Thursday, July 17, 2014

Teacher, Guide, Companion Ten Years Later

Ten years ago Teacher,Guide, Companion:  rediscovering Jesus ina secular age came out.  It was my first book, and my first collaboration with the good folks at Skinner House Books.  It seems like a wonderful opportunity to look back at what I thought then and what I'd say now if I were to write it again.  There is a marvelous story about Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In his later life he was sometimes was asked to give readings of one or another of his earlier essays.  It is said that as he did so he would occasionally look up and say, "I no longer believe this."  He would then return to his reading.  As I prepared to reconsider Teacher, Guide, Companion I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say "I no longer believe this" too often.

The good news is – I didn’t.  Thanks in very large part to Ms. Mary Benard, Senior Editor at Skinner House, it’s a very readable book.  The prose is clean, and the ideas flow smoothly.  The structure I used for this "rediscovery" came from a passage in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus is remembered as asking his disciples, "Who do the people say that I am?"  After his friends answer with what they’ve heard people say, he asks the more pointed question, "But who do you say that I am?"  

Teacher, Guide, Companion follows the same general pattern – beginning with what others have said about Jesus, then sharing my own perspective, and then offering suggestions for the reader’s own explorations.   I don’t think I’d change that.  One of the good things about the book is that it is so readable – I was able to re-read it over the course of one evening.  That does, however, mean that there is a lot that could have been included that wasn’t.  And that’s one of the things that I might change were I to write it again – or create an expanded edition.

The section on the historical Jesus could easily be expanded.  Details could be added to the section looking at what we learn from the study of pre-industrial agrarian societies in general, and the Judeo-Roman world at the time of Jesus in particular.  This work is mentioned, yet there could be more details about what has been learned.  Similarly, there is only a passing reference to the existence of – and questions about – a handful of references to Jesus outside of the New Testament, and there has been done some wonderful work attempting to reconstruct the earliest Christian communities.  Both of these would be worth including.  And the discoveries of Biblical archaeology wasn’t mentioned at all!

So, too, could the chapter on the images of Jesus conveyed in the five Gospels could also stand some expansion.  There are details in the Gospel stories that, if included, would have more fully illuminated each of the author’s depictions and would have helped create even greater contrast among them.  And while it was an intentional choice to limit consideration to Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas, it would be interesting to take a look at what messages the authors of the other Gospels we have discovered – the so-called apocryphal gospels – had intended to convey.

Missing entirely is any consideration of how Jesus has been viewed (and experienced) throughout history.  This could involve looking at historic figures – Saint Francis of Assisi, say, or Mohandas Ghandi – and examining the way(s) they related to Jesus.  Or it could consider the ways Jesus has been seen in different times and different places.  Many books have been written about the ways Jesus has been depicted in art – both visual and literary – and a work like Edward Blum’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America looks not just at how Jesus has been depicted but how that depiction can have very real-world consequences.  (James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree is similarly eye opening.)  The insights of Liberationist and Feminist Christian traditions is missing as well.

Several scholar/theologians were introduced in the chapter about the historical Jesus – Marcus Borg, Stephen J. Patterson,  John Dominic Crossan, John Spong – yet each has, by now, written about their own personal encounter/experience with Jesus, and these are just as important as their more academic works.  And when I wrote Teacher, Guide, Companion I had not yet discovered the works of Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr, or Ilia Delio, to name just a few.

The chapter on my own personal perspectives could be expanded to include more about how experiences and view have been influenced by my particular situation as someone who was raised Presbyterian and Methodist, studied and practiced Zen Buddhism for nearly two decades, and now is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister.  More of my wrestling with what this exploration and rediscovery means to me  – which, I will confess, has continued fairly unabated since writing the book – might also be worth including.
And then there’s the section on how the reader might conduct her or his own exploration more fruitfully.  I could imagine including what for want of a better word I’ll call “testimonials” – brief stories from readers about how their searching has unfolded.  These could provide not only more details about the various imaginative techniques that are described but also offer some encouragement and inspiration to readers.

I have to say – I have heard some truly wonderful things over the past decade from people who’ve read this book.   I am grateful to each and every person who has written to me to share what Teacher, Guide, Companion has meant to them, as well as to all the clergy and laity who have seen fit to offer workshops and book study opportunities in their congregations.  If you have questions or comments you would like to share, or suggestions for ways to continue and expand on the conversation this book started, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Pax tecum,


Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Challenge of Conviction

"It's hard to have conviction in a relativistic culture."

That phrase has been rattling around in my head for the past several weeks.  It started at the end of May when I read this very frank, very jarring opinion column about gun violence and gun control, "There is no catastrophe so ghastly that America will reform its gun law," by Tim Kreider. At one point he wrote:
If gun laws are ever going to change in this country, it'll have to be because people like me, people who care except not quite enough, quit their bitter impotent griping and actually do something about it. We care in the way that carnivores care about the screaming in slaughterhouses or that pro-war voters care about families accidentally blown apart in Iraq. Which is to say, sorta — just not enough to change our minds or habits or do anything hard or inconvenient.  (Italics mine)
 "We care in the way that carnivores care about the screaming in slaughterhouses ... which is to say, sorta -- just not enough to change our minds or habits or do anything hard or inconvenient."

I've seen Food, Inc., King Corn, Hungry for Change, Dirt!, and a host of other films that quite convincingly show the dangers and the devastation of the standard American diet (which is "SAD" indeed).  There is no doubt that the way the dominant culture encourages us to eat, and the way so many of us have become addicted to eating, is not only unhealthy for our own body systems but also for the planetary system we are a part of.  The link between the choices individuals make around eating and issues of social justice and ecological degradation is undeniable.  Whether you've decided to adopt a diet that's vegetarian, vegan, nutritarian, flexitarian, paleo, or something else, it seems clear to me that we can all agree that the way the majority of us have been taught to eat, and are encouraged to eat, is fundamentally and essentially unhealthy for everyone and everything concerned -- except the bottom line of the food industry.  It's one of the reasons that the Unitarian Universalist Association has an initiative concerning Ethical Eating.

So ... I know all of this.  And I care.  I do care about the environmental and economic devastation that is directly linked to the way -- and I'll get personal here -- the way I eat.  I care about animals, and I care about our waterways, and I care about the way antibiotics are such a part of our diet now that the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria is exacerbated, and I care about the nutritional gap that mirrors the income and education gap, and I care about the epidemic of obesity and the lowering of life expectancies, and I care about the possible unimagined consequences of genetically modified crops ...   I care about all of this, but if I'm honest I care about it ... sorta -- just not enough to change my mind or my habits or do anything hard or inconvenient.

So I've been thinking about all of this for a while now, and I keep coming back to that phrase:  "It's hard to have conviction in a relativistic culture."

It's easy for folks who see the world in "black & white" to do the hard and inconvenient thing.  Something is right or it is wrong, and if it's wrong it's wrong.  But when you see the world in shades of grey -- or, even more, in technicolor -- then it's not so easy. There's a line in that great Buffalo Springfield song, "For What It's Worth" -- "nobody's right if everybody's wrong."  The reverse is true, of course, too -- if nobody's wrong, then everybody's right.  And when everybody's right -- or, at least, potentially right or right "in a certain sense" -- then it's awfully hard to get motivated to do the hard and inconvenient thing.

Now I'm not saying that "black & white" thinkers can easily do those hard and inconvenient things.  (Okay.  I did say that, but I really meant that it's relatively easier ...)  And I'm not saying that it's impossible for us technicolor dreamers to do the right thing.  I'm just saying that it's a challenge.

And maybe this is just me trying to justify laziness.  That's certainly a possibility.  Yet I do think that there's something in the liberal penchant for trying to see the value in every position that makes it hard for us to take a stand against any of them.  I mean, really take a stand ... to do the hard and inconvenient thing.

This month, while I'm taking both vacation and study leave, I am going to try to change my eating habits to bring them more in line with my values.  See what I did there?  The way I defaulted to the safety of qualifiers?  "I'm going to try to change my eating habits to bring them more in line with my values"  Why not just say it with a strong declarative --  "I'm gong to change my eating habits to bring them in line with my values."  Of course, if I say it so declaratively, I might let myself down ... or let someone else down.

Because this is going to be hard.  I am physically, psychologically, and emotionally addicted to SAD.  I am culturally conditioned to default to convenience rather than conviction.  Virtually everything around me is arrayed to get me to fail and give up.  So it's possible that I will.  Yet I definitely will if I don't try.  Perhaps you might consider joining me?

Pax tecum,


Monday, June 09, 2014

The More Things Change

In the congregation I serve -- the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, VA -- I hold a drop-in discussion group we call "Wednesday Wonderings."  It started with us using materials developed by Richard Foster to introduce people to the writings and thinking of a variety of Christian mystics.  Each session included an introduction to the person and then a series of bite-sized nuggets from their writing.  Most often it came from a single source, yet usually it was edited to a more reasonable size.  (Each session fit on four pages.)  We would go around the room, each person reading a section and then, although Foster included questions, we would ask each other what had stood out for us -- surprising, confusing, confirming, challenging.

The next year I took it upon myself to create similar materials by mystics of other traditions, and then this year I created three programs, each four weeks long:  one looked at the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, one looked at four key teachings of Christianity, and one looked at four texts from the Unitarian Universalist (tradition.)  The last session of this most recent program was a bit of a teaser for next year's course, in which we'll spend the year with Clinton Lee Scott's book, Religion Can Make Sense.

Scott was the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention.  During his career he gave a series of radio addresses, and these have been collected into this volume.  Next year we'll work our way through the entire book -- 37 chapters -- taking a chapter a week.  This past Wednesday we looked at the first chapter, "What does it mean to be religious?"

In this chapter Scott challenges the definition of religion that was prevalent in his day -- the book was published in '49 -- and which is still the majority's understanding:  that religion has to do with holding certain beliefs and engaging in certain practices.  Rather, he says,
"Religion is not the invention of priestcraft, neither is it given into the custody of any church.  Religion is inherent in our nature and has been the companion of our human kind since the beginning.  ... To be religious is to know that your highest experience is a religious experience.  To be religious is to act your best in the presence of the highest you know. ... To be religious is to take the high road when the low road beckons.  To be religious is to seek by every means of inquiry and of investigation for the truths that come not by magic or miracle, but by the only means for their reception -- the open, the eager, and the humble mind."
Earlier, in a passage that appealed to most of us, he write:
"As a matter of fact, no preacher, priest, bishop, or other professionally religious person has any inside information.  Truth is discovered by the ministers of religion.  It is also discovered by scientists, poets, prophets, garage mechanics, and housewives."
Sounds kind of like the stance of Unitarian Universalism 65 years later, no?  As he French say (and yes, I had to look this up):  plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  (The more it changes, the more it's the same thing.)

Another passage that stood out to us because of its apt description not just of his day but of ours:\
"[O]n any week except Christmas and Easter, if we were to count all the people who attend churches -- men, women, youth, and children -- the total would be less than the number of persons -- men, women, youth, and children -- who attend no religious services."
We may see the large number of "nones" as a relatively new phenomenon, yet it's clear that we're not the first to experience it.  And as for the "spiritual but not religious" dichotomy?  I think that the way Scott understands religion could serve as a bridge.

Pax tecum,


Friday, June 06, 2014

What is "Enough"?

In the UUA's new curriculum The Wi$dom Path:  money, spirit and life, there is an interesting graphic.  It's called "The Fulfillment Curve."  The intention of this image is to suggest that if you graph the money a person spends along the x axis of a graph, and the level of personal fulfillment along the y axis, that the resultant graph would form a parabola.  Along the upward part of the curve you would pass through the point at which you have taken care of your survival needs, and the point where you have taken care of comforts.  At the peak you reach a point of "enough," after which increased spending results in a decline in fulfillment.

It is interesting to consider if this is necessarily true.  I believe it is, by the way, but I can imagine someone arguing that this would create a straight line graph, onward and upward forever.  Interesting, too, where that "enough" point would be located.  Is it a fixed point, or would it be dependent on other variables?  Might a middle-class family of five living in an upscale neighborhood, for instance, place it at a different spot than would, say, a Franciscan friar?  More precisely, I'd imagine that the "enough" point would remain in the same relative place -- at the top of the arc -- but the shape of the curve might be different.  It might be flatter for some and "spikier" for others.

But that's not what made this graphic interesting to me when I first saw it.  I imagined a similar graph, but while this one still has a sense of fulfillment along the y axis, it has "Congregational Size" along the x.  In other words, I found myself wondering if there would be a point at which congregational growth -- at least its numerical growth -- would reach an "enough" point and that from that point on more members equaled less fulfillment.

This is, I know, a bit of a heresy.  "Grow or die," we are told.  "Increase or decrease" -- this dichotomy is declared as if self-evident.  Yet I wonder.

I know that church growth consultants have long offered ways of understanding that congregations of different sizes are different not just in size -- so called "family," "pastoral," and "program" congregations need to have different organizational systems, are able to do different things, and have a different "feel."  That they are not merely different sizes, that they are different "animals," if you will, is why one consultant has described them as "cats," "small dogs," "large dogs," "gardens," and "farms."  The popular wisdom is that as long as you can navigate the real differences there is no reason that a small family-sized church (cat) can't grow into a mega-church (farm).

But should it?  Is there an "enough" point?  I've heard that congregations within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints do not grow beyond 300 members -- once they approach that threshold they birth a new congregation.  

As I say ... I wonder.  I don't know.  But I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

Pax tecum,


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

What to do now?

(c) 2004 The Center for Economic and Social Justice
The fourth of the Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism, as articulated by the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh for the Order of Interbeing, is this:
"Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world."  
Over the past few years I've been doing increasingly more of precisely this, albeit, I must confess, primarily from the safety of my home.  Even so, I have had my head and my heart stretched wider than I'd thought they could be.

While I was still in my position at UUHQ, we were gearing up for a "common read" of The Death of Josseline:  Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands by Margaret Regan.  The stories she relates make all too painfully human the face(s) of the battle over illegal immigration. Principles and policies are exposed as really being very much beside the point -- human suffering on a scale nearly unimaginable (at least by me, then) is what's ultimately at issue here. How can you read stories like these and not take them in?  And having taken them in to your heart, how can you be the same?

About a year later, in the summer of 2012, someone turned me on to the book Take This Bread: a radical conversion by Sarah Miles.  This is the story of how a self-described "lesbian left-wing journalist" (and professed atheist) came to a deep connection to a religious/spiritual understanding she'd never known, in a Christianity she'd never imagined.  The vehicle for this was her work through the food pantry program at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  Her book is a beautiful spiritual memoir, and this dimension touched me deeply.  But she also provides a window into the world of urban poverty (at least as experienced by this woman, in that place, at that time).  Again, humanizing what can so easily be for so many of us something of an abstraction. And oh man, was it inspiring to see how love can be made palpable and what it then can do!

Near the end of that year came The New Jim Crow: mass incaration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  This one was not so much inspiring as enraging.  Alexander rather convincingly makes the case that our current system of mass incarceration -- largely synonymous with our "war on drugs" -- is an intentionally designed new strategy in an age-old effort.  Slavery maintained a very clear caste system in our country, based on race.  With the end of slavery, Jim Crow laws were enacted which perpetuated essentially that same caste system.  Once Jim Crow was overturned some new mechanism was needed, and the war on drugs was born.  She did not provide as many moving narratives, but her clear and convincing arguments made me see differently when I encountered people here in Charlottesville who'd been caught up in this system.

2014 started off with me watching the movie Dark Days, a documentary film by Marc Singer.  (This was quickly followed by watching the documentary short called Fragile Dwellings, based on the work of Margaret Morton, which was included as an extra on the DVD of Dark Days.  In quick succession, I then read Teun Voehoten's Tunnel People, and two of Morton's books -- The Tunnel:  the underground homeless of New York City and Fragile Dwelling, the print version of the short I'd watched earlier.) All of these tell the stories of some of the unhoused women and men who came to make their homes in a stretch of deserted Amtrak tunnel beneath the streets of New York City.  Once more human beings took root in my heart instead of simply finding more concepts in my head. "The homeless" had a more human face. 

This past month I read Tattoos on the Heart:  the power of boundless compassion, by Gregory Boyles.  Fr. Boyles -- known affectionately as "G" by the people with whom he lives and works -- tells story after story about the ways he has found God, and ways he has found to share God, in and with the gang youth of one of LA's most gang-ridden neighborhoods. It is astonishing to me that anyone's heart and psyche could survive the kind of ministry he's found himself called to do, yet perhaps not so surprisingly his testimony is that the "secret of his success" has been in his refusal to see labels and, instead, to be with these youth. His humanity meets their humanity, and they embrace each other.

And now I have just finished reading Finding God in a Bag of Groceries:  sharing food, discovering grace, by Laura Willis.  This time it's the story of rural poverty -- 'though again it's the ministry of a food bank at work -- and once more I've found myself looking into a world I could not have even fully imagined, so different is it from my own, yet finding there more of the "we" that is revealed when we let go of divisions between "us" and "them."

From undocumented immigrants in the southwest, to the urban poor in San Francisco, to people of color caught up in a (legal) system of oppression and dehumanization through the US, to homeless women and men making homes for themselves among society's refuse in NYC, to inner city gang youth in LA, to the urban poor in Tennessee -- it's been quite a ride. I've "seen" things, and been allowed to "listen in" to experiences so radically different than my own, than any I've known. 

And yet, what has struck me most is not the differences; it's the common humanity all of us share. One thread that runs through all of these books and films is that our guides into these "other worlds" recognize, witness to, and affirm what we Unitarian Universalists refer to as, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person."  (Often said as if we, alone, understood that phrase!)  Over and over again the message is the same one I preach so often -- there is no "us" and "them" ... there is only "we."

So a question rises up in me -- what to do now?  How can I -- and how can we as a faith community committed to ending oppression and affirming the inherint worth and dignity of all beings -- respond? That's a question I hope we'll all wrestle with, dance with, for a good long time.

Pax tecum,


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Needs Us?

So… Here's a question I've been dancing with lately: Who needs us? Who needs Unitarian Universalism?

There are several things I don't mean by this question.  I don't mean -- who would enjoy our wit and our wisdom? I don't mean -- who would appreciate our grand ideas and are soaring songs? I don't mean -- who would enjoy our affable company? I mean, simply, who needs what it is we have to offer?

Of course, that raises the question, what is it that we have to offer? And that's a question that, no doubt, could engender much discussion. For now, though, let's leave that discussion aside. Let's agree that you may have your idea, and that I may have mine. They may not be the same, and that's okay.  You answer with your understanding of what our "good news" is, and I'll answer with mine, but let's each look at the question:  who needs Unitarian Universalism?

I'd answer:  lots of people!  Here's a partial list:

People who've been told that they're not enough -- not smart enough, successful enough, straight enough, white enough, neurotypical enough ... you get the idea.   Unitarian Universalism affirms that each of us has inherent worth and dignity, just by breathing air on the planet!  We don't have to be anything enough to earn it. 

People who think they are, or have, enough -- well-educated, made-in-the-(suburban)-shade, with the resources to remedy most any problem, and the confidence that comes from having "made it" (in some sense). Or, at least, thinking they have.  Confident. Comfortable. Complacent, even. To them Unitarian Universalism announces that none of us is, on our own, the be all and end all. Each of us is tied, as Dr. King said, in a single garment of destiny. We are interdependent, not just with our own species but with all that is. 

People who were taught to believe things they no longer can, people who don't know what to believe, and people who are so sure of what they believe that there's no room to grow and no ability to expand. Unitarian Universalism challenges us to keep both our heads and our hearts open sand to not only accept but embrace the changes that follow. 

People who see all too clearly -- and, so, hate or fear -- the Other, and people who've been "othered."  Unitarian Universalism teaches that "there is no 'us and them,' there is only us."

I could go on. (And probably will at some point.). Let's let this suffice for now.   So what is it that I think Unitarian Universalism has to offer?  This truth:

We are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love.

Okay ... now it's your turn.  Who needs Unitarian Universalism?

Pax Tecum,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Moment of Ministry

As I was walking in to the hospital this morning to visit a parishioner, my mind flashed back to a moment during the early years of my first settled ministry -- a moment when I felt I really was a minister.  

I was serving a congregation in southern Maine, and there was a family in the congregation that consisted of a mom, a dad, and two kids -- a son and a daughter.  The son was, as I recall, in late elementary school, and besides being a really smart and likable kid, he had real issues with angry, defiant behavior.  Angry's too euphemistic, actually.  It was rage.  Being a little flip, I'd say that this kid could make the Hulk look like Hello Kitty.  He was, as I said, a really great kid, I liked him a lot, but he had a real problem.

So did his family.  This boy had hit and hurt his mom on more than one occasion.  He'd broken things, too.  And he'd been in trouble with the police.  And on the occasion of this incident he'd done all three.  He'd hit his mom, he'd bashed a huge hole in his bedroom wall, and when he ran away his mom did the only thing she could think of -- she called the police.

And then she called me.

I arrived after the police.  When I got there the parents were standing on their front steps.  The police were standing by their cruiser.  And the boy?  He hadn't run far, it turned out -- he was sitting near the top of one of those large Maine pine trees that was in their front yard.

Getting out of my car I took all of this in and started going through all of my seminary training and, no, nothing in any of my classes or practicum had prepared me for this.  What could I possibly do?  The police, clearly, had decided to wait the kid out.  They'd tried to cajole him, but he wasn't budging.  And all the threats and pleading of the parents didn't move the boy either -- physically or emotionally.  Finally, since the he didn't seem at all likely to come down, I decided to go up.

As I began to climb the boy climbed a bit higher.  I told him that I'd follow him as far as he wanted to go.  So he started lobbing pine cones at me, and since they hadn't yet opened they were solid and hard.  They hurt as they hit my hands and my head.  But I told him that he couldn't do anything that would stop my joining him.  Yet I also told him that I wasn't coming up to try to get him to come down.  I was coming up, I said, so that he wouldn't be alone.

I told him that I knew he was really angry about something, and that I imagined he might be kind of scared as well.  That kind of anger can be really scary, I said, even when you're the one wielding it.  And the police were sitting down there ... waiting for him.  He denied any feelings but righteous anger, but he also stopped dropping pine cones on me.  And as I got closer and then settled in, he lost some of his bravado as well.  Oh, he kept challenging me, but I kept responding that I was going to stay with him for as long as he was up there because I didn't want him to be alone.  No matter what he'd done, no matter why he'd done it, no matter how he was feeling about it now, I didn't want him to be alone.

Recently my friend and colleague Leia Durland-Jones pointed me toward an extraordinary book -- Tattoos on the Heart.  It's written by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Gregory Boyle.  Father Boyle -- G-dog as he's more affectionately known -- has worked for decades in the area of Los Angeles that is notorious for the largest concentration of gangs.  (And that's saying something, as Los Angeles itself has been the city with the largest concentration of gangs.)  His work has been to address not the problem of gangs, but to try to do something about the problems of gang members.  He developed Homeboy Industries, and the work they do is absolutely astonishing.  (The author Anne Lamott says of the book, "... one of my favorite books in years.")

Again and again, both directly and more indirectly, Fr. Boyle reminds us that you can only go so far doing things for people.  Where the real beauty is to be found is in being with people.  In fact, often the being is more important than all the doing in the world.  That's what helped bring that boy out of that tree all those years ago; and that's what happens in those hospital rooms I visit.  And the families I sit with who've just lost a loved one.  And the folks who're wondering what they're going to do now that their job has fallen away, or their relationship, or their sense of self-worth.

And we can, each of us, practice this on a daily basis -- with the people we work with; the people we live with; the people who serve us in restaurants, or ring us up in the grocery store, or answer the phone when we call customer service.  We can practice this -- especially challenging and especially rewarding! -- with those people we're really rather not practice it with.  And, Fr. Boyle would no doubt remind us, we can practice it with those whom everyone else seem so quick to discard.  Now that would be ministry.

Pax tecum,