Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Between Boston and Baghdad

Last week my mind trained on the war in Iraq more than it did on the homeless in Boston. On Friday I left St. Francis House early in the afternoon in order to finish packing for the journey to Washington and the massive antiwar demonstration on the National Mall. The next thirty-six hours were some of the happiest I experienced this year. I yelled myself half-hoarse that warm, sunny Saturday, passing by the halls of power, demanding that God’s will to peace be done. The road trip proved just as enjoyable as the march, as the conversation kept running mile after mile.

Yet even in the midst of the jubilant journey and peaceful procession, I could recall what brought me there. My mind was on the war precisely because of the homeless. With the billions of dollars we have sunk into remaking Iraq in our own image, we could have been investing in urban renewal, including job training and housing development, and counseling services—mental health, legal, and financial—to rebuild the lives of our homeless and the communities in which they wander. Harnessing the talent of our young, strong men and women and the treasure of our most generous fellow citizens, we could have rebuilt New Orleans and all the communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and returned hundreds of thousands of displaced brothers and sisters to their rightful homes. Yet what have we done all this time? We have made war, begetting more wars. We have destroyed lives, thereby destroying the better parts of our own lives. We have caused uncounted numbers of Iraqi men, women, and children to flee their cities and towns, with refuge in Europe or the United States their last hope. Homelessness … that is what we have “created” in Iraq.

During the march I wore the rugged metal cross given to all the homeless men and women who attend Common Cathedral, the street church led by Ecclesia Ministries. The word “Ecclesia” is engraved into the curvature of the cross. It reminds me that I am the member of a spiritual assembly whose unity transcends time and space in Christ. How fitting, on that mild winter day in Washington, to bear witness to the worldwide assembly of displaced persons within one of the largest assemblies I’ve joined, itself the product of myriad pilgrimages. All of us felt called to disperse from our particular communities to remember the living and the dead dispersed from theirs. The homeless soldiers, unable to return because of redeployment … the homeless Iraqis, unable to return to their native soil because of mass violence … the homeless in America, unable to return to the places once theirs because of the blind negligence of their brothers and sisters.

This war hurts all the homeless. For every day we let the strife fester, we do violence to the least among us here and abroad, and the vain cause for which we fruitlessly fight undermines the genuinely righteous causes for which we must vigorously fight. And all the while, God watches and hides.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Letter From Boylston Street #2

One in an occasional series of reflections on homelessness and my duties as a pastoral intern at St. Francis House, a daytime shelter on 39 Boylston St. in Boston (

From an incident on Friday morning:

“I came up here for an emergency clothing ticket.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t have any emergency clothing here in the day center.”

“But they told me I can get an emergency clothing ticket in the day center.”

“The only way we give out clothing is by the lottery downstairs every morning at 9 o’clock.”

“I need some emergency clothing, do you hear what I am saying?”

“Yes, and I’m sorry, but I don’t have any clothing to give you.”

“They said I can get some emergency clothing up here. Now I need some clothes!”

“I know, but I said we don’t have any clothing here for you. I’m sorry.”

“I need some fucking clothing. They said I can get some emergency clothing. Give me some fucking clothing!”

“If I had the clothing, I would give it to you. We don’t have any clothing here.”

“I need some fucking clothing! Now give me some clothing!”

“I want to give you some clothing. But we don’t have any clothing. There’s nothing else I can do for you.”

“They told me to come up here for the emergency clothing!”

“I can’t give you any clothing.”

This went on, back and forth, between me and a taller, stronger guest, and I began to worry for my safety, as I was all alone behind the hospitality desk (which should never be the case). Finally, I called for one of the staff, who was just as tall and strong as this aggrieved guest, and he convinced the guest that I was telling the truth. I should have said right at the start that the security desk in the lobby gave our guest the wrong information.

This is not the first time guests have been waylaid by misinformation. Now, the security desk knows that there is no emergency clothing available in the day center. All clothing is distributed on the second floor, above the mezzanine. There hasn’t been any emergency clothing distribution in the day center as long as I have been volunteering. Since the introduction of the clothing lottery, we have also stopped giving out emergency clothing tickets. Surely this intelligence has filtered down to security, because they supervise the daily clothing lottery! So why do some staff insist on sending guests to the mezzanine, where they are bound to be frustrated?

Ignorance itself isn’t sin, but willful ignorance is despicable, especially when it frustrates faith, hope, and charity. I refer to ignorance of the reality of the situation as well as ignorance of the possible consequences of our behavior. What angers homeless persons the most is the kind of negligence that opens up, as a yawning void, on account of one person’s or one group’s calculated avoidance of the other person’s experience of the common situation. This anger spilled over several times during worship at Common Cathedral today, as several homeless disrupted intercessions, the Eucharist, and concluding prayers with shouting and infighting. One homeless person, Ken, stepped forward and said he had been barred from St. Francis House and Pine Street Inn, an overnight shelter, for preaching. Invoking God, he promised that things are going to get bad at these places.

When security continues to send our guests to floors where their needs cannot be met; when volunteers do not have the right answers or are put into situations where no answers they can give are the right answers; when guests rage against yet another slap to their dignity, everybody loses. All are caught in sin.


A windy winter has arrived at last, and I have been worrying about the homeless, knowing that some men and women are going to die on the benches of Boston Common this month or the next. Earlier in the week a friend of mine called an ambulance for a hypothermic homeless person squatting in Copley Square. She had bought a coffee for him, only to find that he was too cold and too weak to raise the cup to his lips. On Saturday I met Steve, who was squatting in the subway station at Hynes Convention Center, and he looked much worse than he did several months ago. He had been beaten up, he was fitted in a neck brace, and he was starving. His speech was badly slurred. I wanted to find out what happened to him. All he kept asking was, “I’m hungry. Can you help me out?” I brought him some rice, vegetables and chicken from a Korean-Japanese buffet down the road. “Are you a Christian?” he asked. Pausing for a moment, I said cautiously, “Yes.” “Why do you care for me?” he asked. I said, “You said you were hungry, so I came back to feed you.” In between his falling tears he said to me, “Nobody cares for me. I just need somebody to love me.” We prayed together, and he asked me to give him a kiss. I brushed away the hair from his forehead and gave him a kiss of peace. We embraced. He said Jesus Christ had brought me to him and the Holy Spirit was here. I had no words.

Lord, correct our ignorance. Lord, defeat our negligence. Help us see your face and not be surprised by its pallor or its ugliness. Keep us from recoiling at first from the fury etched into the lines of your mouth and forehead. Let us not look away if we see you wailing for your welfare. We dare not turn away, even if your image appears in a form so abused that the child of God we find curses us. We do not turn away, but we turn back because we know it is we who have abused these children of God. Ours is the sin, the slavery, and the suffering; yours is the kin(g)dom, the power, and the glory. Set us free from the snares we have laid.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Prayer From Ecclesia Ministries

Ecclesia Ministries ( is a spiritual community for the men and women who live on the streets of Boston. Common Cathedral, a weekly ecumenical celebration of the Eucharist on Boston Common, is the centerpiece of its mission.

Three times a year, Ecclesia leads an overnight urban outreach program called CityReach. Youth and young adults learn about homelessness from persons who are currently or formerly homeless, provide hospitality through gifts of food and clothing, and engage in street ministry.

The following is a prayer that was written by the CityReach volunteer teams on Oct. 21, 2006, after an afternoon of theological and practical reflection.

Gracious God of charity, loving Creator, our almighty warm embrace and Holy Wisdom,

You open our eyes and minds and hearts. You suffer with us, and you love the unlovable. You fill our needs, as when you took pity on us and performed a miracle of compassion to feed the five thousand. You are our faithful and patient provider.

Renew us and help us to remember your people. Work through us as we continue our service to others. Bring privilege to those who are less privileged. Help us to pray for people who need homes. Protect the vulnerable, and give them hope. Make those who are strong stand up for the weak, and give them courage to welcome the outsider and change unjust systems. Renew our faith so we may embrace other people without judgment.

Build our community, Lord. We need a larger table and more chairs for the heavenly banquet. Make your kingdom come quickly.

We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, homeless in this world, but at home with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Letter From Boylston Street #1

This is one in a series of reflections on homelessness and my duties as a pastoral intern at St. Francis House, a daytime shelter on 39 Boylston St. in Boston (

I live in Theology House, the dormitory for School of Theology students, in Kenmore Square. When I returned to Theology House from vacation on the 6th, there was no hot water in the building. The water heater was broken beyond repair, and there was no spare available on campus. For two days I bathed under the tub faucet in freezing water. I couldn’t even take a cold shower, because there was no water pressure. You should have seen how gleeful I was after the heater was fixed, running the hot water from the tap with enough abandon to make a conservationist furious. When I shared my frustration with Chris, my homeless friend in Kenmore Square, he said that I now knew what it was like for him and his kind most of the time. This struck me in an odd way: I wasn’t looking to identify with Chris or his brothers and sisters on the street by telling this story.

On Sunday the 14th I worshipped at Common Cathedral, the weekly ecumenical service of Eucharist held for homeless and street people on Boston Common. On this day the inclement weather forced us to celebrate on the portico steps of the Episcopal cathedral across the street. Afterward I lingered among the congregation, waiting for the afternoon Bible study to begin. In the meantime, the homeless were lining up to receive sandwiches and snacks prepared by members of a visiting congregation. While I was resting on a chair on the portico, a teenager from the pilgrim church stopped over and asked me if I wanted a snack. This happened again moments later when a woman offered me a peanut butter sandwich. I got up to mill around, and another visiting congregant approached me to offer a warm hat. This never happened to me before at Common Cathedral. I always assumed you could tell a homeless person from a person with housing. Inside, it irked me to be confused with the homeless. Couldn’t these guests to our congregation see I wasn’t hungry or threadbare? But, then, another question: why should I be offended at being identified as one among these poor, whom I also serve?

Maybe the answer is this: because I do identify with the homeless, but I am offended by superficial identifications. It is just not true that all homeless persons do not, cannot, and will not bathe often or well, or that all homeless persons go starving and naked. However, it is true that they all go avoided and ignored, deprived and disrespected. They are not loved as well as other people. They are not nurtured or supported as well as other people. They are invisible and anonymous. What are the intrinsic identifying characteristics of the homeless? Look into their eyes, and you will see. Listen to them speak, when they do speak, and you will hear. You will know that they are forlorn, lonely, and shell-shocked. They are melancholy and sluggish. They have been beaten, cast off, and rejected forever. Many feel they’re outside God’s gracious circle. I can identify with the homeless not because I have occasionally wanted for the same material things, but because I have often wanted for the same spiritual things.

I returned to my duties on Monday, and I was feeling depressed and miserable. A few conditions at the shelter compounded my blues. This being the civic holiday, the regular day center staff was out, and we had no telephone, clothing, or shower services. We had no counseling or educational services. All this on a day that is supposed to commemorate Martin Luther King, who, last I checked, was a tireless advocate for the poor, whatever day of the year it happened to be. The day center was supposed to show a film about Martin Luther King to the guests, but someone forgot to bring it. The stand-in supervisor decided to show Charlie’s Angels instead. Charlie’s Angels? At a homeless shelter founded by Franciscan friars, whose mission is to rebuild lives, not narcotize them with ironic, mindless, sex-crazed entertainment? Incensed and despondent, I departed for the kitchen to help prepare lunch.

Though lost in a thick cloud of sad feelings, I was aware enough to notice my body language and gestures and that of our guests. We were the same: stooped over, eyes averted, moving slowly. I listened to our speech. We were the same: soft, terse, guarded, a little disconnected. I peered into several of our guests’ faces. We were the same: subdued and weary-looking, eyes and mouths drawn downward.

When lunch was concluded, we were short on volunteers for the cleanup. In an unusual move, we recruited some of the guests to assist us. As we were hustling about, it occurred to me that I couldn’t tell who was homeless and who was not. We were the same. We were servants. We were nobodies. We were poor.

God, please send men and women to love these, your poor servants, your sinners, your dear, dear children! God, please do not forget them or us when you count up your children. Remember well, comfortable reader, how, in your occasional hour of doubt, you feel rejected, maybe respected but not loved (and what good is respect when there is not love?). Then consider that, for many homeless, the hour of doubt is unending. Now dare to identify with the homeless! You can, because you can imagine, even for just a moment, a life without love, which is really no life at all. All you need is love; all you are is love. Yes, you need a great many things in order to live, including food, shelter, clothing, and the means to acquire these things. But without love, giving love and receiving love, you are nothing. This is what Jesus taught us. This is what his apostle Paul taught us. You can “live” on food, shelter, clothing, money, and respect for your fabulous gifts and talents. But in an hour of temptation Jesus said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” This word, every one of these words, is love. Lord, we say Yes to your Yes. Please say Yes to us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Some Untimely Thoughts About the War

Before I think twice and lose my nerve, I will put these thoughts out into cyberspace.

President Bush always talks about the war in Iraq as the major front in the war on terror. We are bringing the fight to the enemy so the enemy won’t be able to strike us on American soil. Well, it doesn’t seem very neighborly of the United States to bring our fight into a nation that did not war on us. Didn’t Bush’s father tell him that it doesn’t make us a kinder, gentler nation to do something like that? Did President Bush ask the Iraqi people if it was okay to bring our dogfight with al-Qaeda into their backyard? I mean, if you’re about to have a brawl with some folks, you “step outside,” but you don’t step into someone else’s home!

Again, President Bush always talks about the war in Iraq as the major front in the war on terror. By that, we mean al-Qaeda, of course, because they’re the ones after the United States. That was our fight. Bush and his deputies say the new Iraqi government stands by our side as a major ally in the struggle to defeat terrorists. Well, if that’s true, how come I never hear Nuri Kamal al-Maliki or any of his deputies talking about defeating al-Qaeda? Have you ever heard the Iraqi leaders we prop up speaking as vehemently as President Bush does against those terrorists? Or maybe they are too busy fighting several different wars on terror: Shiite militants versus Sunni militants, Shiite militants against their own kind, and Iraqi democrats versus foes in Iran and Syria that don’t want a democratic Iraq. Oh, and we want Iraqis to help us defeat al-Qaeda, too? What’s in it for them? Was that ever their fight? No wonder we’ve got Sunni and Shiite insurgents warring on our soldiers, who must be wondering whom to protect and whom to shoot.

Before we invaded Iraq, there were no wars going on inside that nation. Now there are five. How many battles are we supposed win at once? We don’t want any part of the sectarian wars, and Iraq doesn’t want any part of our al-Qaeda war. Iraq, in fact, has declared war against our al-Qaeda war and, beyond that, our very presence there. You call that a partnership?

Nevertheless, President Bush has decided to send more American troops to Iraq to fight all of these wars at once, the American war on terror and the wars on Iraqi terror. I guess this finally puts to rest the myth that there ever was a coalition of the willing united in a global assault on terrorism.

When President Bush is not talking about the war in Iraq as the major front in the war on terror, he is talking about it as a mission to spread liberty. We’re there to spread freedom. However, do you ever really hear President Bush and his deputies wax rhapsodic about the ultimate sacrifices our soldiers have made to protect Iraqi freedom? Do grieving families want to hear that their sons and daughters died to make free a nation that presently seems incapable of exercising freedom as we know it? On the contrary, his encomiums are always about the ultimate sacrifices our soldiers have made to protect our freedom. Let’s be real and admit that despite the arguments being made that a secure Iraq guarantees Iraqi and American freedom, our venture in Iraq has always been about American security and American interests first. If he were honest, President Bush would take equal time to honor the ultimate sacrifices of untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, nameless, unmourned, and unknown, who have died for American freedom.

You might think I sound ungrateful for what Americans did to remove Saddam Hussein from power and release Iraqis from his indefensible tyranny and insane brutality. That’s probably true: I am not properly grateful for the passing of this dictator from the world scene or for the people who made sure Saddam and his deputies could do no more harm to their people. But my sense of gratitude is challenged, because the ends did not justify the means by which we pursued those ends, and the intended results of achieving our narrow ends have not been realized by any stretch of the imagination. If it is fair to ask Iraqi citizens if they are grateful for having been freed from the grasp of the iron fist of Saddam, it is also fair to ask them if they are grateful for what they have been “freed” into today. Additionally, it is fair to ask whether the Iraqi people can ever be free as long as the United States is present in force on their streets.

These thoughts I submit humbly, but angrily.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Children of Men

The other day I went to the cinema on Boston Common and saw Children of Men. This movie saw its first limited release on Christmas Day, and you know what? That’s fully fitting, and I’ll tell you why.

Imagine the human race became infertile in two years. Not a single child is born after the year 2009, and a concurrent flu pandemic has claimed most of the remaining young. Now, imagine the world in 2027, wracked with terrorism and nuclear destruction. In the face of mass migrations of Third World refugees, your nation clamps down and becomes a quasi-military state, and xenophobia is written into public policy in the form of detention camps. Rebel militias fight the fascist state, and it’s hard to tell which group is the more lawless. Among a captive citizenry, anxiety over the end of humanity prompts religion-fueled hysteria on the one hand, and mass suicide on the other (made utterly convenient and conventional with the legalization of euthanizing drugs).

In the midst of this, imagine you are a drone in the state bureaucracy, somebody who used to give a damn about changing the world, but now drowns his depression in alcohol. The news that the youngest person in the world has died (aged 18 years, 4 months, 16 hours and 5 minutes) barely fazes you, nor the fact that you just cheated death by leaving the café moments before it was bombed.

Then, all of a sudden, you are abducted by the rebels—one of whom is your former lover—and you are given a mission to provide safe harbor for a young African refugee and convey her to the coast. Such a mission would be compromising enough in itself, but there’s a further twist: this woman is pregnant. She does not know how it happened, or with whom, but she is all alone, and she does not know what to do or where to go.

The rebels hope to rendezvous in international waters with a ship named Tomorrow that will bring the refugee to an island community of free men and women called The Human Project. Here, a band of scientists is laboring to cure infertility before humanity disappears. The only thing is, the rebels aren’t sure The Human Project or the ship Tomorrow exists. Your former lover claims they do. The girl has faith that they do.

You’ll never know for sure, because along the way your crew is ambushed by fascist sympathizers, murdering your partner.

Now you are alone among the zealous rebels, whom you don’t trust, and dodging the government, which you trust less. You hardly know this young woman, whose child is not your own, but who is pregnant with all the hopes and dreams of a restored humanity. Gradually, though, you make her cause your own, and you begin to believe in yourself and in life again. Never has your life been at greater risk, and never have you been more alive.

I won’t give away all the plot turns, but three scenes stand out quite clearly. The first is the most luminous: Kee, the refugee so far from home, gives birth to her daughter in some dark, unscrubbed corner of a hovel in the state detention camp. You are the midwife and the only witness. The second is the most transcendent: after being separated from Kee by the double-crossing rebels, you rescue her and the baby amidst an apocalyptic insurrection at the detention camp. Fleeing bullets and bombs from every side, finally staring down the muzzle of a government soldier’s gun, the baby crying at your side saves you at last. The stunned soldier cries for a ceasefire, and you and Kee exit the lodging in which you were trapped. Every rebel and soldier you pass observes the child with reverence, and some bow and genuflect. As soon as you have forded this sea of warriors, a rebel rocket disturbs the tranquility, and the uprising resumes. The third scene is the most affecting: bloodied and badly wounded, you escort Kee to a tunnel in a water station and board a flimsy rowboat, provided for you at great personal peril by a gypsy woman, and set out along a narrow channel out to sea for the ship Tomorrow.

I haven’t seen The Nativity Story, but I don’t think I have to. For those paying attention, Children of Men is a devastating 21st century reinterpretation of the biblical narratives of the births of Jesus and Moses.


An aside: this film has a very cool soundtrack, with a melancholy cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” But I was knocked out by the prominent use of two progressive rock bands, Radiohead (“Life in a Glasshouse”) and, to my great delight, King Crimson (“In the Court of the Crimson King”). I never thought any Hollywood movie would be hip enough to use King Crimson. There’s also a visual connection in the film to Pink Floyd: in one scene you are looking out onto Battersea Power Station, and sure enough, there’s an enormous inflatable pig floating in the distance.

This film is adapted from the 1992 novel by P.D. James. Children of Men is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who directed the third Harry Potter movie, which, I am told, is the one really worth watching.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

What's to Like About Babylon?

I promised to write a few more words about my first home. What good is Babylon? What good was it? These are a few of my favorite things….

1. West Babylon Junior High School, in my mind, is the flagship of our public schools ( It is a model of discipline and enthusiasm. Its teachers steer hundreds of children through the first perilous years of adolescence with wisdom, humor, and firmness. My sister, an art teacher here, now gives back what she was most generously given by the school. (Historical footnote: Walt Whitman taught school in West Babylon in the winter of 1836-1837.)

2. On the strength and creativity of volunteers of all ages, the James Street Players ( consistently produces some of the best community theater on Long Island. The Babylon United Methodist Church has hosted the company for 40 years.

3. Main Street, which runs through Babylon Village, is one of the most convivial places to congregate in this town. Sure, the shops and restaurants are a little more expensive here, but you know that you’re somewhere, and you feel like you are someone. That is to say, when you’re hanging around Main Street, you’re not anonymous, nor would you want to be. Here, you forget that you live in the suburbs. For more about Babylon Village:,_New_York

4. Belmont Lake State Park ( is a hidden gem in my own backyard, North Babylon. Here, my dad took me on a rowboat ride once. My sister the shutterbug has taken her finest pictures here. My brother and I have gone here for long walks. If I don’t spend more time here in the future, I will regret it profoundly.

5. The Terrace Diner, located off Sunrise Highway. My idea of an all-American restaurant: a menu with something for everybody, generous portions, and low prices. A place like this reveals the glory of working-class dining. This place was great before its renovation several years ago, and is simply the finest eatery of its kind today. Check it out:,0,1886739.venue

6. West Babylon Public Library (, established 1983. I got my first library card here in 1985. I grew a lot in mind thanks to this institution.

7. Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church (, for personal reasons. It’s my first faith community, my place of refreshment, and my sanctuary. A lot of what I needed to know about being a Christian I learned here.


A few more thoughts on Babylon and home:

Sometimes this place will surprise me. Sometimes the television is actually turned off. Sometimes there’s no traffic charging down the street. You can turn your head all the way around and not see advertising. The only sounds are your breathing and the birds tweeting nearby. We can surrender our distress, and the disquiet of the day gives way to stillness. Possibilities present themselves.

Sometimes you’re not mimicking the small talk on the radio. Sometimes you discover to your amazement that you haven’t been gossiping after all, and the conversation is still enjoyable. There are pauses, and they feel proper, victorious, earned. In those moments lie prophecy.

Even in Babylon, you can still dream during the sunsets. You can marvel at the full moon sagging low on the horizon and looking larger than you ever imagined.

It’s easy to slow down here. All you have to do is walk.

Lord, have mercy on those Babylonians who work 45 hours a week, hurtling themselves to and from a corporate high-rise or “park” by locomotive or automobile. Have mercy on those who rise before daylight, work in concrete fortresses where light never comes in, and return home in darkness.

Babylon, I pray that even in your thin, gravelly suburban soil, a more indigenous culture may yet take root, and a community of memory and deep ground may emerge. The Spirit calls your children forth, and they leave, but will there be any who stay? I cannot say, but for the young I hope that your land may one day be a place for living as well as leaving.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Babylon, Home, and the Kin(g)dom of God

Home is a “whole in the ground.” It is where we go to become complete. It is where we live most deeply. For Christians, “kingdom of God” is the ultimate expression of home, and while it is utterly unlike any home we have known, I think it is the ground and measure of every real home we have encountered. Any home we know is on the way to the ultimate Home prepared for us by God and to which we are guided by Christ and speeded by the Holy Spirit. So we are moving from home to Home.

I think that the kingdom of God is like a homecoming, only this is a traveling festival that comes out to meet you where you are. Here you find all the people are your kin, and you meet your many, many brothers and sisters, and all the maternal and paternal figures, too. Wherever Jesus went, there was the kin(g)dom of God, and all his brothers and sisters were with him, as well as his mother and father, much to the confusion of even his natural kin. Home, the ultimate Home, is where the Sacred Heart is.

Today, the Spirit, not Jesus in the flesh, finds us where we are and brings us from home on to Home. That spiritual journey need not be a literal peregrination, but it has been for millions, and that includes me. And this is where I may say with some pride, and a little irony, that Babylon was the origin of my pilgrimage toward the kin(g)dom. What I find lacking in this community today cannot diminish the wealth of what I received when I was younger and not far along in the process of becoming.

And what riches! I got educated. I discovered reason. I acquired morals and a conscience. I was given responsibilities. Again, the Spirit finds us where we are. It may be the mind or the heart or the hands, wherever our being is centered. My family taught me to learn, and the home that Babylon once was prepared me to think. Therefore, the Spirit that stirred my spirit first touched me by the mind.

But no person is merely a thinker. Sometime, somewhere, we’ve got to feel and experience. The Spirit wants to be—has to be—in our heart and hands, too. Living in Babylon, I could never develop a discipline of the heart and the hands, and the Spirit was not going to touch me in those parts of my being there.

And so the Spirit moved, and it moved me out of Babylon.

Living and studying at Cornell University, I honed the discipline of the mind, struggling with questions that life in Babylon only barely foreshadowed. Having thought my way past unbelief, God opened another way, and the mind gladly gave way to the discipline of the heart. And for the first time I called Ithaca my home.

But I was untimely ripped from Ithaca when I graduated, prompting a spiritual crisis. When I returned to Babylon, I claimed faith and the faith tradition mislaid by my family years before. Now I fought my way past the dead end of cynical irony, and, for a time, by force of will, Babylon became a home again. This time around I found men and women of faith willing to walk slowly, with wonderful patience, with the person dying to become a new being. Nobody knew or cared if I was smart or intelligent. They looked at my heart, beating like an infant’s.

Yet for all their nurture, I could not shed my tough shell, I could not flower among them, and I could not join their community of natural hearts. Instead, I lived in contradiction, with one eye on the will be and the other on the was. Too often I found myself breaking rocks, expecting to find living springs within them, only to find devils and dust. When I was not looking, my own heart continued to petrify. Left to my own devices, I could not keep myself from being hardened. I prayed to be lifted out of the quarry and planted into fertile soil.

I thought that soil would be a seminary or a friary. It turned out to be a ghetto.

Living and teaching in the inner city of Baltimore, I honed the habits of the heart. I loved and hated and praised and envied and rejoiced and sorrowed more deeply than I thought myself capable. With more fecklessness than wisdom, I claimed Baltimore as my home.

But after two years of so much feeling without an equal knowing for my moods, the Spirit left me, and my spirit was emptied. Determined to live in poverty in Baltimore, I got all the banal wretchedness I wanted, but it was not pleasing to God’s children and of no great significance to God. And I was wasting all my talents. Living in Baltimore, I could never develop a proper discipline of the hands.

The Spirit moved me to consult experience a little more seriously, and it moved me out of Baltimore, but not before I had a little epiphany. Providentially, it happened one weekend in Ithaca, during my college reunion … a homecoming. Here, where all my cares were taken from me, I realized it was time to integrate the disciplines of the mind, heart, and hands: to think, to feel, to act, to experience all at once! Theology was the answer to a question it took so long to ask correctly, and the signposts pointed to Boston, the epicenter of American Christian theology.

Knowing I was destined to move on, I returned to Babylon for a short time to prepare for this new journey. These thirteen months felt like exile. Looking back on yesterday’s glories in Ithaca and Baltimore while my eye was training on tomorrow’s possibilities in Boston, I neglected the present moment. In Babylon, I was merely a boarder on the border of a transformation. In light of the present, I hope all has been forgiven.

Living, studying, and serving in Boston, I think that for the first time I am honing all three disciplines in good measure. Thanks be to God, and forgive my faults, kind reader, because it’s certain that my thoughts sometimes go astray; my heart isn’t always in the right place; and my deeds fail to meet the promise of my words.

It should not disturb you or me that Babylon or any place that was a home becomes not a home. The Spirit wanders, and we with it. Besides, none of these present homes are the Home that is symbolized by the phrase “kingdom of God.” They reveal and occasionally manifest what that Home is like, but that Home is yet to come. To find the kin(g)dom of God, you must first leave home.

I remember this distinctly. Once upon a time, when I was still a high school senior on the verge of starting college, the superintendent of our hometown’s public schools told me in words to this effect, “You’ve done all you could possibly do in West Babylon, and West Babylon has done all it could do for you. Now it’s time for you to move on.” He said more than even he knew.