Archive - Feb 2017

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February 19th

Virgin Mary Crushing a Snake

In Orthodox iconography
we often see
the bare foot
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
crushing a snake.

It is a symbol
of her victory over evil
her willingness
to be a servant
of compassion.

In recent years
the snake has been co-opted
in alt-right iconography,
a symbol of defiance
and fierce independence
leaving little room
for servanthood
to compassion.

Don’t tread on me, Mother Mary.

February 18th

A Meta Narrative on Sensitivity

According to the Pew Research Center, President Trump has the highest rating among Republicans during the first month of his presidency since Ronald Reagan. He also has the lowest rating among Democrats and overall. What are we to make of this?

A starting point is that the problem is much bigger than President Trump. I saw an interesting discussion which may shed some light on this in a Facebook writers group. Someone posted to the group about an article in the Chicago Tribune, Publishers are hiring 'sensitivity readers' to flag potentially offensive content.

The post has now gotten ninety five comments ranging from “I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous.” and “Hmm, next, ban drama since it may cause negative emotional reactions” to “It's just another type of editing, I don't see anything to get up in arms about” and “This sounds like a great idea. It'll hopefully stop authors accidentally writing very offensive things”.

Others talk about losing the scare quotes and “sensitivity writer” and about how when people see the word “sensitivity” they get all up in arms. Another person noted, “Sensitive to sensitivity as a concept. It's totally meta, man”.

Where does this backlash against sensitivity and political correctness come in? My academic friends may see this as a reaction to emerging counter-narratives and my friends interested in issues of diversity and justice, may think of the quote “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. Yet I’m not sure that helps us find any sort of middle ground, and others suggest that there can be no middle ground with evil or oppression.

I think the blog post by Bishop Doug Fisher puts it into a good context, Desiring a Christ-Centered Life, Not a Trump-Centered Life

“Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” With God’s help, we can do that.

February 12th

Silent Retreat - Initial Reflections

It is Sunday morning. I am sitting at home watching the snow come down and the smoke from the incense ascend. I was supposed to still be at the silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery but it was decided that for safety sake, with the coming storm, everyone would head home Saturday evening. Some people left in the afternoon. Others left right after dinner. I was the only member of the group that stayed for compline. The service had a different feel with it being mostly just the monks.

It was a wonderful retreat and although I was disappointed that it had to be cut short because of the weather, I am looking forward to another retreat there.

I drove up Friday morning, leaving myself lots of extra time. I found quiet roads along the Hudson to drive along and a park to stop and watch the birds and animals. I arrived early and settled in. Since it was my first time there, I was shown around and given a sense of the rhythm of the day.

Instead of room numbers, the rooms are named after saints. I was staying in St. Thomas. The accommodations were sparse and simple but comfortable and comforting. I sat at my desk, looked out over the Hudson River, and read. I had not yet received the book we were reading for the retreat, so I spent time reading God’s Lovers in an Age of Anxiety by Joan Nuth. It is for a class I’m taking on English Spirituality and Mysticism. It provided a good backdrop for the weekend.

The first official event of the retreat was Vespers. The monks sat in the front and the guests sat in the back. I thought about my trip to Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky many years ago, when I got to sit in the choir with the monks. If I had been Roman Catholic and better understood the monastic way, I could easily have become a Trappist. If I had a better understanding of monasticism and had visited Holy Cross Monastery those many years ago, I could easily have become a monk there. As I thought about the class I was taking and the setting of the monastery, I wondered about the role of the mystic, the monk, the hermit in contemporary society.

After Vespers came dinner. The food was also simple, good, and nourishing. After the meal we met briefly to talk about the agenda for the retreat. There would be meditations throughout the weekend based on Rowan Williams book, Being Disciples. We were encouraged to go to as many services as possible. We went to Compline and entered into silence.

I typically try to sleep from nine in the evening until five in the morning, but somehow, after compline and some reading, I managed to lose an hour and the clock on the bed stand said it was ten, so I went quickly off to bed.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to find the room filled with a bright light. Was the light some sort of message? Some sort of metaphor? I got up and looked out the window. There was a barge heading down the river shining a giant spotlight on the shore. I wrote in my journal about it. There are probably some good writing ideas somewhere in there.

Saturday morning, I rolled over and saw that the clock said s five thirty in the morning. I had slept later than I had planned, but it was okay since I had gone to bed later than I had planned. I got up and started preparing for the day. I showered and dressed, discovering that I had forgotten my deodorant.

I had put my phone in airplane mode. I turned it on to see if there were any important messages from the evening. There were none. I noticed that my phone said it was only five twenty, and hour earlier than the clock on the bed stand. I figured that something must have gone wrong with my phone and I set it to six twenty, but then the phone set itself back to five twenty. I’ve seen this happen before when I’ve been traveling in areas with poor cellphone coverage, so I assumed that this was the case.

I went down stairs to sit, read, and wait for Matins. It was quiet and dark. No one else seemed to be stirring. I walked over to the clock next to the refectory and found that it said it was now five forty. Twenty minutes had passed and it seemed my phone was agreeing with this clock, and not the clock in my room. It finally occurred to me that the clock in my room was an hour a head, perhaps it had never been set back when we moved to standard time.

After services and breakfast, during a time of silence in one of the rooms, the guest master and retreat leader came into the room and said they needed to break silence. I left the room and wondered what it was. We had agreed that there would be no politics discussed on the retreat and most people had decided to keep away from sources of news. I had figured that if anything really important happened, I would hear about it, and I wondered if that was what the guest master and retreat leader were talking about.

Later, I found out. Predictions of the coming ice storm had been revised. It would be worse than expected and the guests were encouraged to head home Saturday evening. Perhaps there was another metaphor or message there.

Now, I am home. I’ve lit some incense I brought home from the retreat. I have spoken with my wife and daughter a little bit about the retreat, and I have written these notes. There were plenty of important insights and conversations on the retreat, but I’ll save them for a different time and place. Now, I’ll post this respond to messages that have come in over the weekend, and prepare for the coming week.

(Categories: )

February 7th

A letter to @senmurphyoffice concerning @senatorsessions

Dear Senator Murphy:

I write to you today to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens shout not be elevated to the office of U.S. Attorney General. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For his reprehensible conduct he should not be rewarded with the position as U.S. Attorney General.

I regret that I cannot come testify in person against this nominee. However, I ask that the statement by Coretta Scott King, whose letter of March 19, 1986 is the basis for this letter, be made part of the hearing record.

I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions and speak up against efforts to abridge the freedom of speech or the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Sincerely,
Aldon Hynes
Woodbridge, CT

February 5th

Via Media, Refugees, and The Way of The Cross

The recent Executive Order barring refugees from Syria and certain other Muslim countries has stirred up many reactions across the country, including two responses from the Episcopal Bishops in Connecticut. On January, 30 they shared a Bishops' Letter regarding Refugees which said, among other things, “We cannot be idle as this Executive Order threatens to undermine the values that we stand for as Americans, as Christians, as Episcopalians in Connecticut.”

A few days later, they wrote another letter, Follow-up on Bishops' Letter Regarding Refugees which included, “We have received a substantial amount of communication in response to our letter of January 30. In fact, we have received more reaction to this letter than to any other letter sent by us in the last five years.”

The response felt to me like a capitulation to those who put fear over faith but I suspect it was intended more as a response out of the Episcopal tradition of “via media” or “middle way”. It made me think of The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers Facebook post on inauguration day. I have repeatedly shared this post because I believe it is very important. In it she writes,

Remember that, every time we host or interact with President Trump or any other elected official, we do so first and foremost as representatives of our crucified, resurrected Lord.

As a communications professional, I really like this. When confronting thorny issues in communications it is always wise to return to the mission statement. Representing our crucified and resurrected Lord is a pretty good way of putting it. In the Book of Common Prayer, we describe the mission of the church saying, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ.”

I believe the intention of the second bishop’s letter was along these lines, but was that really the fruition? I am less sure. Instead,it sounds a little like a letter from the Laodicea church, neither hot nor cold.

The second bishops’ letter goes on to say, “Many of the responses, both in favor and against our letter, noted that we neglected to mention the need for our country’s borders to be protected from international threats of terrorism.” This is an important point, but it falls very close to promoting dangerous misunderstandings about the nature of security. The bishops’ letter talks about the responses being almost evenly split. Yet we must remember, the via media is not a plebiscite, it is an attempt to discern God’s will for us by listening to all sides.

So, what can we say about our safety? First, I will refer to the STATEMENT BY SENATORS McCAIN & GRAHAM ON EXECUTIVE ORDER ON IMMIGRATION. They start off by acknowledging the safety issue: “Our government has a responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”

They then reject the premise that the Executive Order improves safety:

Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.

Yet there is a deeper issue. Ultimately, our safety comes from the Lord. What makes us safe is doing God’s will, even if it requires us to do something as unpopular and perhaps even as unsafe as taking up our cross to love our neighbor, including those neighbors who are fleeing war in Syria.