August 28, 2014
From the Rector
Change Made Manifest
It is said that moving is one of the top five stressors in American life. Even if it is for good reasons, the act of having to uproot one’s life and transplant it to unfamiliar soil is challenging (just ask Kristin Krantz and Sara Gunter). Not only are your things in a different place, but your patterns are changed, whether it is the placement of your dresser or your route to the closest grocery store.
I mention this because, well, things are a moving at All Souls Parish, quite literally. At our July Ministry Night meeting, our Associate for Liturgy and Music, Christopher Putnam, mentioned to me that as we were getting ready to call our next associates, if it would help for him to move offices he was willing. From that conversation a couple dozen others ensued. If Christopher’s office and the music library moved, where would they go? Where would the Angel Band instruments live? Would it make sense to move the copy room to the room that had been Christopher’s office? If so, would our copier fit through that narrow door? Would it be possible for both of our new associates to have an office? Where would the insanity end?
Well, thanks to the remarkable organizational minds and ever-moving hands of Nancy Austin and Marilyn Flood and the hard work of many people, pushing, pulling, lifting, sorting, cleaning, building and moving, the Great Office Moves of 2014 will soon be finished. Here they are in chronological order: the Angel Band instruments now have a home in the Narthex cabinets, there is now a Music Annex on the first floor of the Parish House, with Christopher’s new office (windows!) and a sorting room for the vast All Souls music library that is currently being sorted and organized by Christopher and Christina Robinson.
When Christopher’s office and the music library was moved, thanks to the focused and incredible efforts of Christopher, Nancy Austin, Andy Kahn, Reed Loy, Tripp Hudgins, John Love, Madeline and Davis Feeley, Riley Cooke, and because of the work of Martin Ortega, we were able to re-wire that space so that our Copy Room could be housed there. In one mighty afternoon Joy Ng, Rick Sweeney, Reed Loy, Jim Feeley, Marilyn Flood, and Nancy Austin moved our copier, duplicator, paper supplies, tables and various and sundry down the hall. And then, miraculously, within two hours of being on our curb, two folks were overjoyed to pick up that credenza from the old copy room. Visit sometime and you will see the machines that produce much of our written material and our supplies! And, after years of hope and prayers, our Archivist, Thomas Burcham, now has protected storage space in the back closet for much of the back-logged archived materials of the parish.
Serving on a Search Committee
Reflections on the experience
As this summer drew to a close, All Souls said good-by to the Rev. Kristin Krantz, who served as our Associate Rector for the last eight years, and to Sara Gunter, who led our Youth Ministry over the past three years and over the past year also served as Associate for Parish Life. As difficult as these farewells were for our community, we also needed to spend time this summer searching for new leaders to continue the work of these important areas of ministry.
I have served on three search committees at All Souls. In 2007-08 I was a member of the Rector Search Committee, which called Fr. Phil as All Souls’ 12th Rector. That committee had twelve members and was co-chaired by Marilyn Flood and Caroline McCall. This summer I participated in the Associate Rector Search Committee, which called the Rev. Liz Tichenor as the next Associate Rector. This committee was comprised of Fr. Phil, Michelle Barger, Leigh Rawdon, Toni Borgfeldt, Tara McCulloch and myself. When Sara announced that she had been called to lead youth ministry for the Diocese of West Virginia, our committee stayed together to search for the reconfigured position of Associate for Children and Youth. Tess McGinley and Julia Martin, along with our new Associate Rector, joined us for this search, which resulted in the calling of Carolyn Richardson to be the parish’s Associate for Children and Youth.
Nancy Austin recently asked me if I would reflect on the experience of serving on a search committee. What has most struck me is that serving on a search committee—for all the practical and personnel issues that are involved—is, above all, a profoundly spiritual and transformative experience. The Rector Search Committee process took approximately a year, beginning in the summer of 2007 and concluding in late spring of 2008. The very first and very last meetings of this committee were like bookends emphasizing the spiritual nature of our work. In the very first meeting, as we were busily planning and organizing our work for the coming year, one member of the committee stopped us in our tracks with the pointed comment: “I thought the calling of a new rector was supposed to be a spiritual process.” An important discussion ensued and from that point forward we incorporated prayer and theological reflection much more consciously into our meetings. In our very last meeting, when we had to decide on the three finalists to recommend to the Vestry for consideration, Kristin celebrated a eucharist with us in the chapel. Kristin’s calm, prayerful presence at the eucharist gave strength and clarity of mind to the committee before we regrouped to make our final, very important decisions.
My strong sense is that the search committee experiences this summer, although necessarily much more compressed in time, were similarly transformative, helping each of us on the committee to grow in our Christian faith and see things in a new light. Simone Weil, the 20th century French mystic and political activist, once said that “Humility is attentive patience.” Our committees certainly felt a sense of humility in our work this summer. While our intent and hope was that we could complete our searches in time to bring new staff on by September, we brought an attentive patience to our work. We tried to be present for and listen closely to each candidate and recognized that if we did not find the right candidates by September, we would continue our search and that would be O.K.
In a focus group meeting I had with our assisting clergy during the 2007 – 08 Rector search, I remember several of the clergy commenting about what a tricky business the search process is and how sometimes the committee and the candidate may be talking past one another, not really listening to the other and missing what is important to each. Those are the searches, they said, that go awry. These shared experiences were, for me, a further lesson on the importance of humility and patience.
My last thought about the transformative nature of the search process is that one often goes into the process with a certain set of ideas about the kind of person one is seeking and—after reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, praying and letting the Holy Spirit in—one comes out of the process with a somewhat different perspective on who will be the right fit for this community at this time. Although Liz and Carolyn are both relatively young and at an early stage of their careers, the committee unanimously, and without any hesitation, discerned that they were the right candidates for these positions. Another member of our search committees this summer, Tara McCulloch, shared some thoughts with me in this regard and I offer them in closing:
“The search process made me more fully aware of the direction that our church is headed toward. We sought someone whose values and experience were a good match for the vision that we’re in the process of “living into”—and the search process made me see how that vision is translated into specific qualities and attitudes. The phrase that sticks in my mind is “hire to the arc,” or something like that, which means to seek someone whose career trajectory is leading up to this position, and not necessarily someone who’s been doing the position already for many years. That we hire to the arc means that we have faith in the intelligence, wisdom, and potential of the people we have hired.”
My Return to Standing Rock
Reflection from the Summer Immersion Trip
I went to South Dakota three years ago, the last time All Souls participated in the immersion trip on the Standing Rock Reservation. Because I had been before, I was especially excited to see how things had changed since the last time I had come; but to perfectly honest, things were very much as they had been. I saw just as much hospitality from the women who cooked as I did before, and the same vast expanse of fields. I saw the adorable, excited children as I had before, but also how there were still many places that need a lot of work and help.
The worksite that I primarily worked on also had a frustrating undertone of weak endurance and longevity: the steeple that I was painting was the exact same steeple that our church group painted just four years ago, and would undoubtedly need repainting soon enough. A resonating phrase that I heard Phil say about Standing Rock Reservation went along the lines of “there is ALWAYS more work to be done.”
Going to the reservation is a humbling experience. The Lakota live much more simply than I do, and lack the vast amount of resources that are readily available to me. When I was talking to Phil about my sermon in the car ride back to the Denver airport, we began discussing the difficult lives people lead on the reservation. Unemployment rates, death rates, and substance abuse and addiction rates are generally all higher on the reservation than off, and teen suicide rates are double the rate of any other teen demographic in the United States.
Despite these problems, the media does not tend to publicize issues of the reservation, putting it on the sidelines to focus on other aspects of American life. This deserting behavior is not a new trend, either. There are plenty of instances in American History in which white powers have ignored the needs of Indians in favor of what benefitted the rest of white America. The Trail of Tears forced Cherokee Indians out of the Southeast to move to Oklahoma to make space for white people to live. The Dawes Act of 1887 attempted to assimilate Indians into white culture and end tribal life by making Indians own land individually instead of as a whole tribe, shoving aside the needs and philosophies of the Indian people. Still today, many Americans remain clueless or, perhaps worse, aware of the troubles of Reservation life but do nothing to make it better.
Today’s Gospel is particularly interesting because it presents a flawed view of Jesus. When a Canaanite woman came to him to ask for help, Jesus ignores her, saying that he is only in the area to help the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus even insults the woman, saying that “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” implying that the Israelites, the chosen people, were the only people who deserved his time and care, even though he was now aware of the Canaanite woman’s problems. The woman then responds by saying that even dogs get the scraps of the table, and Jesus finally decides to help her.
This Gospel calls into question what it takes to get Jesus’ attention. Although Jesus is known to help the marginalized, he ignores the needs of a sidelined group in favor of another, and this reminds me of the situation that the majority of America has with Indians. Both as a nation and as individuals, we have acted like Jesus—and not in a good way. Shoving aside the needs and issues of the Indians is not an act of which Americans are innocent.
However, the ending of the Gospel story provides a glimmer of hope: Jesus eventually turns around and changes his attitude when he is faced with the Canaanite woman’s words. In the past and the present we, too, have treated Indian people like Jesus initially treated the Canaanite woman. In the coming days and in the grander future, how can we change our response to and our attitudes towards marginalized groups and troubled situations, and finally take responsibility for all who need help?
(Sunday sermon, August 17, 2014)
Time Among the Storytellers
Reflection from the Summer Immersion Trip
We sat down and the white-bearded, pipe-smoking, sage-burning, camouflage-wearing Father Rob told us “this is not America.” And basically he was right. This was not America. At least not the one I knew. I’d been to the Rez three years prior but even so, for a boy who since then spent his days as a busy high school kid amidst the bustling activity of the opulent, urban cities of the Bay Area, returning for a week to the isolated green plains of Standing Rock where rattlesnakes roam, where grasshoppers are the size of my fist, and where a marginalized people make their home, was a sure change.
As the poet W.B. Yeats aptly said, “there is another world, but it is in this one.” Indeed, another world. The reservation is a land plagued with poverty, alcohol, suicide, and more, but it’s also, as Sherman Alexie says, “green and golden and perfect,” full of music, humor, and stories.
I see Joseph’s story in today’s Old Testament reading as one of reunion. Absorbing, enduring, and coming to terms with the past pain of hardship and betrayal, yet rejoicing in the present moment. Eleven brothers, scared, sad, and starving, suddenly embraced and forgiven by Joseph, the man they’d least expected to see. A reunion that surprisingly isn’t bitter or painful, rather a joyous welcome home, even in a land far from geographical home.
In the same way I felt welcomed home in South Dakota. A big joyous reunion. Lakota and wasicu (the people who get the fat, meaning us) alike, enjoying each other’s presence in the moments we shared together—the passionate games of 3 flies up, the earnest invitations to some place in Mobridge called Scarecrow Hollow, sitting atop the bell tower giving each other funny names, the basketball games, the jokes told, the stories told, the music played, the dances danced, the supper so graciously prepared and received.
That welcome I got, the feeling of home far from home, that invitation to experience a separate world yet within my own, was the meat of the trip. It felt like family, it felt like brotherhood. Sure, I did some actual work, I shouldered the shingles up rickety ladders, I helped patch soggy roofs, I cleared the waist-high grass from graves, and that was good, too. But that stuff comes second to just simply being there, together, acknowledging the pain but also acknowledging the fun. The powwows, the Indian names, the artwork—yes, all this is part of a beautiful culture that I respect and admire. But it is, as Emmett Buddy Martin, the ex-alcoholic teacher at Sitting Bull college, might say, “Sioux-perficial.” To me, words that really define the Lakota are storytellers, humble listeners, and welcomers to all. Hopefully those words will also describe me someday.
(Sunday sermon, August 17, 2014)