land of rest

Land of Rest is a blog of Peter Jenks. Poems, quotes and photos are by Peter Jenks (unless otherwise noted or I miss noting an older post's photo) and are copyrighted, you are free to use these if you acknowledge their source.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Politics and Prayers

Politics and Prayer     by Peter Jenks

Over the years I have prayed for a number of Presidents.  Sometimes, I have voted for them, sometimes I have agreed with them, sometimes I have even been inspired by their words and actions.  But whatever the case, I have come to know that it is very important that we hold people in our prayers, from our President, to our next door neighbor.
One of the effects of prayer is that it keeps me from diving into the race-to-the-bottom in disgust, cynicism and hatred. There are times to protest, times to write letters, and even times to ignore all that might consume the news cycle; but by keeping our leaders in prayer, I have found that I am able to maintain a respect for the office as well as my own dignity. Over the last thirty years or so, I have come to see a growing hatred and dehumanizing of leaders, if they are not in one’s own party or group.  The need for prayer is what keeps me from holding a political view above a relationship and the common good.

Having a place, designated for prayer, a holy shrine or temple where one can be still and a community can gather is an essential element of our common humanity. Just as the act of prayer keeps us from sinking into a less civil state, so, too, is the presence of holy places important in our communities as beacons to keep communities from sliding too quickly into social ruin. Even if we are far away, knowing that such a place is there keeps us connected and grounded with the knowledge that the distance that separates us is even a part of the holy ground. These places are a civic reminder of a higher calling, of God’s continued presence in our midst.

We religiously care for our health and hygiene; we religiously follow the news and our sports teams; we religiously note prices, deals and sales that might benefit us; we religiously remember our family and friends, how and what they are doing. Somehow in the course of our recent history we equate religiously caring for our spiritual well being, especially our collective common good, as being a burden. When in fact the care and commitment to our soul and our commitment to care for the soul of our community is the lode stone that ties all else together. The problems in Washington begin with us, with our prayers, with our personal commitments to the common good. The shortcomings in care given by the government or business begins with our own care and giving within our communities.
The hour of devotion, the effort to sing praise, the simple “thank you” in the check out line, and the gesture to let the car in who is waiting to turn are the seeds that grow into the trees that define our life. Hearing in the Scripture a spark that connects with our life, or joining in a prayer that has been prayed for hundreds of years, connects our lives with a noble past, with a heritage of hope that has faced deeper fears perhaps than we do now. It is why we gather to pray, why we listen again to the holy stories of our life, and how we discover how important we are as a part of God’s plan and story.

Coming about and staying on course

Coming about and staying on course

by the Rev. Peter Jenks        November 2016

With the end to the election season, I find myself tired of the mighty winds of distraction, change, and urgent calls to respond. I need to take a breath and clear my head of the unprecedented activities of the election. Generally speaking, I am overwhelmed with all the changes in the world and our common life as a whole.  What is the new gadget, or way to communicate, what is the crisis somewhere in the world that demands our attention, or the injustice that calls for our response? As one who grew up sailing, I know that winds will always change and will sometimes be extremely dangerous.  But the destination, the aim of the journey always remains the same.  The winds may cause me to tack more, re-adjust my sails, perhaps take a longer than expected course, or to find safe shelter until they pass; but the destination remains the same.  The skipper needs to keep the goal in mind and not let occasional tacks become new journeys.  

As with healthcare, the economy, education, technology, the environment and just about everything else, religion is also being battered by enormous changes and challenges. These challenges and changes do not in any way change our purpose, mission or goal. Parishes may come and go, denominations rise and fall, but the call of God on our lives remains the same.  We are to respond to the eternal and ever present love of God, that was and always will be, by loving God back with all we are and can be, and have ever been.   With the shift from the election and the pause before the Christmas drama, it is a good time to be still, like leaving a loud room and suddenly finding oneself in a quiet corner outside somewhere. Let us strive to enter into the rest.  It is a holy place and sacred work to be still in the rest provided by God. To constantly jump into the next task and to keep busy, to continue to be occupied by news and noise will only harden our hearts.  It is a rebellious act to always seek to do and to be constantly connected to everything that is going on in the world. One aspect of the Church is the building that waits patiently beside the road as people pass it by day in and day out, reminding us of the still heart, the altar where God waits, the return of peace and in the stillness to hear the silence of God within our heartbeat. Being able to stop for a moment is important, like the break in a great novel between chapters when one can put the book down and get another cup of tea and reflect for a moment on the drama that was just told.

In Thomaston we have been forced to slow down, and often stop for long periods of time while they rebuild Route One through town this last Summer and Fall. In our parish we are coming up this January through April with a time of Sabbatical break when we pause in our ongoing faith to change chapters.  We are arriving at our 150th year, a good time to reflect.  Tony Antolini’s reflections this month is a great moment of such reflection. It is also a time for each of us to remember our own journey of faith, our own story unfolding through the years, and in such reflection discover that in doing so we are able to then embrace a deep and abiding sense of thanksgiving. 

Untying our differences


by the Rev. Peter Jenks

 Without a doubt we are living in a most divided time. People seem to be on one side or another of almost any issue. From politics to sports, geography, religion or opinion, on any given subject, even in areas of life where we might have once agreed, we are now divided.

             But one thing I have discovered over the many years of being a parish priest is that everybody has a story, everybody has some baggage, and everyone has some sort of an exception to any label that might be attributed to them.  Also, living in an area where there are many retired people, I have found that one can never tell what someone once accomplished, where someone might have worked, or where someone might have lived, and most of all whom someone might know. The old saying that there is only seven degrees of separation between any two people often feels over stated.

Personally, I have lived in the South, Southwest, Upper Midwest and East Coasts of the United States. My experiences in these places have helped me to understand that if I don’t like people in one place, then I probably won’t like them in the next.  Some things, like using duct tape, are universal in all groups of people. Though there are regional differences in cuisine, manners, history and climate we all have a basic set of outlooks that overlap.  But nonetheless, we find it easy to label and assume things about others.  Whether they be Yankee fans, evangelicals, millennials or baby boomers, liberals, conservatives, gays, straight or some other ethnicity, it is easy to make grand sweeping generalizations. The news media and social media have especially used this to their financial gain. Linking like minded people together on Facebook and feeding them tidbits of information that they might like with advertising is very lucrative and effective.  The  news of the Russian influence in our recent election has exposed how all of us can be swayed and led on by a story on Facebook or Twitter, especially if it something that reinforces our stereotypes.  News programs slant their stories oftentimes to a perspective that will support many of their viewers already established opinions and leave out stories that might not fit such a world view.

The importance of faith, the urgent need for an engaged religion now is critical if we are to find a way beyond our social enclaves of limited perception. A religion that challenges us rather than simply consoling us can be the hope and framework for deep and profound growth in our lives. God seems to be opening up relationships never before imagined, as witnessed by a much more open and fluid relationship between denominations and even different religions. Faith and a religious discipline are what can lead our prayers from platitudes into the life changing and profound journeys of transformation. True prayer will cause us to be changed, to be affected by others, to think differently and to see issues from a much larger perspective. Gathering at church leads us to sit and pray with people who might differ with us in very fundamental ways, and in doing so we discover deep connections of possibility and appreciation.

Being cynical, critical and disbelieving is easy in an age when so many images and information can be manipulated and so much power and money is involved. But holding on to the tiller linked to a rudder of deep connection to something much larger than whatever crisis or distraction washes over us is important. Being able to hear something different, be surprised by the nuances in someone else’s story, or fascinated by the ability of others to adapt and persevere is a result of religiously living one’s life for a larger world than our own needs.

Serving at St. John’s has always been a privilege of wonder. I can never assume or really guess how people here will respond to any given circumstance.  I can always be surprised by what Sunday is full of people and when most people are gone, or who will volunteer for something, or who will stand in support of someone in need. In an age of division, I am exceptionally thankful for the subtle humor of God upending my presuppositions. In a time when the tide seems to lead people away from church with great gadgets and endless activities, it is the act of religion and and experience of faith that we need most to help us from becoming lost in our ever decreasing little worlds of limited interest and antagonistic division.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The "ME TOO" hashtag

The "Me Too" hashtag

The recent revelations about men with power abusing and mistreating women has been a remarkable movement in our society.  A change is happening, and it is profound.  The assumptions of power are crumbling.  The old rock myth of rampant sex and groupies, the casting couch of the movie industry, the uncontrolled behavior of men in power over vulnerable women has been a part of every aspect of our society. And now we are beginning to address a long overdue summons towards justice.

I have been following the news of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and others with interest. There seems to be a general unfolding of past actions being revealed and women, who have been dismissed and degraded, are finally being heard. There is something larger going on, it is a deeper understanding of relationships, a more open awareness of power, sexuality, gender, personhood, and how we relate. The thread of connection, stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions can be followed all the way back to Adam and Eve and how we understand their story.

All of this news has been a wonderful and engaging exercise in meditation, reflection and soul searching. Intellectually, I have been grasping the implications of the news, and have been surprised that people are surprised that women were being victimized in the movie industry and in the workplace.  But I was unprepared for the "Me Too" hashtag campaign.  When two women in my life whom I have known since childhood added their "Me Too" to the list I was no longer working on an intellectual level.  I was angry.  From my primordial self I was reacting.  These girls are precious to me, I have a deep care, love and protective core in my being and I was angry at anyone who would treat them in any way inappropriate.  I was not surprised. They are both accomplished and beautiful women. But it still hit me hard at an emotional level.

When I mentioned this to the yoga teacher, who offers classes at the church, she shared her stories of abuse with me. And then when I discussed this with my wife, she, too, added her stories.  It is hard. I am in no way surprised intellectually, but the uncovering of what has been evident all along was thrown off the bed of my denial or diversions.

None of this happened to me.  I cannot imagine how I would respond if it ever did happen to me. Being that these things have happened to people closest to me and with whom I am very much in love, makes my deeply sad. I want to protect, I want to be there for these people, but I wasn't able to be.  It is much larger than me, I know.  But there is a need to feel such at this deep and personal level. 

The problem is a male issue inflicted upon women.  We, as men, need to reassess our roles, our expectations, our relational identities in profoundly new ways.  It is the same with regards to racism, which is inflicted upon minorities such as blacks, by the majority white population. It is a white problem, inflicted upon the minority mostly black population.

The problem is not one I can fix. Knowing it, feeling it, and deeply being with it takes a commitment of time, effort, intellect, and repentance. The work is what will help to make me free. The bondages of blessings that have blinded me for so long and crippled me from running the race that has been set before me have seemed normal, and I have never wanted to give them up. Will I rise with the courage to act, to be, and to be redefined from the DNA of my social upbringing? 

When a blind person gains sight, everything that was known in the mind of blindness is redefined. Can I understand my own blindness, when I have assumed I was seeing?  What I have been seeing, understanding, and living have all been clouded with the fog of privilege.

It is one thing to march for the right to vote, to break down barriers of discrimination, to overturn painful injustice. It is another thing to release the hold of control and power that has benefited from such, and to step down from centuries that have defined my gender.

The dreams of accomplishment and achievement that I always pursued and hoped for as I grew up never materialized. I have spent my life as a white male in a time of redistribution. There is no map, no role models, no heroes to follow - only the "Me Too" of those I love most that leads me on, along with a one year old granddaughter and another one on the way, to look me in the eyes with a love that illuminates everything with a new light from their eyes that reveals a new world.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Making the changes to keep on going

It is interesting to me that there is great excitement and anticipation when I am getting a new phone or tablet, or computer of some sort.  I look forward to it and expect great things from it, but when it comes I soon realize that it is still just a phone, or a computer or whatever and what am I going to do with it is still the question.  The machine is exciting, it offers me great opportunities, yet I need to take the opportunity, and not just hope that the machine will somehow make everything different.

This last year has been a time of change, the radio show I have been doing for the last five years has faded out, the blog seemed to lose its steam, and I seemed to be simply stumbling into my sabbatical.

It is important to have a time to reevaluate, to reflect, to renew and think.  Like a coaching staff at halftime in a football game, it is good to reevaluate what is working and what is not and find ways to adapt.

I am in one of those times.

It is nice to be back in a place where I can think again.  I have many people to thank.

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