10 March 2014

Why Do This?

("Peace Train"... music and lyrics by Cat Stevens)

Mato Tipi (also known as "Devil's Tower")
Wyoming...Sacred Site and National Historic
Landmark.  Photo, F.Mann, 06/09/08
I began writing blog posts in June 2008.  During that summer, I was on sabbatical leave and doing a special project among the Lakota people.  I wrote several journal articles each week, which were shared with my parishioners at St. Andrew's, my family and close friends.  These writings do not appear on this blog site, but they are collected in a manuscript.  It was really my first effort at generating a running conversation...both within myself and with a larger community.

I have written innumerable articles for newsletters, The Living Church, The Anglican Digest and other publications on request...all of those over an active career spanning 34 years.  Those articles were moments of either teaching, sharing information, providing an opinion, or stating my position on various and sundry issues of the time.  If gathered together, I suspect a good historian or writer of biographies could put something together that could be called a timeline or running commentary about my growth as a person and development as a priest.  They would certainly reflect the emotion and intellectual investment of the moment.

Blogging is different.  Whether one writes daily or sporadically (as I do), a blog post tends to be more of a running commentary within the context of one's vocation/profession, a flow of life events, or an engagement with the issues that confront us daily.  

I started officially blogging in 2009.  It is when this series began, if you "walked it back" to the first posting.  I originally set this up as part of a plan to have clergy staff be more accessible to our congregation at St. Andrew's, Kansas City, MO, where I was Rector (the senior priest on staff).  It did not replace newsletter articles but supplemented them with more personal insights into daily life and how the Church might address its environment through its theological and pastoral presence.  Since I am chiefly a pastoral leader (a capable administrator as well, but I always saw that has secondary to liturgical, didactic and pastoral care specialties), writing a blog was an exciting experiment.  It seemed to work well.  The parish got on Facebook, and we were up-to-date in Kansas City (to borrow a song of yesteryear).

Then, I retired on 30 June 2011.  I no longer had the responsibility of parochial oversight, direction and leadership.  My role as one who speaks for the Church ceased.  For the first time in over three decades, I could speak solely for myself.  It was like making a pilgrimage to the top of a sacred mountain.  If you have never done that, it is a transforming experience.  My Lakota mentors continually tell me to do such pilgrimages "in a sacred manner"... pray one's way into and through the journey.  When I was doing the project with Celtic cultural/spiritual research (summer of 2000), my mentors in Scotland, Wales and Ireland would tell me nearly the same thing, "Go there in a holy way."

All life is sacred, but we often forget that in the complexities of the human community.  We are product driven and task oriented.  Pilgrimmage isn't in that vocabulary.  Life in the parish is often like that...with language that includes words like "goals and objectives," or "mission strategy."  I am a trained and certified consultant for the Episcopal Church, and that is the language we use in working with parish clergy and lay leadership.  

I will always be a Priest and still function in a variety of ways.  Retirement means that I fly under a different flag.  It is one that gives me more freedom to speak truth as it emerges from deep within...from that place that engages the Sacred and allows each day to be a pilgrimage...even if it is a trip upstairs to my study, or a jaunt to the grocery store, a walk on the beach, or engaging my vocational craft for a congregation.  I no longer need to identify as "liberal" or "conservative;" "high church" or "low church;" or with any particular "school" of theological discipline.  What this does for me is to allow me to see the sacred in even the most mundane of daily routines.  I get to pause and reflect on those moments...and to actually be able to say something about it.  AND, the judgments of those who choose to read don't affect my position or my income.  I have got to say, that is damn liberating.

In saying that, I also acknowledge that a lot of folks who commit themselves to print tend to ignore what has been termed as "responsible journalism."  Yes, I am truly aware of the constitutional guarantee of  "freedom of speech."  That is not the issue here.  What I am all about is bearing in mind...and in print...the moral and ethical responsibility to conduct myself with civility in both action and discourse.  An opinion is one thing.  Going on a rant or being a "troll" is something else entirely.  I am responsible for my conduct in print as much as I am as a person walking down a public street.  Hiding behind anonymity, or screaming blue language in print is not civil discourse.  It is, as I experience it, abusive and immature.

Thus far, in five years of blogging, I have not experienced abusive responses.  There are those who disagree with whatever I have said, and that is perfectly fine.  When one commits thoughts, ideas or elements of self in print, there will always be folks at variance.  We are each seeing life through a series of filters.  Here are mine:
  • family of origin (parents, sibling, relatives)
  • friends (the growing up group with whom I hung out, played and learned)
  • educators (teachers, professors, mentors...from pre-school through graduate school and further studies)
  • military (my six years in the U.S. Navy...submarine corps, additional duties and reserves)
  • vocational (life as a priest and the six parishes in which I worked; my colleagues and diocesan structures)
  • marriage (family of origin two;  wife, children and the daily experiences and journey of being a spouse and parent)
  • retirement (a new life and new opportunities)
These seven filters have shaped my ego self in such ways that my worldview is articulated through those filters.  Most of that happens unconsciously.  It is simply there.  However, there is also the deeper, and more authentic, self that is not fettered by filters but sees the world in a reality that isn't biased by filters.  It is available to us, but there is risk involved and, often, pain to be experienced.  Someone recently said to me, "the rainbow represents hope and promise; but you cannot see a rainbow without there being rain, which means a storm."  

I blog, because it holds me to a personal standard of internal honesty.  I am first of all accountable to myself and the authenticity of what goes from my mind/heart onto the printed page.  I am on a pilgrimage that leads to transformation...getting to know the "me" that God knows.  It is a journey of hope and of healing.  If what I write can be useful to just one person who reads it, then the resonance is worth the risk.  What you get in print from me is as transparent as I can be in the given moment.  Certainly, I am still affected by the seven filters cited above.  It seems to be getting less and less...because the attendant neuroses that go with all filters (fear, anxiety, prejudice...pre-judgment...anger) seem to manifest themselves less often.  

I write this blog, because the sacred and the secular are of one piece.  The holy is walking within our common experiences and journeys.  My work these days, it seems, is to collapse duality.  First to be at one with my self...then to experience being at one with what is around me.  It is quite a ride.

Thanks for stopping in.  I hope that your experience will be genuine.

Love and blessings!


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