Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Light Night

I thought I should update you all on some of my activities here in Liverpool. Last Friday I helped the cathedral celebrate LightNight which is a one-night free arts and culture celebration across the city. Venues take advantage of the long days, the sun now sets between 9:30-10 as opposed to 4-4:30 in winter, to celebrate..well...light. The main space of the cathedral featured performances of many choirs to start off the night before a DJ and light show start and went till late in the night.

The Lady Chapel featured an icon of Christ surrounded by loads of candles, incense, which the cathedral does not typically use in services, this cool soundtrack, and places for people to light their own candles. There was also sung compline every hour which people could participate in if they wanted but mainly space became a sort of respite from the loud music of the main space. Many were drawn into the beautiful way the icon was presented on simmering blue and orange cloth in the haze of incense, below the beautiful blue stained glass windows of the Lady Chapel. Many took pictures of the altar and spent a long time just looking at it.

The use of the space could have offended either the religious, as the high altar of the cathedral did become a sort of backdrop for a dance party, and I did at one point have to protect the Paschal candle from the overflow of dancers but the more secular audience could also have been offended as compline was never announced it sort of just happened and one could have felt slightly trapped in a religious service by social convention. Yet, the magic of the night was that things just flowed into one another. Space was made for a convergence of religion and secular. The cathedral showed it's commitment to being a space for all people. A people's cathedral, not something above the city but connected to it. I don't know that I can come close to conveying how important I think that is here and in other places but I hope it continues.  

If you would like to see some of my videos of LightNight you check them out on my Instagram here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lenten Let Down

On Maundy Thursday while gathered in the Nave (often called the Well) of the Cathedral a woman walking down the stairs slipped and came to meet her friends on to the hard unforgiving stone floor. People closest to her helped her up and into a chair and verger went to fetch her a glass of water, upon his return, he almost fell on the same steps. While all this was happening parishioners should have been focused on the reading from what I think was the Gospel of John but to be honest I can't recall which of the Gospels or what was read. Instead, I was distracted by the commotion and thinking, "this is exactly how all of Lent has gone."

Lent and Holy Week are probably my favorite time in the church. Some may find this to be odd, or to be some sort of spiritual masochism but I find that during Lent we can truly dig deep to find how to enact God's will in our lives and the world. Except for this Lent. This Lent has flown by and I feel I haven't had a chance to catch up to what I was supposed to be doing. I attempted not to eat out for the entirety of lent and to spend at least 2 days meat free, that didn't last and I feel just somehow lacking. This is not some failing of the church here in Liverpool, I am provided with numerous opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal, prayer and study. My job is no more taxing than any other I have had and even less than when I was in graduate school. Also, I probably have more pastoral support available to me than any other time in my life. In my row of houses there are at least 3 vicars and at 3 or 4 down another row. My normal Lenten experience just didn't happen. 

I don't know if this is necessarily even a bad thing. It may be that I will experience another festival or season in the church in a way that I never have before. Pentecost may bring with it some revelation or spiritual deepening. It may also be that this year's spiritual growth is slower moving and yet to take a form I recognize yet and only in reflection can it be found. 

Mostly though I want to let you know that if your Lent has not gone the way you expected however that happened for you. It's ok, let's just see what comes next. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Are You A Thief?

I have been thinking a lot about minimalism lately. Partly because I watched this documentary about it on Netflix, partly because I read this article about a woman who didn't buy anything for a year, partly because I have been reading about the Desert Fathers and Orthodox Christianity and lastly because...well...wasn't Jesus a minimalist? And didn't he ask us to be minimalist too? Still trying to work this out this last one.
I know for a lot of people the term minimalism brings about ideas of living with 100 things or having to give up every possession you hold dear to you. But I have found that there are at least some minimalist bloggers who are talking about something very different than living without anything or extremely little to your name. Joshua Beck calls it "Rational Minimalism" which he describes as "the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it." In other words, only owning your favorite things. That's a least the basis behind the 3/33 challenge, where for 3 months you can only wear 33 items of clothing and accessories (there are some exceptions, like underwear; for more info follow the link). And if you only own your favorite things then maybe you have freed up more...time? space? money? A head that's not chocka? 
Perhaps this speaks to you, and perhaps not: but as I went through my wardrobe here in Liverpool, even I found a few items that could go. And this despite having only brought two suitcases worth of stuff with me. I also stumbled across this quote from St. Basil while I was looking for inspiration for Lent this year:
“When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not – should he not be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.”
And because I was already thinking about minimalism and excessive consumption, a quote from a Doctor of the Church condemning the over-consumption and storing up of clothes, food, & money helped push me over the edge of my unease about riding myself of excess. So I have decided to first give up eating out for Lent. (I'll admit I have already slid a little on this one because our new roommate had moved in. Emily and I thought it was a hospitable and welcoming thing to go out for new roommate dinner and a movie.) But I have also been slowly going through some of my belongings in the house and asking some questions
1   How does it bring glory to God in my life?
2   What is its utility? 
3   Is there something I already own that serves this purpose? 
4   Is this one my favorite?
5   Does it bring me joy?
An example for you: I packed 4 beanie style hats with me to Liverpool because I assumed, and rightly so, that England is more consistently cold than Texas and Oklahoma. The problem is I only wear one. My favorite one. I even put off washing it till I am sure I have enough time to dry it before I need to wear it again. The only time I have touched the other three is to move them because they're in the way of something I am trying to get to. I am afraid I might be a thief.
Now I think it has to be said that there is an enormous privilege in choosing to consume less in our current culture. Many people do not get to choose to own very many if any of their favorite things. It could also be said that those who are able to have a duty and an obligation to consume more, for by doing so they provide jobs to others who would not otherwise have them. I am reluctant to believe this is true because it feels like trickle down economics to me. I do not see many people in my communities earning a living wage because of excessive consumption practices. Instead, I see a lot of human toil for little money in my country, excessive human and wage exploitation in other countries, and huge environmental impacts across the globe all to provide cheap goods to an insulated public. 
Some of us do not have a choice in where or what we can consume but for those of us who do I think it is time to reevaluate what and how much we truly need. Are you a thief? I am willing to say I might be.

Friday, December 2, 2016


I have spent a good chunk of my time here entering data. Now you might think that sounds boring and I'll admit it's not the first thing a long to do at work but it has to be done. I enter in data about the guests who come to the food bank. Name, address, DOB, country of origin, number and age of children, asylum or refugee status, etc.

I see them when I work at the food bank too. I usually greet them and then check their names in our system to see if they've been before. We muddle through the questions needed for my database even though I only speak English fluently and perhaps they only speak Arabic, or Farsi, or French, or Lingala, or Swahili, or Pashto, or Dari, or Kurdish, oh but not the Kurdish that our volunteer speaks another type of Kurdish. I could learn 15 different languages and I would still have problems communicating with some. 

I try to show something to a guest in her language, she mutters to Akbar. "No good." says, Akbar. "Why?" I ask. "She from the country area, ya know? She never learned to read." 

You might think the face to face interactions like that would be the hardest but they're not. There is a person in front of you, they do not have time for you to become emotionally overwhelmed by their position in life. They need you to get on with it. It's inputting data that I feel the weight of them. Perhaps because I can consider them more in that space. 

The woman from earlier: 28, 1 adult 3 children under 10, Afghanistan.

When I enter in people with my birth year I think about them the most. I volunteered to leave my homeland, family, and friends to come here. Someday I will get to go home. She must have been driven out. Why else would you leave with 3 children under 10 and travel over 8,000 km? Partly on foot but maybe they were smuggled at certain points. She will probably never be able to go back.

 I think a lot about how different our lives are and I wonder if I would be able to live her life.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thanksgiving Is The New Bonfire

"Remember Remember!
The Fifth of November.
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!"
Ah, Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night, Firework Night, or Pope Night, whatever you want to call it, did not resurface in the U.S. imagining in any great number until the infamous movie V for Vendetta. If you haven't seen V for Vendetta or don't remember it, it's a good film about a dystopian England where a masked man, who some call a terrorist and others call a hero, works to blow up Parliament on the fifth of November fulfilling what is earlier predecessor Guy Fawkes failed to do in 1605. From the movie we (Americans) now have Guy Fawkes masks that the hacker group Anonymous and others protesting governments commonly wear. And lots of people post the above quote to Facebook to remind you of the day.

But Beyond "the Gunpowder plot and treason"  how much do you know about Bonfire Night? What about how it is commonly celebrated?  I ask because an American friend of mine in Liverpool recently made a comment about how uneasy she felt about celebrating Thanksgiving because of the genocide of the First Nation peoples by European Settlers, but was all about going to all the celebrations in town for Bonfire Night.

In case you are actually unfamiliar with the Gunpowder plot it was a failed attempt by Catholics to blow up the House of Lords, and with it King James the VI of Scottland and I of England. King James was a Protestant and the conspirators sought to replace him with a Catholic. Guy Fawkes was the guy caught guarding the gunpowder and was apprehended and tortured. To escape his state, hurled himself out of a window instead of enduring any longer at the hands of his captures and be hanged like the rest of his co-conspirators.

The following January, after the plot failed and right before the rest of the conspirators were killed, Parliament issued the Observance of the 5th of November Act, more commonly know as the "Thanksgiving Act." The "Thanksgiving Act" was proposed by Edward Montagu who was a Puritan. Puritans for a time sought to replace all liturgical holidays with either, days of fasting (humiliation) or days of thanksgiving. 

The observance of Bonfire Night is historically really troubling because it's...well...really anti-Catholic. The Puritans and others wrote sermons all about the dangers of Catholic belief. And besides burning effigies of Guy Fawkes himself, most included the burning of a Pope effigy as well. It was historically a day to intimidate Catholics and ridicule the Catholic faith. Some Catholics today find the celebration of Bonfire Night to be not only offensive but very hurtful given The Troubles and other conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

So where is the connection to the United States? 
"As the Commander in Cheif has been apprized of a design form'd for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the Pope-He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soliders in this army so void of common sense, as to not see the imporiety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are sociciting, and have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we consider Brethern embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the Liberty of America: at such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethern, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common enemy in Canada." Nov. 5th, 1775 The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Scources 1745-1799
So I suggest the possibility, that Washington and the other founding fathers may have needed to create a new national holiday for the country to be celebrated in November as a replacement for the long-standing tradition of Guy Fawkes Day. This new holiday would unite the nation and not be offensive to the new French Catholic allies of the nation. And they may have looked to the history of the pilgrims and puritans as the means of developing a holiday. In fact, many Thanksgivings (on various days) were celebrated during the Revolutionary War for matters besides the Plymouth Rock story. Only since FDR's presidency has the last Thursday in November been "Thanksgiving Day" until then various states and groups had Thanksgiving on different days. So perhaps a bigger problem of Thanksgiving as a national holiday is the erasure of the entire history of Thanksgiving, like the erasure of Black history and First Nations history. Maybe in reclaiming some of the history of Thanksgiving(s) we can work to create a celebration that is more to the spirit of inclusiveness that George Washington wanted in suppressing Bonfire Night in 1775.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Me Heads Chocka, La

I have been spending a lot of time recently talking, or talking about talking. Which may seem odd to you but there is that saying, "England and America are two nations divided by a common language." In another post, I may return to how much truth is in this quote, but for now, let's stick to language. 

Scouse to English dictionary is helpful

In Liverpool, there is a unique dialect/accent/slang that is found only in Merseyside region of England, mostly in Liverpool but found as far as Flintshire in Wales, Runcorn in Cheshire, and Skelmersdale in Lancashire called "scouse" and you may have heard of Liverpudlians referred to as "scousers." The term is derived from a type of delicious lamb or beef stew that was commonly eaten by sailors in Northern Europe, which became popular in seaports like Liverpool, called scouse (please click here for more information on scouse stew.

Scouse developed from the influence of Welsh and Irish speakers along with traders in the port from various countries. (Liverpool is home to the earliest Chinese and Black populations in the country.) 
To say scouse, the language, is a distinct accent is an extreme understatement, There are some scousers that I find impossible to understand and not just from the accent but from the number of slang terms used in scouse.

And that is where my friend, Korean Billy, has been a wonderful help to me.

ASDA, as you might have guessed, is British Wal-Mart

She's a good example, definitely, a scouser but not so thick you can't understand her

Scouse and scousers take an awful lot of flack for their dialect and growing up in Oklahoma and living in Texas I feel a connection to this. People who had a twang were and are still often thought to be less intelligent than others. And, because I grew up with so much southern slang, I really like learning scouse terms. So, I have started exchanging words with a few people, I try to teach them one new southern word or phrase like, "catawampus," and they teach me a scouse word or phrase, like, Me head's chocka" (I can't think straight, my head's busy) Which, in trying to understand scouse, is sometimes true.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On Hospitality

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2

It has been almost four weeks since I got to England and settled into the Tsedaqah House, a three story victorian style, next to the Liverpool Cathedral. The views are immense. Out my front door I can see the great cathedral building that I feel in awe of every day and to the back, I can see down to Albert Dock and the Mersey River.  The house itself is very cozy and Emily Bethany (a Canadian housemate) and I have done well to make it feel more like home.

You may have been caught off guard by that funny name for my house, Tsedaqah. A more common transliteration is "Tzedakah" (ze-DAH-ka) but nevertheless, its literal translation is "to do justice" but is more commonly associated with the Jewish concept of charity. Since I am neither a Jew or a scholar of the Jewish faith I don't think I can accurately explain what this concept means in Jewish faith but if you are interested I think this might be a safe place to start.But back to the story of my house, the house has four bedrooms and one room that is very small and more like an office? or maybe just a really large closet that will soon have a twin (or single as they say here) bed in it. Emily and I both sleep on the second floor with fairly large sized rooms. Bethany is on the third in a smaller room but it has an epic view of the docks and most importantly there is a large bedroom with an ensuite bathroom which serves as a guest room for various guests of the Liverpool Cathedral or Liverpool Diocese. (The small office/closet room will be available as well but so that if we have friends visit there is a room for them.

Being an innkeeper extraordinaire has been a cool experience so far. I have learned new skills like towel origami. I have so far mastered dogs and swans as pictured below:

But aside from my goofy and cheesy towel art, I have been considering what being hospitable means and how to engage in hospitality with those I do not know. How often have I invited someone to stay with me or eat with me who I did not know much about? These are scary things and in part, they are scary because as a society we are continually reminded of people who wish to do others harm in every true murder show (Dateline, First 48, Investigation Discovery) and local news report. While surely there are people like that in the world today, there were also people like that in the days of Jesus. I mean the Good Samaritan story is pretty graphic and yet the call is not to be hospitable to those you know. No, it's "do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers" or Romans 12:13 "Contribute to the needs of the Saints, extend hospitality to strangers." There are others but these are my favorite because they seem the most direct. 

If we, as Christians, hold to the idea that living our faith is what we are called to do, then we must also acknowledge that sometimes it will have to be a vulnerable and courageous thing to do. It will have to involve some personal risk, discomfort, and perhaps even rejection. I wish to see in myself and also in others more last minute invites to dinner, regardless of the "state of one's home." More "crappy dinner parties" but with a mix of those strong hold friends and those people, you wouldn't normally invite. Or maybe you just put out an invite on social media that you'll be having dinner and if people are interested in coming they should feel free. (There is a man studying to be a priest here who does this every week, oh and he has a family of 3 children. They fed 28 people last Monday) Find some goal of hospitality that works for you but work towards being more hospitable because there is so much joy in that.

I have not mastered the art of hospitality, I often think I have just begun even understand what it is but what a joy to learn something new. What a joy to experience all sorts of people God has sent and what a joy to be someone invited to the table.