I should be doing a new interview in September. Scheduled for soon (possibly this weekend) is an interview conducted by a guest interviewer who may wind up doing a few more interviews in the months to come. This is still being worked out, so details will be forthcoming. [Note: I'm popping in on September 8 to say that my interview is still happening, I hope, later in September. The interview the guest interviewer is conducting may still be happening, but the interview subject is very sick and is not able to be interviewed at present. We'll see how that plays out.]
There may be an event announcement soon that I think should be quite unique. I'm waiting on confirmation of the event and to be assured that it will be open to the public before I announce it here. If it comes off, it's going to be in mid-November (or so it presently appears) and I'm hoping some of the past interview subjects will be in attendance. I hope to have all this worked out within the next week or so.
In closing, I'll leave you with two book recommendations and an R.I.P.
Recommended recent reading:
The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollack
Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
I cite these two books because they are the only two books published this year that I've read in 2016. Everything else I've read has been older.
My R.I.P. goes out to Gilli Smyth of the band Gong. Gong was one of the most influential bands of my youth and I love them to this day. Gilli and her "space whisper" will never be forgotten.
Here's to the death of summer! On to pumpkin-flavored everything!
Photo is from my recent stay at Pendle Hill in Wallingford, PA. A truly lovely place.
Japanese hardcore enthusiasts should dig the opening song that I selected.
You may listen here:
Alternately, it's on iTunes, too.
I thank Bill for such an engaging talk and you for (I hope) listening.
It helps to know who's out there and what they (you!) think.
Inventing Religious America by Green [non-fiction]
Taiko by Yoshikawa [fiction]
The Reverend Kirk T. Berlenbach
Proper VII, Year C
June 19, 2016
49 murders. Since the massacre in Orlando last week there have been a lot of debates and even a filibuster, but by far the most common response has been to hold a moment of silence. Who here participated in a moment of silence for Orlando this week? How did it feel?
Silence. 49 people murdered and in response we were silent. 50 families grieve and we held silence. As a nation silence has become all too familiar. The more I thought about it, the more it disturbed me. And then I saw that a colleague had posted the phrase “silence equals death” on their wall. Those words originated in response to the AIDS epidemic. In the face of death and suffering, the silence of the government, medical establish and of the Church was deafening. And so the only way to live was to come out, face the bigotry head on, and demand action.
But right now, in the wake of the massacre in Orlando the meaning of “silence equals death” has been inverted. By and large the people at Pulse weren’t silent. They were open about who they were and who they loved. And yet silence still cost them their lives.
It wasn’t their silence that killed them. It was ours. We have been silent for too long. We held silence for Columbine, silence for Nickle Mines and Sandy Hook and Charleston. Now we hold silence for Orlando. And it doesn’t matter how meaningful those moments silence may have felt. It doesn’t matter whether or not they were dignified by the presence of family members or clergy. It doesn’t matter whether or not we cried because in the end they were all still inadequate.
Far from changing anything our silence allows us to live with the ways things are. Worse, it actually serves to endorse the very violence and hatred that we supposedly lament. It is time that we recognize that the longer we remain silent the more people will die.
Earlier this week, after the House of Representatives held their obligatory moment of silence, Congressman Jim Himes issued a statement. He concluded it by saying, “All I know is that the regular moments of silence on the House floor do not honor the victims of violence. They are an affront. In the chamber where change is made, they are a tepid, self-satisfying emblem of impotence and willful negligence. It is action that will stop next week’s mass shooting. I will not be silent.”
“I will not be silent.” I could not agree more. But we cannot simply shunt the responsibility for our collective safety off onto our elected officials. That is because we are Christians. And as Christians we have a sacred duty to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. And yet, for the most part the Church been just as ineffective and complicit as Congress in allowing this plague of hatred and violence to persist.
The real question is why? Why are we afraid to do more? Why are we afraid to take action? Why do we instead cower in silence and try to convince ourselves that it is somehow enough when thousands of our children, sisters and brothers are being murdered each year?
I’ve given this a lot of thought and thanks to a wise colleague, I think I’ve identified the problem. Unfortunately, you’re not going to like it. I sure don’t.
Simply put we hold silence because we do not have enough faith in Jesus. Rather than trust in G-D’s grace, love and power to guide us and then stepping up into the breach… rather than confronting evil and naming bigotry for what it really is… rather than trying to be the peacemakers Jesus calls us to be we have instead allowed fear rather than faith to rule our hearts. When it gets right down to it, we just do not believe that our G-D is actually strong enough to save us.
In our desperation we look to our own strength to deliver us. Rather than meeting violence with love, we respond in kind. And so we arm ourselves against the next attack. We build walls and create lists of our enemies in the hopes that this will keep us safe. Then we are somehow surprised that the problem persists. To the contrary, the more we arm ourselves, the more people die.
Thus the problems escalate and we retreat further back into silence, back into enclaves where everyone speaks and thinks just like us because they are the only places in which we can feel safe. Difference is perceived as a threat and thus is met, not with an open mind or compassion but with suspicion or even hostility. Both literally and figuratively, our instinct becomes to shoot first before they can do the same to us.
It is time for us to recognize that the real threat is not an ethnic group or religion, it is our culture of violence. As a nation we have made an idol out of the very thing that is killing us. But rather than confront this madness, we have held silent. Indeed, we have become like the demoniac in today’s Gospel. We are possessed and in need of deliverance. We need Jesus to cast out the demons of fear, isolation and violence that have taken hold over the soul of our nation because we cannot do it on our own.
By giving himself up to death on the cross, Jesus fundamentally broke the cycle of responding to violence with violence. And by rising to life again he showed us that it is possible to live according to a different and better set of values. G-D’s perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and gives us the courage we need to finally break our silence and remind the world that each and every person is lovingly made in the image of G-D; that it is possible to love your enemies and forgive your persecutors; and that in this supposedly Christian nation, that our salvation comes not from guns, but from G-D.
Of course, if we chose to speak out it will cost us. Again, we see it in the Gospel. When the villagers saw the man whom Jesus had freed clothed and sitting in his right mind, what was their first reaction? Did they rejoice? Did they hug their friend? Did they give glory to G-D and ask Jesus to heal them too? No. When they saw that he had been freed from his demons his friends and neighbors were afraid. They wanted nothing to do with him. In fact they were so frightened that they asked Jesus to leave and never come back.
We face just as much entrenched fear today. And if you break the silence… if you start confronting the evil of violence and hatred and naming them for what they truly are… if you stop allowing the demon of fear to possess your heart and run your life there will be consequences. You will be called names and attacked on social media. You will be unfriended. Your patriotism will be questioned or you will be told that you’re hopelessly naïve. Some may even question your faith.
But it is the only way to break free of the demons of fear and hate. More importantly, it is the only way to be true to our calling as Christians. Because we must stop the killing, not just for our own protection but for our children, our nation and for our world.
It starts here and now. When you go forth from this place you need to take action. You need to speak out against hatred and bigotry. You need to contact your elected officials and demand that they stop sitting on their hands and take action. You need to make sure that you are informed and lend your voice to rallies and protests.
You’ll need a thick skin. You will have to learn to put up with heckling and be patient with the cynics. You will have to learn to turn the other cheek when attacked and to set aside your own anger in order to build bridges when others would build walls. But regardless of the cost we can no longer afford to be silent because silence equals death. And our G-D is the Lord of life.
It is time for us to remember that. It is time for us to stop cowering in the closet of fear. It is time to start speaking up and prove that we trust our G-D more than our guns. It is time for us as Christians to come out, face up to the fear that has kept us silent for so long and to finally be true to who G-D has called us to be.
The Reverend Kirk T. Berlenbach
Christmas is a season of light. We decorate our homes with lights of all shapes and sizes. We adorn our trees. Light even takes a special role here at church as we light our gas lamps and later, with hand candles as we sing Silent Night.
When taken altogether these light are beautiful. The problem is that when it comes to Christmas lights you needs hundreds or even thousands to really make a difference. One light on its own? That wouldn’t be very festive? Who would even notice a tree or a house with one, solitary little light?
Let’s put this to the test. (light a hand candle and hold it up) Can you see it? Of course you can see the candle but does its light make any difference? No, not really. And why? Because all the other lights. If I hadn’t drawn you attention to it, you might not even notice it was there at all. But what if we turned off those other lights? (all electric lights are turned out) All of a sudden that one little candle becomes a whole lot easier to see.
One little light can make a big difference in our lives. A few years ago my family and I spent a month on a remote Irish island. Its rugged and sparsely populated. Outside the main town of Kilronan there are few signs of civilization. The houses are far apart. There are no stop signs or street lights. Just a narrow road winding its way through the hills and rocks.
One night I had stayed out late. It was well past midnight when I started to ride my bike back to our little green house. Things were fine until I came to the edge of town. Then the lights started to fade. The houses got further apart and the road got darker and darker. It wasn’t long until I could barely see. Even though I knew where I was going I found myself gripping the handlebars for fear of running off the road. As I approached the long downhill curve that ran right along the shoreline that fear really rose up. There was no guardrail to protect me from the jagged rocks below which meant if I made a mistake I would suffer far worse than a skinned knee. But just as the darkness started to overwhelm me I saw it. A single light off in the distance. Shining from the front of our little house, it cut through the night like a laser. With that light to guide me, I took a deep breath and kept going.
What is so remarkable is that that light wasn’t anything powerful or special. It was just one, little, lightbulb. Yet in the darkness that one, little, light shone out clear and true. It kept me safe and got me home.
Maybe you know what I mean. When the power goes off in your house, what is the first thing you do? Find a light. But why? We know we’re safe. There is nothing to fear. It’s just dark. Yet we crave light, not just so that we can move about or find our stuff… we need it to make us feel safe and secure. Light comforts and reassures us. And when the darkness closes in, even one, little light can make the difference between getting lost or making it back home.
Right now we could use a little more light. The days are short and the nights are long. Yet this is the least of our worries. The darkness in our hearts is far worse. We see it in the violence, hatred and contempt that seems to dominate our world. In the bombings and mass shootings… in the racism and systematic persecution of those who are different… through our greed and willingness to exploit one another and our earth for the sake of profit. Sometimes when we look around all we see is the darkness.
Yet for all its power, darkness does not have the final word. Even a single light can pierce and dispel it. As it says in the Gospel of John, “The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” That light is Jesus. He was born into our world because although we had fallen into darkness, G-D did not give up on us. In fact G-D loved us so much that G-D joined us in our darkness being born as one of us. Through his life, death and resurrection Jesus showed us that love is stronger than hate and that not even the cold and dark of the tomb could overcome his light.
The prophet Isaiah once proclaimed, “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Well we have walked in darkness long enough. We have suffered and watched the power of evil at work in our world long enough. We don’t have to sit in darkness any longer. Tonight, the light of G-D’s love has come into our world once more.
And it doesn’t matter who you are, or how often you come to church, or if you consider yourself spiritual but not religious or even you don’t believe at all. The light of Christ now shines for you. And if we chose to look for it we will find that it’s all around us. In the brimming boxes of Toys for Tots or in the mountain of food that was collected in this very church to provide a Christmas meal for local families. We saw it shining as Syrian refugees were welcomed at the Munich train station and in the courage of people like Mala Yousafzai who refuse to return hatred or violence in kind. We see it in the selflessness of those who spend Christmas day working in homeless shelters or delivering meals to shut ins. And of course, it is there in the love and warmth of family and friends. In all these ways and many more the light of Christ shines out in our darkness.
In a little while you will light a candle. As the lights go down and the music swells take a moment to look at it. It may be small but it still has the power to pierce the night. As you look at it, think about the ways in which G-D’s love has helped get you through your dark times. When you sat in grief or depression, remember it how it felt when someone showed you a little kindness or compassion. Remember how that one, simple gesture of a meal, a visit or a phone call brought some much needed light into your dark.
As you bask in the warmth of that memory, consider how you might now share that same light with someone else. How can you bring a little comfort into the life of someone who is hungry or lonely or scared? How might you become a beacon of hope for someone who desperately needs a light to guide them?
Tonight, as we gather here in safety, all around the world, countless millions still suffer in the dark. Yet darkness does not have the final word. For tonight is Christmas. Tonight Jesus comes into our world once more. Tonight, the light of Christ shines out in the dark and the darkness cannot ever overcome it. And if we choose to follow it, that light will lead us home.
May that light now fill your heart with joy and hope. May it continually lead you as you go forth from this place. And above all, may it inspire you to go out and share it with those who are still lost in the dark.
The other photo is Father Kirk and me in a pew at Saint Timothy's Episcopal Church just before the interview.
There are more interviews to come (there likely always will be), but at the slower pace of the last year or so. There are folks I want to speak to, but this far into the project I'm mostly trying to catch those scattered around the country (or world). Some I hope to interview here in Philadelphia if they come through and others I may speak to where they presently reside. There's an interview currently being scheduled that should appear in July. I'll be interviewed for the excellent "Supporting Characters"podcast hosted by Bill Ackerman in a couple weeks. That should be a very long and detailed interview focusing on many subjects, this project being just one.
With the site renewed for another three years, the future of this project seems assured. I encourage you, Dear Listener, to write with your thoughts about the the project and to please rate it on the other listening platforms. Ratings and reviews are not meant as a ego-stroke for me. Rather, they raise the profile of the project so more people can discover and enjoy it. Since $0 is made from L!F!P! (the only thing I do that I don't insist on making a profit on), your contribution is helping to spread the word. These interviews contain marvelous ideas and stories, and that is a tribute to the fine folks I've had the opportunity to engage with.