From the Rector
The Abyss, Lighted
Near the end of 2012 a friend and colleague emailed me an essay in a journal that I had not heard of. The journal was The American Scholar, and the essay was, “Mortify Our Wolves” by Christian Wiman.
As I read the essay, I had the exhilarating, destabilizing feeling of discovery. It was the discovery of an experience that I had not myself endured—the suffering and existential dread that accompanies a life-threatening disease—alongside an articulation of Life and the Christian faith that felt absolutely true and real and present. I also began sharing the essay, and then, within the year, Christian Wiman’s book, My Bright Abyss, that expanded on “Mortify Our Wolves.”
Many are familiar with his poetry, and especially Wiman’s work as an editor of poetry. But for me, his prose, both about his own encounters with the Abyss, as well as his stunning clarity about what faith is and what faith is not, was a gateway to greater understanding and possibility.
First, the Abyss. The way Wiman writes about pain—unflinching, visceral, almost corporeal—is true and haunting. His ability to allow his own life, in all of the glory and uncertainty and fear and wonder, to be open for the reader to behold, is breathtaking. Because of his words, I find myself opening up, even if for a sliver, to the experiences of those that I’ve walked with as they endure the Abyss.
And then, the re-imagining, the re-forming of the Christian faith. As many have commented, Wiman’s ability to recognize and elucidate a truth, unvarnished and accessible, is remarkable. Here are Marilynne Robinson’s words—that Wiman’s work, “…puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent are one and the same.”
Over the years, I have found myself returning to this text again and again to be reminded that, “Silence is the language of faith. Action – be at church or charity, politics and poetry – is the translation.” Or that, “To be truly alive is to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence. All those trivial frittering anxieties acquire, if only briefly, a lightness, a rightness, a meaning. So as long as anxiety is merely something to be alleviated, it is not life, or we are not alive enough to experience it as such.”
So you can imagine the excitement and anticipation that I have about our collaboration with First Congregational Church, Berkeley, to be hosting Christian Wiman this weekend. I cannot encourage you enough to take part in one of the two events.
On Friday evening, at 7:30p, at First Congregational, he will be in conversation with the Marvin K. White, First Church’s Public Theologian in Residence. And then on Saturday morning, at 10:30a at All Souls, he will be in conversation with poet Nate Klug.
I commend both of these conversations to one and all, different as they will likely be. In any case, I hope that you will be able to take part in this opportunity to hear someone who has encountered and endured the Abyss, and given us words to light the way.
From the Justice and Peace Team
A Call to Accompany
Last week All Souls welcomed a new guest as part of our Parish House Accompaniment Project, which we began nearly three years ago to provide short-term emergency housing to recently released immigrant or refugee detainees.
E. (I will not use his full name due to confidentiality needs) arrived in the US last spring and immediately requested asylum. After being interrogated for many hours, he was sent directly to the West County Detention Center, where he was incarcerated for 9 months without access to a lawyer. Due to the perseverance and generosity of Rev. Deborah Lee (Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity) and members of a church in Oakland, E. was finally released on bond from the detention center last week and we were able to welcome him to our Parish House.
Since arriving, E. has received meals and fellowship from All Souls’ volunteers, who are part of the Parish House Accompaniment Project. He will stay in the Parish House for the next two weeks, and then, hopefully, move into long-term housing.
Rev. Lee asked if All Souls might be interested in forming a team – made up of 3 volunteers – to provide long-term accompaniment for E. on his asylum journey.
Members of E’s team would meet frequently with him to help advocate for or research services in the area that can meet his needs. This might include offering support with finding housing, assistance with enrolling in health care coverage, accompaniment to appointments and court appearances, providing transportation to food banks, helping secure a driver’s license, and offering other forms of hospitality and connection.
Ideally, members of the All Souls team would work in partnership with several members of the church in Oakland that was involved in securing E’s release, so there is a wonderful opportunity here for an interfaith collaboration. Miriam Noriega, from Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, has offered to lead a 2-hour orientation and training for members of the team, which we would hold at All Souls, ideally in the next week or two.
Members of the Justice and Peace Ministry have been contemplating additional steps that we might take to respond as Christians and as a faith community to the immigrant/refugee crisis that is facing our nation. Every day, more than 800 people are being deported, and many are returning to the violent contexts that they fled. We were thinking about sending out a survey to solicit ideas from All Souls members, but God had other plans for us! We are now presented with an opportunity to respond to this very real and immediate need to provide E. with a sustained form of accompaniment.
If you are interested in being a member of E’s accompaniment team, please call or email me.
Here are some of the books we’ve been enjoying lately – ones are shaping our thinking and influencing the ways we’re moving in the world, or that are just plain good. What would you add to the list? Share on our Facebook page or group!
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I’m currently reading this, and am finding it to be a fun and profound experience. Saunders’ articulation of tenderness is in moments unlike anything else I have read and can only be described as deeply good.
An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight
First, see my article above. I’m reading this book with my rector study group and am invigorated by McKnight, Brueggemann and Block’s radical notion of neighborliness.
Here If You Need Me: A True Story, by Kate Braestrup
Kate is seemingly fearless in her offer of amazing and grisly stories, and in her ability to find tenderness and even humor in the midst of real pain. She offers her story of working as chaplain to the Maine Warden Service, and for me, she shed new light onto what it means to show up for another.
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch
MacCulloch, who previously authored the award-winning The Reformation, offers a rich intellectual, social, and political history of a religion that has left an indelible mark on societies and cultures across the globe.
Light & fun: The Matchmaker of Périgord, by Julia Stuart
A barber’s aging (and balding) clientele no longer need his services, so he turns his talents to a new venture: trying to romantically link the lonely citizens of his tiny French village together. I really enjoyed the comedy of errors that occurred as the characters all go through their own journeys of realizing how lonely they are, and then how many friends they actually have.
Deep & heavy: Geography of Grace, by Kris Rocke & Joel Van Dyke
This book uses some of the most skipped-over and disturbing stories from the Bible to explore God’s love for the most marginalized people of society. I was made terribly uncomfortable and challenged by the depth of my own wounds and those of the world, but I was also shown how grace pools up deepest in the lowest parts of our lives.
Juliet, by Anne Fortier
This book connects the story of Romeo and Juliet with a young woman in the 21st century. I’m enjoying experiencing Romeo and Juliet in a new light and the similes Fortier uses.
Bishop Marc to the Beloved Community
Protecting the vulnerable from gun violence is our responsibility
Dear friends in Christ,
I am writing to voice my objection, from a faith-rooted base, to the President’s proposal to arm teachers in our public schools. The President’s proposal both backs violence in our society and amplifies it. As a Christian, I believe in the power of love and nonviolence. Any move that seeks to end violence by violent means is both a rejection of the power of love and a mistake that will end by undermining the very thing it purports to address.
The President’s proposal to arm teachers also is asking them to oppose their vocation of nurture and learning. While teachers and students acted with great presence of mind and courage to protect others in the recent mass shooting in Florida, it does not follow that the next step is to arm other teachers to meet attacks in other schools. It is no more the teachers’ responsibility to physically protect the students than it is their responsibility to parent the children in their care – they are educators, and that is more than enough.
Rather, it is our responsibility to protect the vulnerable in our society. Further, we must do so not by violent means, but means that reveal our own commitment to life. Thus, the first step in protecting our children should be comprehensive gun control. The list of points put forward by the students in Florida and elsewhere is sensible and sufficient for a start:
• A ban on assault weapons
• Better background checks
• No bump stocks
These recommendations are contained, for instance, in the powerful letter from a 12-year old girl that was passed on to me by a friend of her family. The text of the letter is pasted below. Please read it.
Time for local action on gun control
Published in the Stow and Bolton Independent (Massachusetts)
February 28, 2018
I am writing in support of the students of Parkland High School. When it comes to the victims of shootings, the time for thoughts and prayers is up. It is time for action. While students are taking action, only lawmakers can take the necessary steps to reduce these tragedies.
We are not asking for a ban on all guns. We are asking for sensible gun control: 1) a ban on assault weapons; 2) better background checks; 3) and no bump stocks. Ninety-seven percent of the American public is in favor of these measures.
Whether or not you have been personally touched by these tragedies, do not fool yourself into thinking it is not a local issue. Some of my friends (seventh graders) have been asking to be home-schooled out of their fear of a school shooting in Bolton. This should not be a reality that children my age, or any age for that matter, carry into their classrooms.
I urge you to participate in efforts to reduce these school shootings however you can — march in Boston on March 24, and/or vote for people who will enforce stronger gun control. Doing nothing, at this rate, will result in over one hundred school shootings by year’s end.
Parker School, Grade 7
TOMORROW AND SATURDAY!
Poet and Essayist Christian Wiman
It’s here! Christian Wiman will be here night in conversation with poet and theologian Marvin White at First Congregational Church (you can buy tickets online here). Saturday morning at 10:30a, he’ll be with us here in the sanctuary All Souls in conversation with poet and UCC minister Nate Klug. Come one, come all, and bring your friends!
Change Your Clocks
Daylight Saving Time – this Sunday!
Preaching to empty pews really lacks this certain je ne sais quoi, you know? Maybe most of your clocks change automatically by now. But at any rate, make note! Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday, March 11th.
SKILLS YOU NEED
We all work with groups; in our families, in school, at work, as volunteers, in church. This three-part course will explore what inspires us as leaders along with: tools for how to assess the way our particular group is functioning (March 18); some of the group dynamics that make shared efforts fruitful—or not (April 15); and honing some of our own facilitation skills (May 20th). Each workshop in the Parish Hall offers lunch and a spiritual reflection at 1:00 pm followed by learning about two different tools on the topic of the day. Workshops end at 3:30 and are being led by All Soulsians who are being or have been trained at the College for Congregational Development. Attending all three sessions is ideal, but each class is meant to stand on its own as well. Childcare is provided. Register online here.
COMING UP IN ADULT FORMATION
March 18th is another Rest & Reflection. This time we’ll focus on what’s to come in Holy Week. The conversation will help us think about our journey through Holy Week—the services and actions we take and what they mean for us. Join us if you’re new to the church or if the motions of this season have lost their meaning for you.
Continuing the Feast
On March 25, Palm Sunday, is a Continuing the Feast potluck brunch. Join us between the 9 & 11:15 services in the Parish Hall and bring some brunch type foods to share!
SUMMER BOOK NOMINATIONS
Nominate a book for our parish-wide summer book group! Find the nomination slips and the jar on the Cedar side counter in the Narthex, and in the chapel (for the 7:30 service goers), or online here.
ALL SOULS KICKBALL
Kickball is about to start up again this spring (the season begins the first weekend of April). Games are on Friday evenings starting at 7p for 6-8 weeks, depending on weather delays and such. We’ve got two victories under our belts and are looking for a few more this season, so come join us (or just come watch in the stands and cheer us on)! See David Gutfeld for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.