The Rector’s Digest 2022:02
17 March 2022
Patrick of Ireland (461)
As of this writing, Renee and I have been married almost 22 years. And over the last few weeks we made our 14th move. So our lives these days are again about relocation, relocation, relocation (interestingly, the title of an Australian TV show, but I digress).
Today as I type in my reconstructed home office, we’re finally (almost) out of boxes in the Rectory of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York’s Times Square. I’m now about a month into my new job as the Interim Rector for this iconic old parish, and it’s pretty surreal, moving to the bustling center of the biggest city in America to work and to live.
But we already love NYC and the faithful family at St. Mary’s, and I’ve learned a ton about the parish and the neighborhood in my first month here. It’s exciting to lean into the next chapter of work here and prepare to help the people of St. Mary’s discern who God is forming them to be in the next 3 years, 7 years, 25 years.
It’s not lost on me, though, that as my family relocated to New York to follow Jesus, other folks are on the move. More than three million refugees have fled Ukraine under the Russian onslaught, while an unknown number are displaced within the country’s borders. The saddest part is the children — UNICEF estimates 55 children per minute have become refugees since the Russian invasion: “That is, a Ukrainian child has become a refugee almost every single second since the start of the war,” a spokesperson said. We at St. Mary’s pray for peace every day; we hear the cries of protesters every weekend in Times Square; we follow the reports in the newspaper and on TV every night. But that all seems so small. And not just to me.
One thing I miss most about Nashville is a little group of guys that met at the Frothy Monkey in 12-South most Tuesday mornings to drink coffee, eat a bagel (or a huge waffle, according to our respective metabolisms), and talk about books. This week, Aaron, one of our members, sent around a newsletter written by pastor and author David Swanson, and it resonated with me. It reads, in part:
I want the act of watching a war unfold on the other side of the world to feel stranger than it does. It should feel stranger than it does . . . . [But t]elevised and streaming war is normal now . . . .
There was a story on our local public radio station this week about some high rises in Chicago which are being illuminated in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. It’s a way of standing in solidarity, according to a couple of the building managers who were interviewed for the report. They didn’t sound all that convinced that their lit-up support makes much of a difference.
What else is there to do with another war on?
Neil Postman introduced me to the “Information-Action-Ratio” in Amusing Ourselves to Death. If my daughter is sick in the next room (which she actually happens to be right this moment, the poor thing), I can bring her ice chips. I can take her temperature, respond to her cries, even transport her to hospital if necessary (albeit in an Uber now that we’re officially car-less as a family). That’s a “high” information-action-ratio, and it’s what we all experienced prior to the age of telegraphy. Here’s Postman about back in the day when:
the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became context for news. Everything became everyone’s business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply.
Now we are constantly bombarded with information from places we cannot access, and our information-access-ratio has diminished drastically. We’re paralyzed by news reports, unable to act more meaningfully than to pray, illuminate our buildings, perhaps donate to relief efforts via text. That’s a pretty “low information-action-ratio” — and the acronym isn’t an unintended pun: I say I care about Ukraine, but I honestly feel like a L.I.A.R.
I think that’s why I was so taken with Pastor Swanson’s words. Read the whole piece — he goes through Fanny Lou Hamer and Wendell Berry to ponder how we are to “shake lose of the fragmented malaise of technocracy which has us adding wars and rumors of war to the rest of our media queue,” but he doesn’t leave us despairing. He concludes:
Perhaps we might begin by plunging our hands into the nearest bit of soil we can find, feeling for the reverberations of this created world of which we are but a small part. Any fruitful response to the old predictable destruction will not come from some technological miracle. It will reveal itself to those who can see the whole, who understand we belong to the whole and can imagine that wholeness in the stories and suffering of our kin.
Neighborly love cannot be mitigated through our technology, no matter what the technocratic saviors from Silicon Valley and Washington DC believe. Love is always an embodied sacrifice. It makes particular demands on limited and interdependent creatures such as ourselves, namely that we care for the diverse places and people closest to us. Only then, from the creative confines of our creatureliness, can we love our faraway neighbors.https://buttondown.email/david.w.swanson/archive/accepting-our-creatureliness/
So — Pray for Peace in Ukraine, to be sure. And while you’re at it, remember South Sudan. And Syria. And Afghanistan and Ethiopia and Myanmar and Eritrea. Pray for the conversion of Vladimir Putin. Even pray for God to take him out (David French, Curtis Chang, and Tish Harrison Warren recently had quite a conversation about that very thing). But maybe more important — dig into something outside your door, and care for the diverse people and places closest to you. If you’re in New York, stop by St. Mary’s to volunteer at our Neighbors In Need drop-by day tomorrow, or maybe join our AIDS Walk team. Find some way to act on the information right in front of your eyes about the needs right there in your backyard. For whatever reason, God relocated us to Times Square, and that means he’s tethered us to every neighbor we pass on the street.
In the meantime — in between unpacking and learning a new subway system, here’s some of what I’m up to:
- Listening: Missing Nashville, to be sure, so almost every night finds us in our little family room in the Rectory with Chris Stapleton on the turntable. Current fave: 2020’s Starting Over. I still re-watch his live performance of “Arkansas” from the ’21 CMT Music Awards about once a week.
- Reading: Yeesh — mainly I’m reading to keep my head above water as I learn to be an interim. Joanna, my coach, recommended I pick up Michael Watkins’ The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, and gosh it’s terrific! And on the train I carry my old dogeared copy of Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, the story of a guy discovering God in New York City.
- Watching: Got RedeemTV a while back to watch “The Chosen” (promptly watched 1 episode, then totally forgot about it). But since today’s my son’s Saint’s Day, I re-watched the documentary “St. Patrick: Pilgrimage to Peace.” Given our recent relocation to Manhattan, I gotta love this line from it: “The imperial world is gone, but nonetheless there’s somebody here in Gaul saying: ‘Patrick, there’s a big island out there. It’s full of pagans. It needs to be Christianized — that’s your life’s mission.” (Plese pardon any visions of grandeur; I just remark on the parallels)
- Practicing: It’s Lent again. Years ago I borrowed (stole) an idea from a friend’s church in Boston and created a little Lenten Guide for our parish when I was Associate Rector at the Advent. We called it “The Shape of Lent at the Church of the Advent,” and upon arriving in Nashville, we adapted the idea for St. Bartholomew’s. Haven’t brought it to St. Mary’s yet (this year was a little ambitious for me, but just wait’ll next year!), but here are links to this year’s guides from the Advent and St. B’s for your perusal. At the Woodhouse we’re doing sort of a modified version of both.
I do wish you a blessed Lent and a glorious Easter. As my friend Mother Beth says: “Lent works if you work it. (And [she adds]: Easter works if you’ve worked Lent.)” Pray for me this season as I pray for you. Come see us in the City.
Thanks for reading, and Happy St. Pat’s! ☘️
P.S. Our 2022 pilgrimage to the Holy Land was postponed late last year as Covid numbers rose around the world and Israel closed its borders for a bit. But we’re getting the gang back together and planning to travel early next year! We got pilgrims from Boston, Nashville, other places across the US — and there’s a spot for you, if you’re interested (email me for more info). And just to entice you, here’s a picture of me floating in the Dead Sea on my first trip with pilgrims the Church of the Advent, Boston. I promise I’m wearing shorts.