Shadow Season

IMG_4863We live in the shadow of war. We pray and work and speak and plan in the shadow of racism. Our children are growing up in the shadow of our personal and collective anxiety. This is a season of shadows.

I took this photo at about 3:15 pm today. The sun was already very low in the sky, and the shadows long on the ground. Experts say that the earliest sunset will be on December 8th in Boston, so we’re getting close. The short days tempt me to hole up. Let me just put on my slippers, make some tea, sit down, and stay there till, say, Easter. I’ll watch some period dramas, catch up on Real Simple, and keep the curtains closed till the shadows go away.

But, of course, the shadows that matter won’t go away if we are all hunkered down at home. Sure, the seasons will change, but the atmosphere of our minds and those of our children, and the prospects for a joyful future, will only change if all of us show up. Show up with our spiritual flashlights,  lanterns of determination, and candles of care.

So this Thanksgiving week, I offer my gratitude for the people I know who are shadow-slayers. People like Raymond Fox, who brings special needs WHS students to our church every Tuesday to learn vocational skills. And people like the organizers of the Watertown Overcoming Addiction campaign. And Danielle DeMoss, the town’s Social Services Coordinator, to whom I’ve referred lots of people in lots of need.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving, despite the shadows, and looking forward to hearing your stories of light and hope in the darkness,


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Of Graves and Grace

IMG_4750Last Saturday, I traipsed around Mt. Auburn Cemetery with a group of tweens on a scavenger hunt. It was an amazing journey, organized by a father of one of the tweens. As anyone who has spent time with middle schoolers knows, balancing fun and learning, so that enthusiasm is maintained and sighing is minimized, is No Mean Feat. We did OK.

Our merry band of tweens walked from site to site, sometimes taking in the historical notes and sometimes just kicking the leaves around. From time to time, one got the feeling they were quietly awakening to the awesome mystery of life and death, of our connection to those who have come before, and to their own place of privilege as dwellers in the age of antibiotics, indoor plumbing, and decent dental care.

All of this is good stuff to ponder as we approach the great holy day of All Saints, which is November 1. All Saints has been eclipsed in our culture by Halloween, when Americans will spend $7 billion on costumes, candy, and inflatable lawn ornaments. I have nothing against Halloween, but I adore All Saints Day, because it brings together in tradition and song all the complicated and overlapping truths we live with about human life and the ways we depend on one another to pass along faith and hope.

The photo above shows some of our tweens peering into the grave of Isabella Stewart Gardner. It was she whose largesse made it possible for the Society of St. John the Evangelist to build a monastery on Memorial Drive in Boston. My children were baptized at that monastery, and the monks there continue to offer enormous grace in my life and the life of many. I hope my children and the other tweens left Mt. Auburn that day a bit more thankful for her and for all those who’ve come before them and a bit inspired to make a difference to those who will follow them.

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End the Stigma

braveLast Sunday I preached a just-OK sermon about our call to serve the least, the lost, and the last. Last night, I heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard about what it means to serve the least, the lost and the last.

Pete Airasian doesn’t call himself a preacher, but his words to a room packed with hundreds of Watertown residents were holy words. Last night, at a Candlelight Vigil, Pete told us of his own struggles with addiction. He explained the shame that comes with this disease — both for the user and for the family and friends who feel like they have failed or been failed by the user. He spoke of his discomfort and amazement that he is still here while many other friends who were addicts have died of overdoses. Pete is now clean and sober, and he is calling on all of us to transform lives.

Pete and a coalition of folks in Watertown are leading Watertown Overcoming Addiction, a season-long campaign to make this community one where everyone is part of the solution to the overdose epidemic that has overtaken us. Last year, one person died of a drug overdose in Watertown. This year, already nine people have died in this way.

There are lots of layers to the scourge of addiction in Watertown and our whole society. All of us need to examine our role in the problem and acknowledge the toll on our families, workplaces, and our souls. Today, twelve ordained clergypersons serving Watertown churches came together to learn more and to prepare to preach on this issue on October 18 and/or 25.

Learn more. Join the campaign. Reach out. And thank you, Peter Airasian and everyone else who is speaking up.

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Walking By Choice

another beautiful day in Watertown

another beautiful day in Watertown

My son and I walked a five kilometer loop along the Charles River on Sunday. It was beautiful. I stopped to take photos of the river (like the one here), which was still and shimmery in a late-summer way.

As we continued, I couldn’t shake from my mind the image of families walking across borders and along railroad tracks in Europe. My son and I were walking by choice. 5K and we’re done. Millions of others were walking not by choice, but out of desperation. With no finish line in sight.

How do we begin to wrap our minds and hearts around what is happening for these families? How shall we respond to their plight? The nation of Iceland seems to be the moral leader in this regard, planning to welcome 11,000 families, while Hungary is using teargas and water cannons to keep them out. And our nation’s promise to accept 10,000 seems miserly compared to tiny Iceland’s decision.

The leader of my denomination offered a pastoral letter on this issue, with resources for learning, acting, advocating, and praying for relief and resettlement for these hundreds of thousands of people uprooted and at risk.

What are you doing? What should *we* do? What might it look like for us, who walk along beautiful riverbanks and come and go from our secure homes, to practice solidarity with others in such a hard time?

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The Corn is as High as an Elephant’s……

Outside the sanctuary at CGS.

Outside the sanctuary at CGS.

….tail. We got a late start in planting it, and there hasn’t been much rain till recently. But there it is — a beautiful, wee crop of corn growing in the church garden. It’s presence reminds us of our call to tend the earth, our call to feed our neighbors, and the connection between the rites we celebrate inside and our service to nurture and protect the planet outside.

Corn first came into my consciousness when I lived in rural Kenya, where maize is a daily staple (boiled and seasoned with a very mild curry called Mchuzi Mix). As it turns out, corn is complicated. Genetic modification, ethanol, the high fructose corn syrup lobbyists — Corn and politics, life and death.

Elephants are also complicated. We may hope for corn as high as an elephant’s eye, but it’s really the elephants’ tusks we should be keeping our eyes on. The ivory trade is a debacle in so many ways. This month’s National Geographic tells the story in great detail, explaining how 30,000 African elephants are being slaughtered every year, in part to fund militias and terrorist groups like Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

As many Episcopal churches prepare to celebrate Creation Season, it’s important that we not simply sing “All Creatures of our God and King.” It’s important that we come to grips with the ways in which human greed and violence are irreparably threatening the future of entire species. Elephants and corn, politics and greed, life and death. Let us pray and act, learn and respond, advocate and steward, now and always.

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Seeds of Change

alliegardenI spent last week with a crop of earth-tenders, change makers, creation stewards. They all happened to be children.

If our Vacation Garden School was successful, then these thirty-seven children left the camp more confident of their ability to tend the earth and more devoted to the future of water, soil, seeds, animals, and harvest. Sure, we sang goofy songs and made seed art. But the heart of the camp was about gazing together at a small seed and being amazed that it contains a whole world. The heart of the camp was about being good shepherds and good neighbors to those around us and those to follow us.

We adults are handing to our children a world of great inequity, a planet ravaged by our selfishness, waterways filled with the detritus of our indifference. We repent of our sinfulness in church every Sunday.  Teaching thirty-seven children some skills for repairing the breach is, in one way, a drop in the bucket of the transformation needed to ensure a good future for their generation and those that follow. But it’s a start.

Here are some of the great organizations that partnered with us on VGS. Each one is doing great work and I encourage you to check them out, support them, get involved:

Charles River Watershed Association

Watertown Community Gardens

Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Gore Place

Boston Area Gleaners

The Seeing Eye

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Imagine a World…

Mid-tour at Perkins

Mid-tour at Perkins

It was my pleasure to spend a morning touring the Perkins School for the Blind recently. Our tour guide, Kevin, led us masterfully through the story of the founding and development of this amazing institution, and Jeff Migliozzi, who teaches at the school, added valuable information about the current work happening in the classroom and out.

One thing that struck me as I listened was how often, in the history and current work of the school, the most unexpected, “unqualified” person did incredible things that changed the course of lives and the course of history. Even the founder of the school was someone who knew nothing about blindness and had no experience as an educator. He was simply moved to do what was right. Over and over, it was people taking a courageous leap, not because they were credentialed or “prepared” or authorized, but because they cared, that made the difference.

How would you finish the sentence, “Imagine a world where…..”? What are you willing to do to make it so? Thanks, Perkins staff and faculty, for the inspiration.

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