Friday, April 30, 2010

Peace and Love

"What is America like?" "Are there many guns?" "Do you have adult education classes?" "Do all students have computers?" The questions came fast, reflecting popular ideas of America as a rich but violent nation. Br. James (pictured on the right, with some of his teaching colleagues and Br. Elton) translated the questions and my replies. Trying to nuance the discussion when I don't speak Portuguese was difficult. Br. James had invited me to tour the school where he is Assistant Principal, and we stopped to speak with the Grade Seven Adult Education students, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties, and lived in the nearby favela, or slum. A place too dangerous for us to visit, James said. I tried to let them know most Americans don't get shot at, but it is a lively fear for some in poor urban neighborhoods. And hard to believe if all you see of America is CSI and other crime shows. The US Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms, so many people have guns in their homes. But as a Franciscan I am horrified by it all, implacably opposed to guns. The same with the materialistic U.S. society. Yes we are a rich nation, but I wonder if it isn't too much so. Franciscan poverty is not the most popular cultural discussion. But the most important thing during the visit to that classroom was goodwill, the chance to share a moment of connection, me saying "obrigado" and them saying "Good evening" and all of us laughing with embarrassment and pleasure at the chance to meet.

Later we ate dinner with the students and the lunchroom rocked with pulsing salsa music. The school provides free meal and a snack to every student. We got rice, beans, shredded beef (or was it pork? Mystery meat--school lunches are the same in USA and Brazil!) and a chunk of papaya. "Hello! How are you?!" I was greeted over and over by students who'd obviously just been coached. What a great evening.

The next day I visited Templo Zu Lai with a friend. The temple is in Sao Paulo, but over half an hour from the center of town, in a leafy garden suburb. As we munched on vegetarian food we speculated on the popularity of Buddhism among so many middle class Brazilians and Americans. Despite a sign warning against public displays of affection (especially kissing, the sign said), there is a definite interest. Perhaps the emphasis on meditation rather than listening to sermons? The cultivation of a personal meditation practice that can be done either alone or together? The strong emphasis on compassion and awareness? We are both Anglican/Episcopal priests and not inclined to become Buddhists, but our hearts are warmed by what we know of it. And the longing for spirituality we recognize among the Western seekers, we decided, invites us to look again at the things we talk about, to consider how we nurture people in their spiritual journey. The internecine conflicts in Christianity sometimes smother the flame of joy, generosity and compassion we believe God lit in the world with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Welcome to Brazil

Sao Paulo is a vast city, organized on the chaos theory of urban planning. At least that is how it seems to me. Maybe I've just been spending too much time in small Melanesian villages... Yet not being able to read or speak Portuguese, getting lost is a nagging anxiety. But the Resurrection message is not to be defined by our
fears, so I am exploring the city. Fortunately the brothers here, Brother James and Brother Elton, have the same fear for me and they always accompany me. And I am getting the insider's perspective.

Sao Paulo was founded by the Portuguese, and has a decidedly Non-Brit mentality of how to be, at least that is how I understand Br. James when he tells me: you must remember Sao Paulo is not an English city. "We like it this way!" he said
with a laugh. "It is our culture." Everywhere it seems to be "downtown" and at the same time on the fringe. How can both be true? I don't know. Major buildings and teeming avenues don't all cluster in one place. You just come upon them after
traveling on narrow winding streets.

Discovering a city of tremendous history (founded in 16th Century) and vitality is pretty exciting.

The brothers live in a tiny apartment that they also share with Br. James sister. Here Elton is in the tiny kitchen. Fortunately everybody is fanatically neat. The team from "Queer Eye" television show would approve. We pray at the table which you can see Br James must use as his computer room and dining table in turn, the brothers have doubled up to give me a room of my own, which makes me feel very awkward and grateful. My jetlag has been worse this time than I remember from recent trips, and I have been awake all night, tossing and turning. Thank goodness I haven't had to worry about bothering somebody else.

The brothers have made some good connections in the city over the years, and last night we ate dinner with the OFM Friars.

There are other meetings planned with other people during the week ahead.

But mostly we are getting to know each other. I've only spent time with James at Chapter meetings, I've never met Elton before. Sitting next to each other at a Chapter meeting has a degree of intimacy (maybe 10 degrees). Nothing like sharing a
tiny apartment for 10 days.

My favorite tourist activity so far has been to visit the Central Market. One vendor let us taste six or seven kinds of fruit I've never seen before. I have no idea what they were, but it was truly amazing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Rain Falls on the Just and the Unjust

I was thinking of the psalm phrase, "the rain falls on the just and the unjust," as I was caught in a rainstorm yesterday afternoon while I was jogging. It was a real "gully washer" as we say back home in Snohomish, and yet as I slogged along, I began to feel exhilarated. Another man out jogging caught my eye and started laughing loudly: "Hooray!" he shouted. Yet another man shouted "Twenty bucks for an umbrella!" I find Australians to be very friendly. And getting wet in Brisbane is like taking a warm shower: no chill at all. There was a brief sense of solidarity among us caught in the autumn freshet.

The television has shown pictures of people caught in airports due to the volcano in Iceland. It doesn't matter if you are the Governor General of Australia trying to get to a state funeral in Poland or a tourist or business traveler in Europe, or even just wanting to get to Europe. Everybody shares the same fate: you gotta wait! It seems to bring out the creative impulse in some. A young couple exchanged vows, witnessed by family via skype; they missed the reception back in Britain. Others are just glum, some are teary. With the ash streaming out of the earth and up into the jet stream, the whole globe will continue to be affected for a while more. The depths of the earth and heights of heaven impinge upon each other.

It is a graphic example of our interconnectedness on the earth. You can never escape being part of the Earth and being one of her creatures. Volcanos are natural; imagine if all that mess was radioactive! It is interesting that we are having nuclear reduction talks at the same time that the volcano blows, as if to say: this is what it might be like, this is a bit of a foretaste or maybe a dress rehearsal.

The choice is ours. Can we really pretend much longer that we are NOT connected? If we foul the earth in one place, soon many people feel the impact. This reality of our fragility and interconnectedness is one of our core Franciscan insights, and it is both a source of inspiration and a missional challenge. One of the interesting programs SSF offers for our brothers is a spirituality program, part of ongoing Franciscan formation, originally intended to help the brothers in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. It grew out of the idea that we are all one community, interconnected and resources to each other. Here Brothers Hilton and Isom from the Solomon Islands stand outside the Friary Chapel at Stroud.

But we can't forget interconnectedness works both ways: we experience the negative impact as well as the helpful assist. We are never alone. As I have traveled around the Australia/New Zealand Province of SSF I have met brothers from Solomon Islands, others originally from England, Italy, Sri Lanka: a web of families and cultures that can quickly provide strength and needed vitality as we share what we've got. The spiritual, intellectual, and cultural resources among us are enormous.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some pictures from PNG and NZ

Br. Philip Etobae, the parish priest at St. Francis, Koki, in Port Moresby, welcomes the Ministers on our arrival in Papua New Guinea, Feb 28.

We were greeted at Haruro, St. Mary of the Angels Friary,Popondetta, Oro Province for the Ministers Meeting. It was a huge, elaborate ceremony. This warrior was the first to greet us.

Nothing says welcome like a swig of coconut water. Here Br. Laurence is preparing a nut for us to taste. Its a real trick with the machete. The knife can bounce around if you don't know what you are doing (which includes most of the visiting Ministers!)

One dark and stormy night a tree fell. It missed all important structures, including the station Cross: "God is still with us!" the Brothers exclaimed. But cleaning up the mess was a very labor intensive business. Here two brothers use a cross cut saw. I'd only seen one of these in photos of logging in the Pacific Northwest USA. They were popular over 100 years ago! I kept to picking up the smaller branches, not willing to risk amputating a digit!

After the Ministers left, I stayed on, and the brothers asked me to teach a class on prayer. We had a week or so talking about prayer in a lovely palm leaf classroom!

From PNG to New Zealand. This is a picture of me and Brother Simone at St. Peter's School in Cambridge, NZ where we spoke to the student chapel services. Happy flash backs for me from the days I was Chaplain at The Annie Wright School in Tacoma, WA, USA

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Sacred Rhythm

One of the realities of my life is the intermittent access to the internet! I've been in Papua New Guinea for all of March, participating the the Ministers' Meeting and then on to New Zealand for two weeks, conducting a Holy Week mission at a parish and a church school in Cambridge, NZ. Easter Week I was feted and fed beautifully, but often having to give a short talk or presentation about our life in SSF; it culminated with a Quiet Day on Saturday of Easter Week. I flew to Sydney on Sunday and came to Stroud on Monday.

I think my favorite part of my work is getting to stay around after the other visitors go home. Life goes back to normal for the 16 novices and brothers in the friary where I was staying. In Papua New Guinea it meant no more chicken and fish and meat at every meal. We ate piles of bananas--boiled, baked, roasted, fried and raw, and lots of crook neck squash, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many days nothing else, and we were happy to eat them. Their days are broken up into "periods" and the afternoon is always "work." What this meant for us during my visit was clambering all over a tree which fell in a heavy rain storm, hacking at it with machetes and hand saws. I am a danger to myself and others with a meter long knife, so I contented myself with hauling the branches away. I cursed my choice when I began to get bitten by myriad ferocious ants in very private places! We all suffered so I couldn't quit. The next day the ants had decamped for some other tree in the forest and we labored in tranquility. Plunging into a waterfall after such heavy work is heavenly--soothing to skin pulped by ants, mosquitoes and thorns.

I taught two short courses for them, one on prayer, and another on how to tell your spiritual autobiography. We had some really moving evenings as we began to tell each other how God has moved in our lives. What impressed me most was the way so many of us have experienced God's Spirit working in our lives. Our stories are testimonials to the working of God in the lives of ordinary people. I found the rhythm of the days very restorative: up at 5:30, praying with the brothers by 6:00. Breakfast at 8:00 then classes at 9:00. Midday prayer and lunch, then "solitude" which always meant "nap" for me! Then the hard labor under the tropical sun after which I often went running. Evening prayer at 5:00 so we'd have enough daylight to read by. Dinner then the evening class. Drop dead in bed by 9:30. You think I am crazy to say it is restorative! But the pattern of prayer, study and work, living in community, even bathing together in the river and eating foods we gather from the garden feels like pure gift. A tremendous amount of work gets done even though we only do manual labor about 3.5 hours a day. Bees work just about 5 hours a why do I sometimes put in long days and nights over a hot keyboard? I am trying to keep to the balance.

One of the things the folks in PNG take really seriously is welcoming visitors. When the Ministers arrived, it was huge: a crowd of men and women singing, giving us flowers. But when I went to visit places for lunch or drop by for tea, there was always an elaborate (to my sensibilities at least) welcome. I tried to get the brothers to ask the people not to do this, just let me come by and visit, I whined. They were adamant. Never. This is about honoring our customs and it is who we are as a people. If we didn't welcome you we would feel ashamed. So I had to learn again the pleasure of being welcomed and of eating from every dish offered to me. Lovely bananas! Again!

In New Zealand, I stayed with the three brothers at Hamilton, two of whom I know and love. I met our new novice there, Br. Simone. He was born in Italy not so long ago, so we had some very interesting intercultural, inter-generational conversations, with me high from the Papua New Guinea rain forest experience, but from America, and curious about New Zealand. He and I shared the preaching load during Holy Week. He had never preached before, but by Easter Sunday he'd given 13 sermons! Really good ones too. But it wasn't all work and sermonizing. We went with a friend to Rotorua and gaped at the geysers and boiling mud. Then we went to a spa and jumped in steamy pools of mineral water--the best way to get psyched up for the Triduum I've found yet! Easter week, one day we went spelunking in the Waitamo Caves. Like me, Simone enjoys running, and he curbed his pace to adjust to mine, and we had some really lovely runs. All of this framed by the daily office and friary life. And a richer diet. The brothers hosted a pizza party for friends to come meet me (It was the only night it rained my whole stay). Easter is in early autumn, so we enjoyed corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, fresh broccoli and crookneck squash (but only at dinner). By the time I left Simone was truly a brother to me!

Over the years the brothers have done extraordinary ministry in New Zealand, and for many years there were several more brothers in the country. Franciscans are very popular, and we enjoy some really good relationships with church folk there. The Archbishop comes by for coffee and to join in the prayers. He organized a luncheon to give some clergy in the diocese who might not otherwise have a chance to meet and talk with me. We spoke about the environment, prayer and community life: we shared some very interesting perspectives.

During the Quiet Day which I conducted for about 21 people my last day in New Zealand, I spoke about being interconnected. St. Francis talks about these relationships in his Canticle of the Creatures: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Everything is kin to us, we all come from the same source, God. The reality of being interconnected and the invitation to live this as fully and responsibly as possible is part of the core Franciscan message. The ins and outs of relationships and daily activities is the sacred rhythm of our lives.

Welcome to SSF, Korean Brothers!

Today was an historic day. We welcomed the Korean Franciscan Brotherhood into the Society of St. Francis and elected two of them, Br. Stephen and Brother Lawrence to Life Profession. They have been mentored by SSF since 1993, and agreed two years ago that their special covenant relationship would come to its end ad fulfillment at this chapter meeting today. A third member of their group, Br. Raphael, was welcomed as a novice in SSF.

But it was also the first time we'd ever conducted a chapter meeting in SSF with several members joining us via skype. It wasn't without its traumas, it took nearly an hour for all parties to get connected, then a bit longer to get all of us sitting so we could see each other (almost). But now we've broken the ice. I'm wondering about further possibilities. Much depends on facilities available in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea for video conferencing.

Blurry images couldn't obscure the joy we all felt. Many of us have got to know the brothers over the years. I stayed in the friary in Gangchon in 2008

Stephen and Lawrence had an interpreter with them, Sister Catherine, SHC. She has known the brotherhood the whole of it's existence and played a part in many of its key moments, so it was a very fitting role for her to play.