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men and women have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.

Such is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge.

Howard Thurman

 

The Peace of th…

The Peace of the Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

– Wendell Berry, Collected Poems: 1957-1982