Sunday, October 19, 2008

thoughts on privilege

i'm reading the log from the sea of cortez, by john steinbeck, which chronicles the 1940 journey in which steinbeck and biologist edward f. ricketts travel around the gulf of california (in between baja and the mexican mainland) collecting specimens of marine fauna. he says:

it is difficult, when watching the little beasts, not to trace human parallels...the routine of changing domination is a case in point. one can think of the attached and dominant human who has captured the place, the property, and the security. he dominates his area. to protect it, he has police who know him and who are dependent on him for a living (do other traditional helping professions fall into this as well? how about parochial clergy?) he is protected by good clothing, good houses, and good food. he is protected even against illness. one would say that he is safe, that he would have many children, and that his seed would in a short time litter the world. But in his fight for dominance he has pushed out others of his species who were not so fit to dominate, and perhaps have become wanderers, improperly clothed, ill fed, having no security and no fixed base. these should really perish, but the reverse seems true.

the dominant human, in his security, grows soft and fearful. he spends a great part of his time in protecting himself. far from reproducing rapidly, he has fewer children, and the ones he does have are ill protected inside themselves because they are so thoroughly protected from without. (my emphasis. see madeline levine) the lean and hungry grow strong (and adaptive) and the strongest of them are selected out. having nothing to lose and all to gain, these selected hungry and rapacious ones develop attack rather than defense techniques, and become strong in them, so that one day the dominant man is eliminated and the strong and hungry wanderer takes his place. and then the routine is repeated. the new dominant entrenches himself and then softens.
i and my friends work with young people from very different backgrounds and circumstances around the bay area. we often have an easier time working with "underprivileged" kids; whether despite or because of the very real challenges in their lives, they are often better able to take the circumstances, instructions, and experience at face value than their well-off counterparts. i also always notice in these conversations that we teachers tend to be white upper-middle-class young adults, discerning for ourselves where along the spectrum from "entrenched dominant" to "strong and hungry wanderer" we would most like to be in our new adult lives. so sometimes i have an easier time with "underprivileged" teens simply because i don't see myself in them quite as directly, so it's easier to get to know them as their own people, and be open and surprised and delighted at their uniqueness and unfolding.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

letter to eliacin

Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, a member of Mustard Seed House in Seattle, has recently launched a Ning network for Mustard Seed Associates: "a community of Jesus’ followers all over the world creating the future one mustard seed at a time." Coincidentally (?), this week I'm participating in some of the Benedictine Experience a the Bishop's Ranch while I get ready for BREAD camp here. Sr. Donald Corcoran, OSB of Transfiguration Monastery has included some discussion of the 12 marks of the new monasticim in her classes, and I've been very moved to see a village elder taking seriously the work and passion of the village youngers. I've misplaced my copy of the Sojourners magazine where Eliacin was interviewed as an emerging leader in progressive Christianity (with which I hoped to read up so as to not ask stupid questions. oh well.).

Dear Eliacin,

I figured this would be a bit long to write on your "comments" page, but I did want these questions and ideas to be available to others. So welcome to my blog!

To your questions first--I sat in my room at the Bishop's Ranch on Sunday trying to come up with creative and cool answers to the profile questions on the MSA page. I always feel a little proud and a little guilty when I talk about "my work"--I think because I like claiming a sense of mission, and I'm often confused about how to balance "work" that I do and don't get paid for. I'm currently living alone, which is good for awhile for growing up, but I hope to soon rejoin community where inspiration, ideas, and support can happen in person over coffee rather than through my computer. I'm currently employed as a part-time youth minister in one parish and one Latino mission, and volunteer/apprentice/intern with various community organizing, anti-racism, and multicultural ministry projects in my church and diocese.

So to communities: I have been deeply involved for many years with a secular intentional community in Palo Alto, CA, called Magic. In fact, it was a friend there who gave me my copy of the Rule of St. Benedict! Through them I learned about the work of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, their magazine, etc. In college I tried to force my happy little co-op into being more of a "real" intentional community, which didn't go so well, but I learned a lot. My housemates mostly laughed at the crazy hippies they read about in the Communities magazines I left lying around.

"Building enduring and discerning communities" is still a pretty accurate theme for the things I find myself doing and wanting to do. As I found my way back into the church at the end of college I recognized that the liturgy in my bones (in my Episcopal tradition) is a practice of intentional community. Pointing, of course, we hope, beyond itself (see ++Katherine's sermon at grace cathedral last year on what the word Mass means). What I'd longed for in secular community life was ritual: tools for reminding ourselves who we are together, listening to each other, turning around from mistakes and accepting forgiveness, figuring out our reasons for being and what work flows from our mission, etc.

The whole God part comes and goes--that is, liturgy (or ritual) for me is usually about the community first, and then, if we're feelin' it, about the holiness of God. I'm aware that may be bass-ackwards.

I think I was thinking about apprenticeship because some of my work now feels like "just go do it," and I haven't taken time to ask for teachers to help me think through how, or help me set goals and evaluate, or simply show me how. When I worked on tall ships, stages of learning and accepting responsibility were very clear (just like in some monastic communities): you have rank not to say you're more or less worthy but to know where you fit. I'm working through my church as a leader with an affiliate of the PICO network, doing congregation-based community organizing. Once I met with the ex-executive director, and he said, "who do you go to to help you figure out your strategy and what steps to take?" I was amazed that help was available and I just wasn't asking.

Thanks for asking the questions and I look forward to wondering and wandering together!

Friday, May 2, 2008

making a symphony

i'm thinking of one of the church songs i grew up with. it lay buried in my archive until i started thinking about this post. on my bike handlebars today i tapped out the bluesy rhythm as i rehearsed how i might teach it at camp this summer:

holy spirit, come down on me
make my life a symphony
take my blindness and let me see
holy spirit come down on me

i waited for the L train on my way to the airport at bedford ave around 6:30 sunday morning. my colleagues at home in california would be getting up soon for weekly celebrations of life and love in the example of jesus and in the company of spirit. i was shifting under the weight of my backpack and wondering about how my four-day pilgrimage back to new york had coalesced to such artistic effect. like a symphony.

at first it felt like time travel. JFK's terminal 6 still has the same weird concrete circles. nice old ladies still offer to help when you pull out a map on the subway, and sometimes share something of themselves (mine admitted that she journals on the train on loose-leaf paper, and it's okay that she can't read her handwriting because she never goes back to read these journals). i went straight to grand central, hoping to catch the hudson line train that would get me to beacon in time for clearwater's afternoon sail. i knew i wouldn't sleep much on the train: i still always wonder about sailors trying to navigate the strong currents at Spuyten Duyvil (spitting devil) at the northern tip of manhattan back when that was necessary, and my mind without fail plays the Weavers' song about Tarrytown as we pass that stop ("wide and deep/my grave will be/with the wild goose grasses growing over me").

i didn't recognize many of the faces when i hopped on the boat at lunchtime, but i did recognize their conversations, expressions, clothes, and rituals. i was disappointed to notice that i felt as competitive and snarky as ever, ungenerous in making new friends yet eager for everyone to think i'm a legend in the tall ship world. but this time, i shared my desire to become a better shipmate (generous) and sailor (humble, paying attention) with the friend who invited me. (see the description of this blog in the right margin!) then for the rest of the day he called me on it when i spoke or acted in ways that went against my intention. (thanks, Brian!) i jumped in at the part of the sail where the educator explains why we always include music in programs on the boat. i asked the kids what they thought singing together might help a group accomplish, as they had just demonstrated on the fishing net and sails. music makes community.

i arrived at St. Paul's chapel thursday morning to begin our music that makes community conference. i felt excited but not anxious, unsure but safe and at home. we began singing right away. here's one of the first songs we did (this particular video from another iteration of the conference):

i knew i was in the minority in this group, not a professional musician and not a musician who's ever paid much attention to music i made. i napped in the park at lunchtime. in our first small group meeting, marilyn taught us one of ana's songs. the clapping pattern featured a way to stay in time by flinging your hands out away from each other in between claps. that hit me because i've never paid enough attention to get the beat right when i'm singing. sure enough, i tried to teach the small group one of the songs i brought. i tried to conduct but had no idea where the beat was supposed to fall. hrrmph. i have a ways to go.

thursday night was laura's birthday party in brooklyn. i got to meet stephanie, the force behind party for the people, and learned that my new friend lou is working on boosting civic engagement through e-government. i liked that i could hook them up with others doing similar work. yes, networking is part of my calling. looking for the counterpoints in each of our songs.

back in the saddle friday. i got a little bolder. not sure if i worked any harder. i learned some more about how to practice and prepare, study and learn in this work. emily talked about how good it feels when in a musical conversation, someone else hears what you've "said" and bounces it back to you. improvisation takes more practice, not less, and certainly more focus. my friend suzanne mused when her son asked why he had to practice scales on the saxophone when he "already knew all the notes":

"you must practice scales now so that when the spirit stirs up its power and comes upon you, you can play what it tells you uninhibited, unhindered by the clumsiness of your fingers or breathing or bad habits. your sound must be so pure that you can translate the most divine secrets into a language other souls can understand, if g-d so wills it. you must prepare to be a servant to your scales now, so that later you will be able to play with more freedom than you can possibly imagine" (suzanne guthrie, grace's window, cowley 1996)

the heart-breaking and heart-opening doesn't come for free. but it's worth it.
check it out:

i approached my friday night with emotional energy high, but also prayerful and quiet. i couldn't have done it otherwise. see, i was having dinner with a friend from college whom i hadn't seen in three years. we had some reconciling to do. but the music had made me open and given me practice in listening without making it about me, and now i have my friend back. and like in the music, i have new tools to help me practice and listen. i just need to use them. he played piano and we sang the love duet from the fantasticks, "they were you."

my last day in new york was a very long one. i woke up before the alarm, buzzing and ready to get to work. we finished the conference with a eucharist and it didn't feel like goodbye at all, it's so clearly a beginning and continuing of what i was born to do. i went down to chelsea to see a performance of one-act plays, one of which was directed by my friend corinne. i was pretty sleepy but was a ways from home. back to Brooklyn (via newton's method; i could not for the life of me get going the correct direction on 14th st!) for one more college friend reunion. i marvelled at marc's new studio which will include a real black box theatre when he paints it. a marvellous dinner of greens and rice and wine with his building-mates, eaten with our hands indian-style.

i offered (maybe more like pleaded) to teach them a couple of the songs i had learned at the conference. singing together could be cool--these are artsy, spiritual folks. i said it could be like a grace after dinner. we tried "freedom come" and "open my heart" (i failed to explain about the dissonant major seconds) with limited success. i gave up. but then, downstairs in the other apartment, i asked marc to try with me an experiment we've done before: he beatboxes over (under) me singing one of my favorite ruthy songs.

it spread like wildfire. before i had finished the song, ethan was at the keyboard, jan on the drum set, and angie sprawled on a beanbag with a melodica. they kept playing when the song was over, and ethan tried again with "open my heart." i can't explain how great it felt to be singing my heart out and truly improvising, listening and responding to what my friends were offering. i wasn't tied to one song, i bounced between folk songs, church songs, freedom songs, and sanskrit chant (yep, all the words to the gayatri mantra came back to me). when we were winding down, it was just marc at the keyboard. i've never been able to follow marc's musical musings, any more than his academic ones. but i listened. what i heard was a melody that would go well with "they were you", so i sang that. amazing. we could complement each other in a new way.

i haven't mentioned that my reading for the trip was eat pray love (elizabeth gilbert, penguin, 2006). my journey home was much longer than intended since i missed the check-in cutoff time for my flight. it seemed clear early on that g-d just wanted me to be alone that day, my birthday, to contemplate and let all this begin to sink in. liz gilbert was good company for that. and every time i encountered breathtaking beauty: the mountains behind salt lake, the sunset over san francisco bay, the music started on its own in my head:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

brian mclaren and the prince of denmark

i'm getting into the heart of everything must change, brian mclaren's stunning book. i'm not being a cutesy critic by using that word, "stunning". i am stunned:
if we believe that jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn't his "real" and decisive coming--it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing--then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture...this eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe...that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly. (pg 144)
my house is a mess this morning, as is my mind, as is my country and world. as i ponder, i'm remembering the first time i saw a production of Hamlet. i was also stunned then: i didn't speak for an hour after the curtain call, and i went back the next night. how did the prince respond to truth-tellings like mclaren's?

There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave
To tell us this.

Why, right; you are i' the right;
And so, without more circumstance at all,
I hold it fit that we shake hands and part:
You, as your business and desire shall point you;
For every man has business and desire,
Such as it is; and for mine own poor part,
Look you, I'll go pray.
(Act I Scene V)

we need time apart to discern in order that we might respond instead of reacting. god keep us angry enough to keep at our work of kingdom building and reconciliation, and hopeful enough to bind our wounds, plan and pray our actions, not lash out.

the discussion of the second coming made me think of a central prayer in our rituals, what we call the memorial acclamation:

christ has died
christ is risen
christ will come again

thoughtful friends, seminary trained and otherwise, tell me what you think:
given the pervasive ideas of a second coming so violent that it wipes out the life-giving and revolutionary first one, how would it be if we changed the prayer?

christ had died
christ is risen
christ is all around

or "christ is with us now"
or "christ is within us now"
or "christ will return, in our hearts, as soon as we let him..."


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

can't franchise wisdom

last night i rented the "peaceful warrior" movie, based on the novel the way of the peaceful warrior by Dan Milllan. the movie came out in 2006, but despite having a very strong connection to the book, i hadn't seen it yet.

i feel about this story the way my friend suzanne describes her relationship with Teresa of Avila's autobiography. important words, encountered at an important time in life, but i don't consult the book much anymore. in fact i've given all my copies away. it led me to other teachers as time went on. so what i had first expected to be a chill evening watching a movie with a friend became more sacramental than i was perhaps prepared for. going back to this teacher will, i hope, become a habit of gratitude.

i was not in the habit, when i first encountered the story, of seeing through the eyes of the church. but you can bet that last night i was full of ideas for church applications for this film, with youth and otherwise. one thing that struck me was how self-directed was dan's "conversion" to the discipline of his training with Socrates. it's a bit like a church camp veteran from Camp Stevens told me last week: if campers decide themselves, "hey you know what would be cool? to learn to crochet," and you find someone to teach them, you'll have some pretty darn engaged learners.

near the end of the movie, dan brings his whole gymnastics team to Soc's garage, do find that he's disappeared and hung a "self-serve only" sign. teaching a class, we've figured out by now, would certainly not be his style. we hear st. francis quoted quite a lot, you know, "preach the gospel, use words if necessary." it didn't work for dan to tell his friends about what he was learning. not until they saw the changes in him and asked.

i'll go a bit further. jesus was more like this Socrates than like Billy Graham. Alan Watts said, "Jesus had to speak through a public address system--the only one available--which distorted his words, so that they came forth as the bombastic claim to be the one and only appearance of the Christ, of the incarnation of G-d as man. This is not good news. The good news is that if Jesus could realize his identity with G-d, you can also..."
(from Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, 1974)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

my kitchen is a sacred place

no news there, really. i've even blogged about it before. but it's like that line in "brown eyed girl": "sometimes i'm overcome thinking about..."
it's not thinking, exactly, when the sacredness of my kitchen or my home come over me.

once, when i lived in community, i was finishing a big batch of dishes late in the evening. as i wiped off the counters and stove top, the last step as my mother taught me, i was overcome with gratitude for those faithful counters. they'd served so well for so long, making possible some of the best moments of our life together.

last night i sat on the floor with a drink and my journal, curled up in an old throw blanket with pictures of Victorian little kids ice skating and playing with bunnies. i set my little fluorescent lamp in front of my wooden-wine-crate altar, and pretended it was a fireplace, hearth of my home.

maybe these at-home moments are when we're best at celebrating the kingdom of god already here, alive in our hearts. in the liturgy of the seder dinner, the community sings a litany of "dayenu", which means "it would be enough." testing our human tendency to think we never have enough, we sing, "if only ___, it would be enough."

meister eckhart said if the only prayer in your life is thank you, it would be enough.