A stage full of hope

IMG_5296All through the month of February, our church served as a collection spot for donations for Syrian refugees. People were invited to bring in clothing, blankets, toys, and other goods for those who had fled violence and oppression at home to save themselves and their loved ones.

When we agreed to be a collection spot, I had no idea what a powerful experience it would be. On many occasions, I was in the office when the doorbell rang and was the one to open it to find someone with arms — or a minivan — full of donations. Sometimes they had come from Target, where they purchased socks and children’s coats. Sometimes they had raided their linen closet at home. Sometimes (as in the photo above) they had spent countless hours knitting scarves or blankets as a spiritual practice, praying or meditating on the depth of suffering being experienced by those to whom these goods would go.

So many people expressed thankfulness for the collection. It gave them something to do with their heartache, their sense of overwhelm, their desire to connect with the suffering of those they could not see, had never met, but carried in their hearts. All of them were very much aware that their offering was a “drop in the bucket” of a ginormous, complex problem. But the vision of some real, particular person using the real, particular item they had selected or made was like balm to their souls.

Thank you to Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment for organizing the collection and inviting us to serve as a collection site. Thank you to those who filled our stage with beautiful offerings. Pray that our children don’t have to organize such efforts.

 

 

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What kind of power are you purchasing?

IMG_5205The Watertown skyline is changing fast, as new condos and mixed-use complexes pop up faster than you can say “Town Diner.” A drive down Arsenal Street features lots of big, half-finished structures where investors and contractors have high hopes for a big pay-off.

Meanwhile, on the west side, a different kind of new beginning is taking place. The payoff is less financial and more personal. It’s not as flashy, but I find it more inspiring than what’s happening on Arsenal Street. It’s the Power Café (corner of Main & Lexington St).

New business owner Ranit Schwartz (see photo) is helping persons living with disabilities gain vocational skills and experience as employees of the Power Café. I chatted with Ranit yesterday while enjoying a big mug of great coffee (organic, Furnace Hills Coffee, roasted by employees with developmental disabilities).

Do you long for real connection with real people in your neighborhood? Do you like spaces where children are honored with crayons and paper set out for them? Does your book group need a place to meet where you can get a freshly-made snack? Have you been praying for those on the margins in our society but not doing much to support them?

I love everything about Power Café. In the midst of our building boom, it feels like the unofficial HQ for a “Keep Watertown Real” movement. Go for the coffee. Go for the free wifi. Go to support the employees, who are people for whom employment is particularly life-giving and live-changing. Start by liking their facebook page. See you there.

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Woven Together

12485909_10153933321431942_6497874589716481622_oHere are some excerpts from the remarks I offered at Watertown’s Unity Breakfast on MLK Day. Thanks to the organizers, speakers, and especially the young people (such as the students above, who are explaining their amazing murals). It was a great event.

On Wednesday of last week, I drove about 20 miles on city streets in my car. I visited a public library and a bank. I ate in a restaurant here in Watertown. I went for a walk in my neighborhood.

At no point was I worried about being pulled over by the police. My choice to be out walking was not affected by fear of a stray bullet. Everyone I interacted with at the library, the bank, and the restaurant looked me in the eye and treated me kindly. I had enough money to put gas in my car, order a BLT, and pay a library fine. I had a paycheck to deposit.

My Wednesday was made possible by privlege. I have privledge that many others do not have: the color of my skin, my education, my American citizenship, my native language being English, and more. Privlege is power – power that I can use for myself, power that I can use to help change systems, power that I can pretend doesn’t exist or I can acknowledge and use to undermine, uproot, and unearth whatever is standing in the way of all the beautiful people of this earth having rights and freedoms, opportunity and justice…..

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, King famously wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The calling that King left us when he was killed was to see that inescapable network of mutuality not as a burden, but as a joy, a wonderful gift. We become more fully ourselves as we build a world where all are free to thrive. We each become more beautifully human when we honor and protect the dignity of every human person. We are enriched and enlivened when our song reflects the fullest range of human experience.

At a time in our nation’s history when many are loudly and shrilly calling for less mutuality, when some are working to shred that single garment of destiny or deny it’s existence, let us weave a love that includes all.

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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,

Amy

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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.

Posted in Churchy Stuff, middle school, Parenting & Spiritual Life, Watertown | Tagged , , , , , ,

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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