Systems: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Chaos (Carrie Staab, SHH '13)

Those who know me well will know that I like systems, and those who have only recently gotten the pleasure (read that as sarcastic as you choose) of trying to live with me are starting to catch on to that fact. In my head, everything in this world, or at least my life, would have a set procedure, filing system, and index (alphabetized, of course). This may be what prompted my beautifully blunt housemate from last year to comment one evening that "Carrie, you are what we Germans call 'ein Kontrolfreak'".


Recent developments in our communal living have fed into this desire - most notably, the adoption of the most complicated chore rotation I've ever seen and the settling into a weekly "routine" of worship, work, and life. It's not perfect, but we're getting there, and I can feel my stress level slowly lowering as I place my faith in our life together, trusting  that if I just do my bit, the other bits will get done: bathrooms cleaned, dishes put away,  bananas purchased. It was only recently that I came to realize that somewhere  deep, deep in the recesses of my crazy brain there exists the connection that bananas and milk = stability. Go figure.

I don't profess this to be the best, most rational, or even most efficient way of living. In fact, at home and at work I am slowly coming to realize that sometimes the setting up of systems and procedures sometimes hinders the process of actually getting things done. You spend so much time setting things up that you lose track of what it's all for. Systems are an abstraction and a way of organizing reality, and like many abstractions, they are valuable only as long as they are useful - after that point, they are a tool to be discarded (much like the GPS which gives bad directions to places we already know the way to, promoting me to want to shout "Unplug the darn thing if you know better! It's just a little machine!"). It's so incredibly easy to retreat into this kind of work, work which gives you the illusion of getting something done, when in fact you're really just spinning your wheels, prepping for something you won't actually accomplish.

My placement this year is with an agency that works with families experiencing homelessness, providing emergency and transitional housing, among other things. While I don't have much direct contact with the families, part of my job is to (yes) set up systems and programs which will support them. Unfortunately for these families, their lives are not stable. They don't always have milk in the fridge, bananas in the fruit bowl, or sometimes even a place to stay the night. When we have room in the shelter for them, they are able to achieve some measure of comfort, I hope, but by no means stability - the maximum length of stay in the emergency shelter is 3 months. They can't establish the normal "routine" so many families (and intentional communities) take for granted. Homelessness disrupts people in the most basic of ways.


Which is why, I've realized, hearing directly from the people is so important, and why I appreciate the efforts this agency makes on listening to the people it helps. No one knows the effects of poverty better than those who are poor. They are the ones who can point to the gaps and contradictions in the system and tell you the effect because those gaps may be what keeps them from holding a steady job, getting a decent house and a regular income. Sometimes, I worry that those in charge get so obsessed with creating, manipulating, and changing the systems that they neglect to think how those systems actually impact people. There is a delicate balance between being objective and being compassionate and human.

Much like our chore rotation, our systems in this world aren't perfect - far from it. We can try to improve and streamline them as much as possible, but we can't lose sight of why we are doing it, and for whom.

I don't ever want to lose that part of my brain that is constantly analyzing, shaping, and strategizing - goodness knows there are enough organizations in this world that could do with having a few "to do list" makers around. But maybe I can learn to relax a little bit. We live in a messy and real world full of entropy and broken systems, confusion and contradictions but we are all part of a greater creation which is more perfect than we could ever hope to achieve on our own. So this year I hope that I can take the inordinate amount of faith which I place in systems and procedures and start placing it in God instead. I know which one I trust more.

But in the meantime, I need to go tidy the kitchen. Maybe if I do those bananas will appear...


Affirming Life in the Hill (Nathan Beall, seminarian intern)

Ascension is a parochial mission of Christ Church New Haven in the Hill neighborhood.  It's new life is a reflection, in part, of the work and labor of many Saint Hilda's House interns over the last year.

the patocrator icon at AscensionOn the chilly evening of Thursday, October 11, 12 residents of New Haven gathered at the Church of the Ascension in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven to discuss life in the Hill and the future of their ministry.  They set their table together in the rear of the church’s nave, adjacent to a wall of candles and watched by the eyes of Christ and Mary in the icons on the walls around them.  Seated around the table were Fr. Robert Hendrickson from Christ Church, the three three residents of the Ascension Rectory, five residents of the Amistad Catholic Worker House one street over, a representative of an organization for Latino/Latina rights, two residents of the Hill who were also members of Living Word ministries, and myself, the seminarian at Ascension. 

The Mary statue at AscensionThe evening began with a brief gospel reading: “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting…one sows, and another reaps.”  Those gathered this evening were entering into another’s labor.  The church had been built years ago and since dissolved as an Episcopal Parish, and only recently become a mission of Christ Church.  As the group prayed before the meal, Mark’s sobering prayer request regarding violence in their neighborhood reminded those gathered of the challenges they would face in their ministry there.

But as we sat down to eat, Fr. Hendrickson opened our conversation with a question to undermine the often negative reputation of the Hill.  “What is something in this neighborhood that has brought you joy?”  The responses were varied, but pointed to a common theme:  there is life in this place.  For many, this was exemplified by the Amistad House, which opens its doors and shares its resources with all who live in the neighborhood.  But some also spoke of the way in which people in the Hill walk around at night on the sidewalks and actually speak to each other, a phenomenon less frequently encountered in more affluent neighborhoods.  Someone even mentioned the life in the soil of their garden, which could grow anything.  The group went on to discuss possibilities for the church to affirm this life, which included facilitating local cultural celebrations such as La Dia de los Muertos and a Christmas tree lighting, as well as working for justice through developing community gardens and advocating for the necessities and rights of immigrants.  The energy around such ideas was tangible both during and after the meal.

the Life of Christ door at AscensionWhat I discovered from this experience was the presence of deep and abundant life in the midst of a neighborhood that is often associated with violence and poverty.  The Church’s call in such a place is not to bring in “solutions” from outside to “fix” problems, but to bear witness to the life that is already present within the community, and to proclaim alongside its neighbors that, in Christ, life is stronger than death.  It is at such times that those who face poverty and violence in New Haven become our teachers.  “Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus says, “for yours is the kingdom of God.”

You can see more of the renovation and repainting work being done here...


Spoken Words (David Burman, SHH '13)

Every weekday morning, at 8 AM, we have morning prayer. This can be a bit tough. For me, a good morning happens when I wake up at about 8:30, take a few deep breaths, eat one or two delectable bowls of rice chex, and then go right back to bed until about 10:30. Instead, I have to be awake, dressed, and (hopefully) breakfasted before 8 AM even happens. Then I have to tramp over to the chapel (40 whole yards away from my room!) and sit down.  And then I have to say a bunch of words.

Between songs, prayers, readings, and a sermon, services in the Episcopal Church are very word-centric, similar to the way that the Black Forest is very tree-centric. Many of those words come in the form of prayers or creeds that the whole congregation says together, and this is especially true at morning prayer. Aside from a couple of Bible readings that are read by the leader alone, almost the whole of the twenty-minute long service consists of all of us St. Hildan interns and a few others saying psalms, prayers, and canticles (hymns of praise derived from scripture) in unison. The language is always beautiful, always pointing to all that God has done and is doing in the world, but, at times, when it’s so early in the morning, all of this speaking can feel like little more than just that: speaking. No glorious approach to the divine, just words.

I have been finding, however, that the words we say in morning prayer have been staying with me, and coming out at odd times. I currently am working for AIDS Project New Haven, a non-profit agency that offers a variety of services to those infected with or affected by the HIV virus while also implementing HIV prevention efforts. My role is to coordinate Caring Cuisine, a program that delivers meals to people who are less able to prepare food for themselves due to the debilitating effects of the virus.

It was in this connection that I recently found myself saying Hail Marys in a van. I have been enjoying the internship over all, but on a recent Thursday afternoon I was a little stressed out. It was toward the end of a long work week, and I had to deliver meals to four of our clients whom our volunteers had missed earlier in the week, using the Caring Cuisine van. Two of them live in Fair Haven, east and north of downtown New Haven, and the other two in West Haven, south and west of downtown; basically, I had a long drive ahead.

I felt somewhat alone; just me and the van, delivering meals to people I had never met who live in houses or apartments that I had never seen. So when it came time to drive onto the on-ramp of Interstate 91 (interstates stress me out), I found myself speaking, perhaps just to keep myself company. It’s been a couple weeks now, but I can remember: the on-ramp’s running out; it’s time to merge. Check the rear-view mirror, check the blind spot. Now here come some words that the leader of morning prayer says to us every morning:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,

Blessed art thou among women,

And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Now I’m merged, now I’m rolling. But I have to move to the left, just not too far left; have to switch to I-95 South. Check the mirror again, check the blind spot. Now I say the rest of the Hail Mary, the part we all say together at Morning Prayer in response to the leader:

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

Pray for us sinners now,

 And at the hour of our death.

Ultimately, I think I said about four full Hail Marys during the portion of the drive that took place on the interstate. I did not, as I said them, deeply contemplate the meaning of the words. In a sense, I was doing nothing more than saying words, and thus calming my nerves while I changed lanes.

But perhaps this is not such a trivial thing. Somewhere on the confused, car and rain-clogged interstate, I found a sort of peace, a sense that God was with me, and it happened because I was saying some words. So maybe morning prayer can be helpful, even if it doesn’t always seem to be at the time; perhaps the mere act of saying prayerful words can help God’s presence become clearer, even if the meaning of those words is not fully thought through.

In fact, I have discovered the words don’t always have to be prayerful themselves to help calm me and give me a sense of God’s presence. A week later I was again alone, driving to an unfamiliar part of New Haven (to meet a new client this time) and on this occasion I calmed myself by narrating my driving in a sort of pseudo-Shakespearean dialect. I remember it going something like this:

Forsooth! An intersection approaches! Yea, verily shall I stop, for the light is red. Now indeed have I come to a meeting of the ways! Let us see, what doth the street sign report? Behold! This is Howard Street! Truly shall I flip the blinkers, the better to indicate that I shall turn right. Forsooth! The light is green! By my troth, I am off!

This is not really prayer of course, but I amused myself, and that alone helped center my attention on God’s love; just as God penetrates every corner of the earth, so can humor accompany me into new places. We would never say anything like this at Morning Prayer (although much of the language is reminiscent of Shakespeare), but these were spoken words, and I am finding out that spoken words seem to be heard by God wherever and whenever you say them.  


An Ed's Eye View: Week 3 - Why ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ Could Save Your Soul, and other things. (Ed Watson, SHH '13)

A wind storm hit New Haven last Tuesday night (I’m assured that it was mild for New England). The peculiar structure of our house trapped a small pocket of wind outside the main windows, to the effect that the rain spiralled into a mini-cyclone. Of course a few of us stepped out onto the balcony to watch. I love the feeling of getting soaked in rain: it’s a bit like getting drunk, or gradually falling in love (oi: stop rolling your eyes). A few drops hit, you recoil to stay dry; then you’re no longer dry enough for the the rain to feel uncomfortable. Finally you’re so soaked that there’s no reason not to lean your head under an overhanging gutter and enjoy the feeling of rainwater running down your face. Anyway, Laurel, Rick, Carrie, Neil and I all got thoroughly drenched. (The hangover equivalent, by the way, is realising that you need to somehow get back into the house without flooding the sitting room).

We also managed to engineer some fantastic photographs in amidst the tumult: one of Carrie breaking the fall of the water from the gutter to make it look as if her hand is exploding into little droplets; another below shows a steady waterfall becoming a series of isolated drops, and a couple of those isolated drops taking on the aspect of the stars.

Other noteworthy moments throughout the week include a group excursion to Mamoun’s (the finest purveyor of falafel in New Haven), in which you can expect to see upward of three first dates at any given moment. We managed to flesh out the most advanced system of chore allocation this side of the ever, dubbed Chorassic Park (not the worst pun I’ve heard since I’ve been here). To continue the prehistoric theme, we hatched the dinosaur capsules given to us by the rectory in our welcome pack (a pack with also included Jesus plasters and Biblical holographic stickers: let it never be said that the clergy of Christ Church lack a sense of humour). Almost all the foam raptors, pterodactyls and diplodoci were grown successfully, though they were apparently dissatisfied with their kitchen realm: the following afternoon they migrated to my bed. Laurel and Kayla maintain that the dinosaurs moved of their own free will. Finally, a few of us climbed East Rock, a hill…. to the East. We lost Sam for a bit as she strode off into the dusk, but otherwise perfect relaxation. The soundtrack to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ provided a weirdly perfect soundtrack to the return drive.

Work continues apace, though my immediate superior was at a conference this week. In Vegas. I still can’t believe I wasn’t invited to go on a conference to Vegas. I’ve assisted with the memorising of prayers for Religious Education, whilst also suggesting potentially subversive questions which students might be able to ask (seriously: some of the R.E. over here is everything we think it shouldn’t be in Britain). The highlight of my week has probably been guitar teaching: the kid I’m teaching is so naturally talented he’s going to be teaching me in a few months, but for the meantime I’m helping him work through one of the trickier instrumentals I learnt when I was about 14. It was about half-way through the lesson that I remembered the recent death of the man who taught me the same piece, Ronnie Berry. It’s amazing to think that his teaching me now allows me to teach a 16 year old in America. I managed to roll my ankle playing basketball with fifth graders as well, so was hobbling most of Thursday. How did I manage that, you ask? Well, I for some reason felt the need to jump whilst competing against someone just pushing 4 foot 10, and then landed poorly.

Christ Church itself has been active as ever. Of particular note this week was the fact one of the Connecticut Bishops came to preach this Sunday. The choir seems to hit new heights each week, and the sermon was a masterclass: beginning with levity before shifting tone swiftly to supreme seriousness. The subject was child poverty, and the choice quote was this: ‘I’m sure you’ve laughed about the idea of inviting Jesus round to dinner. Well, here’s the invitation: make sure a starving child has a meal.’ It was a first for me in any case. I’ve heard Bishops speak before, but never a female Bishop. Her natural authority in the pulpit certainly befit her position. Only one thing rankled during the service: the last two hymns we sang were ‘I vow to thee my country’ and ‘Guide me O, thou great redeemer’, which was great. Except: THEY’VE CHANGED THE WORDS! It was with trepidation that I looked up Jerusalem in the hymnal. Sure enough, not a bow of burning gold in sight. Oh well: nothing’s perfect.

It’s been a week of watching things with fresh eyes anyway. First up, I watched Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind with a friend who had never seen it before and had no idea what it was about. Second, the whole house ended up watching The Fellowship of the Ring when it emerged that not only had two of our number not seen the films before, but that they’d never read the books either. In both instances I found myself trying to watch the films through the eyes of the other(Spoiler Alert for the next few sentences!): what’s it like watching Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind if you don’t already know that it’s about Jim Carey erasing Kate Winslet from his memory? How must it feel to see Gandalf fall if you don’t already know that he’s going to return more badass than ever before?

Anyway, I found myself thinking about the way we react when we find out that someone hasn’t seen something which we almost assume to be a necessary part of culture. My immediate reaction to anyone saying they’ve never seen How to Train Your Dragon is invariably along the lines of ‘YOU HAVE NOT LIVED!!!’ What’s even worse is if you differ in taste: if someone says to me that they dislike How to Train Your Dragon, my reaction doesn’t differ much from ‘YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO LIVE!!!’ It’s a human reaction. It also of course got me thinking about religion. Were the statements referred to above to be made seriously, they would rest upon a particular kind of arrogance. It’s an arrogance very much at the heart of certain sections of religion. ‘You haven’t read this book? YOU HAVE NOT LIVED!!!’ You didn’t like this book? YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO LIVE!!!’ Replace book with Bible/Gospel/word of Jesus, and ‘deserve to live’ with ‘probably going to hell and be tortured for all eternity’ and you’ve got a perfectly coherent Christian position. It’s not one I’ve heard espoused much, but I have heard it espoused, and that worries me.

Amongst the reasons for this worry is the ease with which human beings can settle into a particular world view. Which is why it’s important to see things with fresh eyes. I remember re-watching Donnie Darko with a friend several years back, having gone on for weeks about how good it was. When the final jet engine fell I found I now thought it to be a genuinely terrible film. The same didn’t happen with Eternal Sunshine, but I’ve completely changed my mind with regard to the meaning of the film. Religion as a whole generally seems terrible at doing trying to see itself from the view of outsiders (or at least, when it does, it is with an eye to that dreaded quality of ‘relevance’), and it might be for the same reason that some people apparently still think Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time: 2000 years of tradition can’t be wrong, can it? Well, even if it can’t (it can), I reckon it’s important for to try and look at things from the point of view of someone not steeped in that tradition. Might make a few things seem a bit stupid (*cough*no female bishops*cough*).

Another reason that the attitude expressed above worries me is that it seems to rest upon the assumption that there is value inherent in someone’s reaction to a particular thing: that fact that you don’t like Toy Story, for example, reveals that you’re a shallow character incapable of experience the innocent joy of childhood. Such a view assumes that art can be reduced to science. The reaction art provokes is not rigidly defined though: there is no should. Certain symbols take on a level of standardised significance within particular societies (hence, I think, certain elements of Jung). Toy Story might be one of them. I don’t think The Bible is, not least because it would deny a part of what religion is supposed to be. I’m not claiming that faith is an aesthetic decision: one of the best lines to come out of our reading for this week was that ‘reductionism denies mystery’ (mystery being understood as something which cannot be quantified or predicted). To reduce religion to a pseudo-scientific system of call and response assumes that everyone should have the same response to some one thing: it takes the mystery out, and religion has to be mysterious, because if it isn’t mysterious in some meaningful sense, well, then it’s just ridiculous.

As to mystery, compline serves that area pretty well. The peculiar thing about this week’s was the nature of the reflections of the candles on the stone, rippling as if on water. The base of the church was transparent. Even the darkness shone.

P.s. I do maintain that disliking How to Train Your Dragon is a mortal sin.

To read more of Ed's work, visit his blog...


An Ed's Eye View: Reflections on the Second Week at Saint Hilda's (Ed Watson, SHH '13)

"Other than Wayne’s World, I can’t think of anything that veers from the ridiculous to the sublime quite so often as the Anglo-Catholic church."

On Monday I began work at Saint Martin De Porres Academy. It’s an extremely small (61 students) independent Catholic School for grades 5-8. All students are from very low income families (everything’s paid for by generous donors). It’s just one building, cursed with an inordinate amount of stairs but otherwise well suited to its purpose. Round back there’s a basketball court on which I’ve been amazing students with my relative aptitude for American football, skipping and ‘soccer’. Basketball less so. It’s beyond direct diocesan control, so there’s no standing up halfway through lessons in order to praise the Virgin Mary.

As mentioned previously, the school is set up with the direct intention of breaking its students out of the cycle of poverty. Being a student at Saint Martin thus carries with it several benefits. One of these is small class sizes. Another is being pestered by the graduate support team (of which I am a member: I have my own desk and a nameplate on the door!) to come to the post-school homework sessions which we run. In many ways it’s surprising how many do just that (between 10-20 overall on an average day): how many 13-18 year olds do you know who will choose to attend an extra three and a half hours of school? In other ways, however, its not surprising at all: many of these kids are all too aware that education is their ticket out of New Haven. As such, not only do quite a few come along, but a fair few of those that do work bloody hard as well. Which is great.

It would be better, however, if hard work could guarantee them success. That it doesn’t is one reason why I’m not sure institutions like St Martin can hope to break the cycle of poverty itself. These kids think they’re competing against each other: even the brightest, however, are yet to fully grasp that they are actually competing against a whole other sub-set of American youth: well off kids with access to expensive private education, whose parents will support them financially and emotionally through all their endeavours, who are born with the belief that getting into a top university is possible, and are given the knowledge of how to get there.

It doesn’t help that system within which they’re competing is rigged. I tried out some mock SAT vocab and grammar tests: not only are the questions asked so as to make the answer subjective (‘which word is closest in meaning to’, ‘which change will most improve’) and not only are the skills tested in these sections frankly irrelevant to someone’s ‘raw’ intelligence, but they’re really, really hard (even my Dad agrees). If you’ve grown up in a culture in which you are exposed to words such as ‘abstemious’ and ‘parsimonious’ from an early age then you might have a shot at the vocab. If you’ve interned as part The Times editorial team then you should be safe on grammar (though you’d better be willing to accept the validity of the Oxford comma). If you’ve grown up with death, drugs and degradation all around you, well, what sort of hope are you supposed to have? Try them yourself. Maybe you’ll find them easy: if so, put yourself in the shoes of a 17 year old born below the poverty line and imagine how you’d do:

Anyway, on a full day I get into work at 7:30 and leave at 6, so it’s a long day. My role thus far has included admin and meetings, tutoring, providing much needed doses of British humour, adding Us into words like humour, and teaching guitar. I’m on the relatively new Student Care Team, as well as the Peer Ministry Team (there are a lot of teams…). It’s as a member of the latter that I was asked to deliver a homily to the school and its board of governors on the morning of September 11th. I’ll put that at the bottom of this post, but it went well. I’ve never been more trepidatious (c.f. SAT vocab test) before delivering an address in public.

Ed playing cards with intensityOutside of school, life continues on much as before. We tested the limits of human endurance with a good fifteen minutes of ultimate frisbee, and I’m honing my table tennis skills to near Oriental standards. I’m eating vegetables, which is wreaking havoc with my digestive system. There’s a lot of church. A lot. Seriously, I cannot emphasise just how much church there is. The Pope’s got nothing on this. Thankfully it’s about as fun as church can be (wild, I know): morning prayer is a surprisingly rejuvenating ritual, and I love the Sunday Eucharist. Other than Wayne’s World, I can’t think of anything that veers from the ridiculous to the sublime quite so often as the Anglo-Catholic church. One moment you’re trying to sight-sing the Nicene Creed whilst bowing at the right time, the next a soprano voice soars across the church and reminds you of the nature of beauty. This Sunday we celebrated the rector’s tenth anniversary at Christ Church. On the one hand, industrial amounts of cake: on the other, near thirty minutes of written tributes to his kindness and his character, hailing from across continents. Which of these is sublime, which ridiculous? I leave that to you.

One thing troubles me slightly: at one of the many, many, many church services this week, I saw a mother teach her extremely young child how to make the sign of the cross with holy water upon leaving the church. In a way it was cute, but there was also something unsettling about it. The ritual has a purpose, but not one that could be explained to a five year old (imagine: ‘Mommy, why do we cross ourselves?’ ‘Well, honey, it’s both a way of reminding us of the tripartite nature of God’s existence and of the immense suffering of Jesus on the cross.’ ‘Yay!’) and there seems something wrong with teaching a child act out a religious ritual if they can’t understand. In a sense, of course, children are taught to do a lot of things before they fully understand their significance: saying thank you, for example. Children are taught to say words, then taught how to use them. But the most important facet of religious ritual is choice: it’s meaningless if you don’t knowinglychoose to take part. So call me a bleeding heart liberal, but I’m not sure children should be taught to do such things until they’re of an age where they can decide for themselves whether such activities are mind-blowingly stupid or not.

starting the scavenger hunt with energyThe week closed with a workshop on how to build a multi-cultural church. Led by Bates (seriously, how cool a name is Bates?), we spent an evening and a morning discussing the nature of racism, its prevalence in the church, and the barriers to overcoming institutional racism in this modern day and age. I tend to feel a bit uncomfortable in these contexts, as I’m basically a walking, talking ball of privilege: white, straight, middle class, male. I’ve got it hard.

White guilt aside, it was an illuminating exercise. For one thing, it gave a very clear definition of racism which, though I’m sure prevalent in certain sorts of literature, is yet to enter mainstream public consciousness: specifically, as parsed by me, racism is anything which causes an unequal sharing of power drawn upon racial lines, with power understood as the ability to act within your legal rights without fear of recrimination, suspicion, or any other negative consequence. For example: let us suppose that if you show a black man being chased by a white man, then most policemen are more likely to suppose the black man a thief fleeing justice than an innocent fleeing violence. To the extent that this is true, then the police system would be in part a racist system.

There are several distinctions to be made between the above definition and conventional accounts of racism (i.e. the belief that someone is inherently inferior because of their race). The first is that it is passive: it is not an actively held attitude, but a passive effect of various cultural, historical and systemic factors, measurable by its results. In a similar vein, it does not make reference to any sort of belief or attitude. A final difference is that it does not entail judgement of individuals: it’s perfectly natural for someone to be racist in this sense but not necessarily be worthy of moral opprobrium. I’m pretty sure that I for one am not only technically racist in several ways, but also sexist and homophobic. I’m working on it.

As to how to try and move beyond racism is this sense, my (very idealistic) feeling is that experience often breaks the latent prejudices which informs it down: the more time people spend amongst those who identify as LGBT, the less homophobic they tend to be. Experience can prevent people saying ‘you’re very intelligent for a black man’ and instead check their assumption that a black man is less likely to be intelligent. I reckon a semi-decent argument for multiculturalism can, and has, be(en) forged out of this basic idea.

To finish then, here’s the talk I gave on 9/11. I had it checked out by the school’s president first, who gave it the thumbs up, but I was still extremely nervous. Hope it’s a decent read:

‘Morning all. My name’s Mr Watson: I’m a new teacher here, and I’ve been asked to speak to you this morning. As some of you may guess from my accent, I’m from a far off land known as Great Britain, and I’d like to talk to you about a particular memory I have from my homeland. Is anyone here 11 years old, by the way? (ad lib response). Well, at the time of this particular memory, I was 11 as well. I’d just arrived home from playing rugby, a strange British sport a bit like what you call football. The TV was on, and I thought my parents were watching a movie: the screen showed one of the Twin Towers on fire. As I watched, a large plane flew into the other tower. It gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t watching a movie. When I saw the first tower collapse, I couldn’t believe what had happened. To some extent, I still can’t. Two planes were flown into two towers, a third into the Pentagon, and a fourth was crashed by those on board before it could reach its target.

This happened 11 years ago today: September 11th, 2001. 2,996 people died that day, including 19 terrorists. Countless others have died in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the 7/7 attacks on Britain, my home. I ask you all to remember the dead, and to pray for their families.

I would also like to offer a quick reflection on the nature of the attacks. I have spent a long time trying to understand what happened 11 years ago. I am still trying to make sense of it. This is the best I have been able to come up with: 9/11 is a challenge. It challenges our way of life. I’m not thinking of democracy: I’m thinking of love. Hate and anger flew those planes into those towers. The challenge to us is to rise above.

The most human reaction to any attack is fear and anger. To meet hate with anger, however, only breeds more hate. Every time we are attacked and respond in kind, with violent actions or with violent words, we perpetuate the very thing we fear. The challenge to us is to rise above hate and fear, and find a place for the very hardest kind of love: love of our enemies. If we are to move beyond 9/11, something I do not think we have yet done, we must learn to love those that hate us. This can be on a small scale: to love those who attack us through word or deed, by helping them when they are in need and giving them friendship even if they might reject it. It can be on a large scale too. Osama Bin Laden is dead. But I wonder if it is possible to pray for him, to hope that he at some point finds redemption for the acts of unspeakable evil he enacted in this world, as well as celebrate the fact that no one else will die by his hand. I hope so, because it seems to me that only by doing so can we meet the challenge that he set us: to go beyond the hate, fear and anger which drove him to murder thousands, and instead try to be a part of a world in which days like 9/11 could never happen again.

This challenge has of course been made before in a different way, by Jesus himself. I finish, then, with his words: ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”

More of Ed's reflections may be found at his blog...