Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting Ready to Go: Reality Check

Today I leave for Nyack, NY, to the headquarters of The Fellowship of Reconciliation for a short orientation before we leave for Iran Wednesday night. The past few days since my return from London Saturday have been busy; but the frosting on the cake was learning that UPS had not picked up my passport from the store I’d mailed from with overnight postage to get the visa. Learning this Monday, about 11:00 a.m., I rushed to the store and picked up the passport (forfeiting the $25.00 postage!). The challenge then was to find a way of getting the passport to the courier who would take it to Washington D.C. The man lives in Albany, I was in Port Jefferson, about 7 hours away. After several phone calls we decided I’d meet him in Nyack at 2:00. So I drove the 2+ hours to Nyack, getting there a quarter of an hour before the courier arrived!

Slouched in a chair in Nyack, resting, I learned that not every member of the delegation had received visas. The Iranians delayed until yesterday morning to issue visa numbers from Tehran, and they denied 4 members of our delegation; two others have not yet received numbers but indications are that they will in due course. What a shock! There is no apparent reason or pattern to the decision as the four include Jews and Muslims, male and female, experienced travelers to Iran, and first-timers. We may never learn; this is the way it is traveling to Iran.

This reality check will be the background to the work we do. I believe it will be important to let go of the anger and disappointment, and try to meet the people with open hearts and minds. Yet our governments are not in synch. They are suspicious of Americans and America is suspicious of Iran. The only way to dissolve the suspicion and the jostling for power is to talk, to reach across the divide and make relationships. Other delegations have made tremendous contacts, and the reports we read are that “ordinary” Iranians are enthusiastic about meeting Americans, dismayed by the nuclear competition.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Preparing for Peace

I've been in London this week working on a proposal for a formation program which is intended for the brothers and sisters who will be working with our novices. It has been a great experience to work on this proposal: engaging in conversation with my colleague Sister Joyce, the Minister General of the Sisters of the Community of St. Francis, thinking, praying, and dreaming about the best way to empower our communities. I spent a happy day trolling the internet reading websites and seeing how what we hope to do might interface with what people are doing in the New York area. I came across a website with a program title: "Formators as transformative agents" by Don Bisson: this is exactly what we hope to be about! Not only do I hope the formators--the people who teach the novices--should be transformative agents, but all of us.

The other thing going on this week has been the increasingly intense preparations for my trip to Iran next Wednesday. I go as an agent of transformation, working for peace. In a way it is a chance to do the kind of thing Joyce and I have been talking about in terms of preparing the novices to do.

Sturggling to get over my jet lag I have had several weird hours of wakefulness, which I have used to read about Iran. My current late night primer is about the President of Iran: "Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader" by Kasra Naji. If ever there was a need to hear two sides of a story and to create bridges of friendship and understanding between two peoples, i think Iran is the perfect place to go. The language is so hyperbolic. So I have had to do some preparatory work thinking and praying about the best way to meet and relate with people in a culture and context very different from mine.

I am reminded of St. Francis and how he went among the Muslims. He went, refusing to preach much with words, but to live in such a way as to invite people to approach him with questions. I like this model of approachability, and hope I can present myself in that way.

I am in a hurry to get to Heathrow to catch a flight to New York. But as i go, i feel that it is all about peace, all about friendship, all about deeper understanding.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Yesterday I heard a great sermon by Phil Brochard, rector of All Souls Episcopal Church in Berkeley about trust. You can get a copy of it by e-mailing allsouls@allsoulsparish.org or maybe check their website: www.allsoulsparish.org I won’t re-hash it here, but it got me to thinking about whether or not I live trustfully. Do I trust myself? Do I trust the people I am traveling to Iran with? Do I trust my brothers?

Most of the time.

Another way of thinking about trust, for me, is to think about letting go. I have to let go of my fears, let go of my desire to control the outcomes of my interactions, and life transactions. I need to do my best and leave the rest up to God: trust God.

Sometimes trust gets a body blow: I got two of these last week.

The first challenge to trust was the destruction of the Order of Holy Cross Monastery in Santa Barbara. You never know when natural disaster will strike. My mind immediately starts to calculate risks. One can never be too safe; it is a thin line to cross over to “trust nobody” you are never totally safe. Of course I know life is a series of calculated risks, most of which we hardly acknowledge: crossing the road, driving on a free way, taking an airplane ride, which I do continuously without a second thought. Well, I have been having a lot of second thoughts since the fires in Santa Barbara.

The second blow was the report of the racist attack on a migrant worker on Long Island by a self-styled KKK group. They killed him, and left handbills threatening other “non-whites.” A friend attributes it to a backlash against Barack Obama’s election. To live trustfully in a democracy one must believe that people will obey laws and respect each other. Many of the migrant workers on Long Island are men and women I know. They catered the meal after my installation as Minister General last November. Racist attacks spoil the atmosphere of trust and harmony and weaken our society.

So I have taken these incidents as the starting place for my prayers each morning: affirming my trust in God, seeking to open my eyes to perceive the hand of God at work in the world around me. I try to notice the beauty of nature even as I recognize the fires are tragedies for my friends. I marvel at the many friends I have of every race and creed. Crucial for me is not to lapse into all-or-nothing thinking, taking a tragedy and replicating it everywhere in my imagination: “catastrophizing” as one friend calls it. Remembering these things clears my mind; I can sign a petition against racism, I can make calls and try to organize help for Santa Barbara. We are in solidarity with each other in good times and bad.

In God we trust.