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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Far from Mt. Auburn Street

photoI haven’t been blogging about Watertown recently because I haven’t been in Watertown recently. I’ve been on the road. Well, lots of roads: I-90, I-75, I-69, and I-71. I’ve been on several of those dusty service roads leading to hotels right off the highway. I’ve been in my hometown, traveling Dorothy Lane, Ridgeway, and Far Hills Avenue — roads I know so well I could drive them on a moonless night without any streetlights.

I am always glad to see the sign in the photo above, which marks an exit off M-31 in Western Michigan. It marks the turn off to a place near and dear to my heart. When I see it, I am filled with thankfulness and memories. Each twist and turn on Stony Lake Road opens up a mental photo album: Here is where Russ taught me to fix a bike; here is where I led high school students on a crazy hike as part of a “quest”; here is where there used to be a restaurant that served amazing cherry pie.

When I return to life at the corner of Mt. Auburn St. and Russell Ave., I bring all these journeys and places with me. And you bring your journeys, your roads, with you. What a beautiful mystery it is that we carry whole worlds with us as we encounter one another. Simply walking through a shop in East Watertown brings together journeys through East Boston, Milan, Damascus, Aleppo, villages in Mexico, military outposts in Pakistan.

This summer, I want to make time to hear about others’ journeys. Tell me about your road trip. Tell me about the roads you carry in your heart. Tell me how those roads brought you to this one. I’ll be richer for it.

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This is a mom washing paint from her toddler’s hands. I bet she had to wash the child’s hands three or four times in the course of the 1.5 hr Mother’s Day Tea sponsored by Watertown Family Network. Washing hands is just part of the deal for moms. They do it over and over and over, usually without thinking about it. It’s one of those quotidian but profound acts rich with holiness.

Hand washing protects the child. I remember the period of time when I was learning to trust my children to wash their own hands. So hard to let go! There were times at birthday parties or picnics when I had to sit on my own hands to keep from grabbing a wet wipe and reaching for their wrist, which would have embarrassed them to no end.

Now my children are Tweens and we have moved on to new challenges: entrusting them to the internet, to their own sense of fashion, and to their own emerging sense of self.  That impulse to rush in and protect is still oh, so strong, and sometimes, I believe, important to honor. But when and how seems less clear. It’s not as simple as grabbing a wet wipe.

I take comfort from the fact that I seem to have survived not only  dirty hands (Did I ever wash my hands at summer camp?), but bumping around in the station wagon sans seat belt, drinking Tab all through high school, and walking around Kenya for a year without applying even a dollop of sunscreen. But I’m still gonna pray every night for my children’s health and safety. And I’m still going to gather advice from wise friends sharing this parenthood journey with me. And I’m keeping some wet wipes handy, too.

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