In a Housing Crisis...a Cure called Community.

We Americans here in the United States are experiencing what many experts call a recession and along with it a housing crisis of many dimensions. Many cannot afford to buy a home while many others who already have homes cannot afford to keep them. I would like to suggest that perhaps this crisis is at its heart a call to a deeper community of people. Here are two examples of a posssible cure for our crisis. Interestingly enough both come from the city that gave us our new President, Mr Obama.
In December I was very glad to visit two communities in Chicago that demonstrate another way for people to live. First, let me tell you about Jesus People USA. They have been around for about 40 plus years and have grown in wisdom and understanding. They now occupy a large building in downtown Chicago and about 400 people live together in community and sharing of income and resources. Amazing! Families with children, single people, the elderly, eating together , everyone calls this place home and they seem to be thriving in ways that are deeply human. Their work includes caring for the sick and elderly, and several musical groups including a Celtic Band. They extend a warm welcome especially to the poor.

The other group which I want to tell you about is called Reba Place Community. About 300 people in total, this community has a core group of about 100 who live in households in Evanston just outside of Chicago. Again, they share income and resources, eating together and meeting together often during the week. The wisdom they have gathered over 50 years grows out of the Mennonite tradition and is deep. Households become families and as families they support each other in practical ways. Problems arise and are responded to as a community. Their newest addition is a group of young people who have formed a string quintet. Lovely!

In both these groups there is a collective wisdom that speaks clearly to our present situation in the United States. The lessons of community are being lived out here in Chicago for all to see and for all to learn from. The question is: will we? I pray that we will.

Stefan Andre

And Now It Begins...May We Speak With One Voice

Today the news came that the Israeli military began a massive bombing of Gaza and more than 200 people -men, women and children - were killed. The death toll is expected to rise. This bombing was begun , we are told, in retalliation for rocket launches from Hamas into Israeli territory resulting in one death and several injuries. According to Israeli sources this is only the beginning of a large scale military campaign to crush the Hamas resistance. The U.S. government immediately blamed Hamas for the violence and demanded that Hamas stop shooting rockets into Israel - no condemnation of Israel. And no mention of the many months of an Israeli blockade of Gaza depriving the Palestinian people of basic necessities like food, water, and medical supplies. Further, in the U.S. media reports there is great time given to interviews with Israeli officials defending Israel's actions and precious little time allowed for the Palestinian officials to express their viewpoint. How to respond?

It is becoming increasingly clear to more and more observors that this conflict is of the David and Goliath type. In this case, however, Israel is the Goliath and the Palestinians - David. One posseses planes and tanks and bombs including nuclear weapons that could destroy the opposition in a flash. The other has limited range rockets, guns, suicide missions, and rocks thrown by children. So, in retalliating for the death of one Israeli , the Israeli military kills more than 200 people including women and children. It is clear who holds power in this situation. And it is clear that a whole people are being slowly and systematically exterminated by this superior power. Furthermore , it is also clear that this superior power is backed by the most powerful military nation on the earth - The United States. Israel is the major recipient of U.S. military aid. How to respond?

I believe that it is time to speak out as a Christian Church with one voice. We cannot simply sit by and allow this slaughter to continue. We cannot continue to permit our tax dollars to fund more and more injustice and the slow slaughter of the Palestinian people. With a new President we hope that our blind support of the unjust practices of Israel will cease. Nevertheless, it is up to us, the American people, to see things as they really are, and to sound this call again and again. Through our protests, our strategies of resistance, and our intelligent non-cooperation we must speak out in the name of justice and peace. We dare not do any thing less and still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.

Stefan Andre


A New President...A New Day for the United States

It's always difficult to see the significance of the present moment and this one is no different. However, it's worth a try to say what this moment might mean. For the first time in the history of the United States we have elected a man of African descent. Barack Obama was born of a woman of European ancestry and a man of African parents. So, he is bi-racial. African Americans are cheering and European Americans are too. Not all for sure, but many, many people are elated. Here in Memphis, the newspapers are full of stories of people who can hardly believe the good news. Thousands of black and white children are cheering in the streets. Tears of joy, laughter, and celebrations characterize this southern city: the same city that 40 years ago snuffed out the life of perhaps the greatest leader of African American people in the 20th century- Martin Luther King. Now Memphis , the whole country and perhaps much of the world is celebrating a new African American leader and hopeful about a new direction for the country.

I think this is nothing other than a paradigm shift. As a country we have gone from one mindset to another. I believe the shift is from racism to inclusivity; from a politics of fear to one of hope. It is also a shift from the worn out ideas of a time past to the vigor and energy of a more youthful and more intelligent leadership. Furthermore, it seems to me that a deep healing is ocurring in this land. It is a healing of relationships between the races for sure but also it is a deep inner healing of both black and white people. People who have lived for years with feeling of inferiority, and sadness are feeling proud and joyous. People who have lived with hatred and fear are now letting it go and finding a trust within. The fact that Obama is bi-racial is significant at at deep level for both blacks and whites. He is not just one or the other . He is both. And as both he is a symbol of racial unity for both peoples. This huge step forward in the U.S. also opens greater hope for other people's in the country like Latinos and Asians. No little thing.

Overseas there are endless reports of rejoicing. When's the last time we heard that? Leaders of countries and local villages across the globe are expressing their gladness with the choice of the American people.

All this said, it remains to be seen what differences will be made in the policies of the U.S. both nationally and internationally. Will Obama repeal the Patriot Act which allows our government to spy on its own people? Will he renounce the use of torture once and for all? Will he stop the militaristic madness of the past eight years? Will resources formerly spent on bombs and killing now be spent on rebuilding American schools, creating local jobs, and funding universal health care? I hope so.

For now, we savour the moment and we hope that this is only a beginning where symbol is transformed into substance and promises made can be fulfilled in the days ahead.

An interesting endnote: Check out the last Tim Russert broadcast. In it he recalls the words of Robert Kennedy spoken in 1961. Kennedy predicted then that in 40 years we would have an African Amercian as president of the United States. No less than prophetic. Kennedy along with King were assasinated in 1968. Forty years later Obama is elected.

Celebrating the moment,
Stefan Andre


On Being Born... Being Alive and Becoming Aware

Today is my birthday! A good day to reflect on what being born might mean.
I'd like to say that I remember that day or rather - that moment ... the warmth and water of the womb, the cries of a mother as she labored hard, the movement, the passage, the pressure, the pain, the loss, the fear, the gasping of breath for the first time, my first cry, the arms that first held my helpless frame, the new air upon my skin, the cotton blanket wrapped around my shivering body, the first kiss of lips placed ever so lovingly upon my forehead , and how I gripped my father's finger with all my strength, the touch, the scent of skin, the sounds of unseen voices deep , rich and glad of my arrival, all of this and more... I'd like to say that I remember.
As I reflect on all this it occurs to me that although my conscious mind may not remember any of this, my body - incredible organism that it is - does. The body does not forget. The body is aware of much more than we can ever know and the body retains and remains a memory of everything. Yes...everything.

Perhaps what this says to me is that to be alive is to be aware. And to be aware is everything. To be born is to enter this world and to become aware. Ever more deeply aware. At this very moment to enter this world means to be aware of the feel of air on my skin, the sound of birds, and wind and voice, all the sights, and sounds, and scents, and sensations that present themselves to me at this very moment. In the stillness I become more and more aware of all this as well as the thoughts and feelings that roam in and through me...all of them. I become aware of my desires and of my deepest desires. Simply, wondrously, gratefully alive and aware. But lest this be of too narrow a focus we hear in the quiet a call to an ever expanding awareness to embrace, to see, to hear in ever widening circles of life.

There is a poet whose words I cherish. Listen to these lyrical lines from someone who entered this world again and again and who was more and more deeply and widely aware of life:

"This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God... go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young...re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body..."
Walt Whitman

And another... " This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
She may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."


In Joy and Gratitude for the Gift of Life!
Stefan Andre


The Heart of the Matter... Poems and Puns

At this moment many in the United States are focusing attention on the financial and political news that the mainstream media are presenting. Our economy , we are told , is in crisis and our political system is in dire need of fundamental change. Liberal and conservative arguments abound.In the midst of it all the heart aches for wisdom, for integrity, for truth. Candidates for president and vice-president hold debates and yet these seem more like info-mercials with scripted speeches and very little engagement with each other or with the issues. Candidates are rated on the basis of their appearance, their poise, their charm, etc... One would think this was a modeling school for some fashion magazine or a teenage dating service where wearing cool blue jeans would get you selected. Are we really this superficial?

Regarding the vice-presidential debates and at the risk of being perilously punny - while many thought that Sarah would Pal-in comparison to her opponent there were others who thought that Joe was simply Bid-den his time waiting for her to make a huge blunder. Apologies to all...

Recently I had the privilege of visiting a little community of people called Reba Place. They are about 300 people living in Chicago/Evanston. Let me tell you a bit about them. There is a core group that lives communally and shares a common purse meaning that all income goes into one common fund and from that fund needs are met. Interesting. And very monastic. One evening I sat with some of their young people watching the presidential debates and after we discussed it. One young man is from South Africa and he made an interesting observation. He asked " Did anyone hear Mr. Obama refer to the United States as " the greatest nation on earth"? Silence. It was a question that no one else asked. I raise this because I believe that this phrase ' the greatest nation on earth ' represents the kind of thinking that has landed this country in the economic/political dilemma we are in now. To actually believe that one's nation is the greatest nation on earth blinds us to the beauty and goodness of every other nation. We can no longer afford to be so blind. For at risk is not just our national well-being but the very survival of our beloved planet. Our encounter with other nations must come from a place of respect and humility.

More and more people are coming to realize that the heart of the matter is how we live. Do we live together wisely? Generously? Do we meet and greet one another with deep respect? Do our communities demonstrate another reality other than that of greed and selfishness? Hats off to little communities like Reba Place who in their meeting share resources and value justice. Do we really value people or do we use them like commodities to be consumed and discarded? Are we committed to one another for the long haul or just for the moment? I hesitate to use the word love in this context because it has been so misused in every context. But it is precisely love that is needed. Love does value persons in a deep and committed way. At the heart of the matter is meeting the other and loving wisely.

Two little poems that speak of meeting and loving...




Let's Be Honest...Why is oil so important?

Sitting in a little cafe in Memphis called the Caritas Village is a good place to reflect on the realities of American life. There is a kind of honesty in the air in this place. Rich and poor , black and white, young and old, gather here in this place dedicated to social justice.

A question: Why is oil so important to us here in the United States? Many will respond to this question with the truism that it is the consumption of oil in everything from automobiles, house heating, airplane travel, plastics, etc... that sustains our affluent way of life. All true. But in this conversation there is something missing. The elephant in the room is the U.S. military- industrial complex. That multi-trillion dollar web of people and machine that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address in 1961. This " misplaced power...of vast proportion" has grown ever since the second world war until now. With the Pentagon as its sacred temple the military-industrial complex dominates every aspect of American life from education to media to church to grocery shopping. War has become a very profitable business in the United States and a lion's share of our federal budget every year goes to maintain and develop the United States military and its related industries.

So, what about oil? Imagine... the U.S. military without oil. Can you? Our war making ability is absolutely dependent on extremely high consumption of oil. All the bombs, planes, missiles, tanks, ships, subs, guns, etc... could not function without it. Is it any wonder that our government is desperately trying to control the vast oil reserves in the middle east and elsewhere? So desperate in fact that we are willing to destroy countries, murder leaders, and kill and harm thousands upon thousands of men, women and children.

And why so desperate? It seems clear now that our government is determined to deepen its present domination of the globe. Keep in mind that there are now over 725 known U.S. military bases in countries around the world. Many of these were built against the country's wishes.This is the cold fact of empire. Control... domination...record high profits by companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Haliburton...all industries deeply involved in supplying our military and profiting immensely from their transactions. And all of this is fundamentaly dependent upon the diminishing natural resource - oil.

Most scholars say that we are now or soon will be at peak oil production. What then?
Do we grasp in desperation at the declining supply of oil? If so, for how long? And at what consequence? Are we really willing to wage more and more wars with more and more death and destruction, there and here, for the sake of our narrow definition of affluence, domination and profit?

Earlier an entry read " Can a song save the world?" If by a song we mean a metaphor for true beauty, simplicity, and openness of heart then I think we need to do a lot of singing. We need to sing of a future not dependent on oil but truly interdependent in the deepest human way. In the past few years I have heard of more and more local economies that sing of sustainable living, experiments in economic sharing, creativity, and courage. I believe the hope of the future is here. We dare not wait for our political leaders to save the day. We must look to ourselves. I remember the founder of the Taize Community once spoke of a " fine human hope". I believe in this. This hope for a new future resides within us. This Hope is calling us to live out a new way of life not tied to former prejudices and preconceptions. Certainly not tied to the politics of oil. A future that is truly free of these illusions. May we say our " yes for a lifetime" to this hope of a new way of living.
Looking together to a future struggling to be born...

Stefan Andre


Can a Song Save the World...?

Once in the middle of the night I called up a friend and asked " Can a song save the world?" What a question! And what a time to ask such a question! Somehow it seemed urgent. What can it possibly mean? In the muddled blur of a misty mind at 3:00am the question seemed a lifeline and the answer - the hand at the other end. When the sun came up I wondered if there was any real meaning to it. A song. .. a simple creative act... honest from heart to heart... an expression, genuine, of imagination, of passion, of some kind of faith, of hope, and yes, of love.
Woody Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Joe Heaney, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger,... singers of songs all - pouring their art like cool water into thirsting souls. Singing of what was, of what could be, and of what others feel yet do not say.
It is said that all we can speak of in this world is metaphor. It's the image or symbol that draws us and calls us to life, to creativity, to a deeper humanity. If we consider song to be a metaphor in sound then perhaps this metaphoric medicine can indeed help, heal and even save in some ways that go straight to the heart of it all.
As I write these words the night is slipping into the next day and I am listening to Tony Bennet singing with K.D Lang - a love song. It is August 8, one day before the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki and the beginning of the 2008 Olympics in China. Thousands around the world are holding vigils of remembrance and thousands have gathered to celebrate the human spirit in Beijing. On this date in 1945 and three days earlier on August 6 the United States government destroyed hundreds of thousands of human beings and ushered in the atomic age. A death decision. Now we all are in a time when nuclear weapons are poised ready to destroy the entire planet. Another decision to be made. Against such a force what good can a little song do? What good can a simple creative, hope-filled metaphor accomplish?
Whatever our creative calling there is no doubt that " the foolishness of God" is all we've got. Fragile metaphors, simple songs, dreams in the night, celebrations of human spirit...Perhaps our task, everyone's task, is to multiply these seeds of hope and fill this aching world with "the infinite goodness of the human heart". This last phrase" the infinite goodness of the human heart" comes from a man who sang a community into being. His name - Br. Roger of Taize. The community of Taize in France, where thousands gather each year, stands as one clear expression of human hope. It is a decision for life , not death. Like so many other examples around the world it is a stirring of imagination, a beautiful melody of a life-time commitment to peace.

Can a song save the world? Perhaps it is the only thing that ever has.

From California...Singing,
Stefan Andre


In California... With the Great and Small

For the past two Sundays I have been invited to make music in two separate ,very different churches. Last Sunday it was Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco. Some call it the Mecca of the west coast especially for Episcopalians. A magnificent structure atop a hill in the city Grace Cathedral is known for its grace-filled welcome to all peoples. The congregation is large and diverse and many in the gay and lesbian community find a warm welcome here. It was a joy for me to be at Grace Cathedral and to hear the congregation singing my " Lord Have Mercy" , my new Celtic Alleluia and others.
Today I was at the piano to lead a different congregation at a church in San Jose called First Christian Church, part of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Here I find a smaller gathering including those who are homeless and formerly homeless. The people and the structure are modest. During the service the congregation engages in a practice of dialogue with the speaker. This conversation happens every Sunday and is an honest response to the sermon. It takes some guts on the preacher's part to have such a spontaneous response which may include disagreement. After the service a man who goes by the name of " Wolf" gives me a big hug and says that 70,000 angels surround me as we make music together. Who am I to argue? An incredibly beautiful vision. It seems at times I can almost feel such a loving, enveloping presence. Wolf sleeps under a nearby bridge most nights and comes to church when he can. Later a man named Richard takes me upstairs to show me his art work. Richard was formerly homeless and his art clearly reflects his struggles ,his hopes, his fears. Following the service a class meets to focus on the topic: Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear. Good topic.

Blessings from California,
Stefan Andre


In the Midst of Violence and War...Listen

These days here in the U.S. we seem to be bombarded with news of violence, wars, impending wars, and fears of more violence. In the midst of it all there is the need to stop, breathe, and listen. Otherwise , we fall into that numbing place where human feeling and mindfulness are squeezed out by our brittle anxieties and intellectual fatigue. As we listen we grow in our ability to respond in creative and courageous ways. Albert Camus in" The Artist and His Time" says the following:

" Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation, others in a person. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every person, on the foundation of his or her own suffering and joys, builds for all."

On a practical level, dear friends, may we take the time each day to hear the " faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope". Perhaps we find that in a few moments in the early morning in quiet and meditation. Or perhaps we find it in the serenity of a long walk or run into the beauties of nature. Where ever we find it may we deepen our practice of attentive listening and continue to be " awakened, revived, and nourished". In the midst of what seems to be an intensification of violence and war this life-giving practice is a life-saving response. As we enter even more deeply into this contemplative place we discover our true foundation and as Camus reminds us it is here in the deeper encounter of our sufferings and joys that each of us together " builds for all".

Stefan Andre


High in the Cascade Mountains with Martin Luther...

High in the Cascade mountains in a remote spot close to Lake Chelan is a little village called Holden Village. What was once a small mining town is now an ecumenical retreat center in the Lutheran tradition. Here I encountered about 500 people who made the journey to be at Holden for a time of reflection, music, and absorption in one of the most splendid examples of natural beauty this country has to offer. Complete with free roaming deer, bear and an occasional cougar, Holden Village offers many a place of deep renewal of spirit , mind and body.
One delightful surprise for me was to encounter the lively spirit of the Lutheran singing tradition.
As guest composer my role was to lead the gathering in daily sessions of new music and then at the end of the week to accompany the entire congregation in singing my new Celtic Mass. What a joy!
With fiddle, flute, guitar, and drumming these singing Lutherans would have made Martin Luther stand and applaud!
Holden Village - a place of renewing and discovering friendship , an opportunity to reflect on a number of important issues, an expanding community of those seeking to follow Jesus.
One other word about Holden: it is also a place that brings new people to the role of directing the Village every 3-5 years. Interesting point. Every three - five years there is new management in the Village. This kind of leadership allows the present leaders to create their own style and to some extent their own practice while at the same time ensuring that no one person or persons take control of the Village. Clearly a pitfall in many Christian communities, and other organizations as well, is the situation where one or more persons take control of it and stay in control for far too many years suppressing the creativity and leadership of those they "serve".
Holden seems to have created a way for the Village to continue with new and renewing leadership.
Summer Blessings,
Stefan Andre


Homeless in Seattle...

" The birds of the air have nests... but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head". " Go out into the streets and invite the lame, the blind, the cripple, the homeless, the poor..." - the wandering Jesus

Seattle is a thriving American city in many ways. Banking institutions, competing businesses, excellent universities, new technologies, beautiful buildings, fine restaurants, creative music and art enterprises, shops and stores on every corner and of course - really good coffee. Take a walk down 3rd street toward downtown or just walk around the farmer's market near the water and you'll see another reality that helps to define Seattle. Here you will see hundreds of people who are living on the streets much of the time.
" Can you spare some change?" " I haven't eaten in a while."
" Care to buy some batteries. I could use the money."
" I don't mean to bother you, but I need some money for bus fare." As people approach you on the street these are just a few of the things that you'll hear from men and women of all ages and races - faces looking for a generous response.

Today I was struck by the contrast... Around the area known as the Farmers Market down by the water there is a whirl of people walking in and out of shops buying foods, crafts, books, clothing, and all sorts of things . Sitting on the ground or on a bench or lying on the grass sleeping are another group of people. These are not the buyers. These people are without the means to buy the food, the crafts, the books, the coffee, etc... They do something else. They gather. Occasionally you see a person gathering items or food from a rubbish bin or perhaps things left on the ground. They also gather the things they do possess and move from one spot to another.

" Don't over stuff yourself." " I love that shawl." " Table for two, please." " Isn't this lovely?" A different language is heard from those with the means to buy. Between these two groups of people there is very little interaction and very little eye contact and hardly ever any physical contact. In fact it would appear at times that the buyers and takers don't even see the gatherers.

The gatherers however keep the takers in plain view and will approach when necessary.

All of this reminds me of a very important little book about the development of the world as we know it. The book is called " Ishmael". The author is Daniel Quinn. In this book the story of the world is told from the perspective of a gorilla named Ishmael. Ishmael is the teacher who attempts, successfully at times, to teach a human being about the history of the world as it has been played out by two groups of creatures: the takers and the gatherers. The takers take more than they need while the gatherers leave what they don't need . Good reading.

On the streets of Seattle with the Takers and the Gatherers,
Stefan Andre


July 4, 2008 Reflections on Freedom and the Color Orange...

At this moment I am relaxing in a lovely retreat center called Richmond Hill located in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Two streets over is St. John's Episcopal Church where in 1775 Patrick Henry cried out in words that still ring in American ears - " Give me liberty or give me death." So, let's reflect for a moment on the meaning of freedom on this Independence Day, the birthday of the United States. Apologies in advance for my rambling. This question troubles and challenges me and so in an attempt to work through the angst I offer my own musings. I'll begin by simply asking the question, " What is freedom?" With so many people today using the word in so many ways it seems good to have some basic understanding... if possible. According to one source, President Bush in his second inaugural address used the word " freedom" or liberty" 49 times in twenty minutes. Evenly spaced that's more than twice every minute. Hmmm...

Question: What does George W. Bush mean by the word freedom? Do you/I share that meaning?

If we look in Webster's dictionary here's what we get: freedom is "the state or quality of being free". Right. It is the " absence of coercion in choice". Freedom is " liberation from slavery or domination or things onerous." Webster also says that freedom is the capacity to " choose without coercion."

As we try to understand and live freedom in our varied contexts we need to ask even more questions: Freedom from what? Freedom for whom? Freedom to be or do what? There is personal freedom, social freedom, religious freedom, political and economic freedom, intellectual freedom, sexual freedom... The list is endless. Common to all these freedoms is the element of choice. And of course, the consequences of our choosing. Not to mention the boundaries of our wise choosing. Freedom may be said to be the relative victory of choice over coercion and the wise navigating of our choices given the likely effects of our various choices. But what if the choices are rigidly controlled and the necessary information to make good choices is very limited and very difficult to obtain? In U.S. society today our mainstream media seem to be afraid to ask the tough questions and rarely give us in depth reporting on a wide variety of topics. Given the widespread desire in this country to end the Iraq war why not have a media forum on how to do that? Many in Europe and elswhere look at our two-party political system and ask" Where is the real choice?" In that context are we free? And what if our choices seem driven by our internal obsessions, and without by the cultural forces at work in our dominant culture? How free are we?

Ever since September 11, 2001 the color orange has grown in the American consciousness. The threat level is orange. The advisory level is orange. We are on orange alert. I once thought that our national colors were red, white and blue. Now, shades of anxious orange seem to be our national color scheme. As I travel this summer I am repeatedly reminded via public announcements in train stations and airports that I need to be on the alert to "report anyone or anything that seems suspicious". At one such moment in a subway train as the doors closed and the announcement was heard several of us looked around at each other and smiled. I wonder who appeared the more suspicious. I didn't feel very free at that moment. Freedom in any social context seems to require a basic trust in others otherwise one is caught coercively in a fearful mind. Freedom from fear and the freedom to trust appears to be a fundamental requirement for any healthy social interaction and the glue that holds a well functioning society together. But in that little train all crammed together trust was definitely discouraged and we were encouraged by way of a public political warning to look at each other as potential objects of fear. How free are we? Against the backdrop of orange anxiety are we free to trust , to relax, to enjoy each other, not to mention the ride? Is such a climate of fear conducive to building human happiness?

George Orwell once wrote about a futuristic society that would distort the original and essential meanings of certain words . Such words as freedom would be used to diminish and eventually eliminate the reality of freedom itself. In the name of freedom , freedom is destroyed. Are we all that far from that society now? And in a sense is this anything new? Didn't Jesus encounter the same kind of misuse of language and meaning in his day? Did he not work to reclaim the essential meanings of such words as freedom, neighbor, faith, even the word God? Clearly , at that time with the people Jesus encountered, he did everything possible to open the eyes of the blind both literally and metaphorically. His passionate mission was to " liberate and set free the captives". This all embracing transformation reached people in both their personal and political lives.

A story... In 2003 I was sitting in a cafe in an American city talking with a very good friend about just about everything when the topic of conversation switched to politics. We were expressing our opinions freely when suddenly she stopped and lowered her voice and asked me to do the same. I forgot to tell you that my friend worked for a government agency. I asked what the matter was and she responded by saying that she was afraid of being overheard and that if someone in the office heard her expressing her opinions she could easily loose her job. Understandable? Perhaps. But at that moment the conversation seemed to be taking on the ubiquitous color of orange. My friend wanted to continue to serve in this government agency and to do that she was required to support the government's policies. Is this freedom?
Flashback to a Bob Dylan song...remember " You Gotta Serve Somebody"?

Again, I do apologize for these meandering musings that may or may not get anywhere. It's just that I feel a deep urgency regarding this issue. To be human is to be free. To become more fully and joyously human is to deepen and develop our freedom both personally and politically. It is clear to this writer that we are living in a time and especially in this place of western affluent culture when our essential humanity is being seriously attacked. More than any " war on terror" or " war on drugs" there is another more profound war being waged. And I believe we all are in it and in many ways we all share in our responsibility to become more and more aware of what is happening and how to engage in it in whatever ways we can as active peacemakers.

In closing , I want to point to one of the most influential teachers of the twentieth century - Anthony De Mello. De Mello , a beloved teacher and retreat leader, died in 1987. As a Jesuit priest he was from time to time getting into trouble with the Vatican theological police. There was a time his writings came with a Papal warning. That alone sparked my interest. He was utterly convinced that freedom of thought and feeling was being threatened in his Catholic religious context and he was determined to do something about it.
Anthony De Mello wrote a little book called, " The Way to Love" and in it he really defines in a most simple and troubling way the concept of freedom. To be free is to become more and more aware of our cultural programming, and to drop all of our obsessive attachments. For De Mello this process ( which can take anywhere from a few minutes to one's entire life) of awareness and letting-go is the very heart of human freedom and the key to human happiness. As I have reflected on this little book for some years now it is true for me that as I learn to drop my attachments of fear, false beliefs, attachments to things and people that I once believed could somehow " make" me happy or miserable I seem to be entering into that growing and glowing place of freedom and happiness.
Awareness is everthing and all I need to be aware of is this precious and present moment. Everything I need and everything you need is there.
My prayer is that we all can become and help each other to become more and more aware, less and less fearful and attached to our false beliefs - personal and political , less orange and more green, and that together we will continue to work, play, think, feel, speak, pray, fall down and get up, laugh, cry, live and love, and be the creative and joyous human beings that we all truly are! May it be so.
Blessings of freedom, dear friends...
Stefan Andre

Little Lasker Has Large Meaning...

I would like to share with you a little known but powerful festival that brings together musicians and people from rural North Carolina in a celebration of faith and art called the Lasker Summer Music Festival. I had the privilege of being composer in residence for this festival last weekend . It is the stated purpose of Lasker to reflect on the issues of faith and art and to do so by presenting outstanding sessions of music making of various styles, and formal and informal conversations . This happens every year and is a great joy to the people of Lasker, Murphreesboro , Ahoskie, and the surrounding area. Lasker is a little gem that shines in musical excellence and spiritual integrity. The directors of the festival , Charles and Kathy Hulin, superb musicians themselves, have for the past 11 years built up a growing and enthusiastic following . Rooted in the local life of people there , in friendships, and involving faculty from Chowan University, the Lasker Summer Music Festival promises to delight people for many years to come. Here you will find the freedom and joy of great music making, the challenge and comfort of a searching Christian faith, and the genuine hospitality of friends and family. So, to Lasker and all involved I say - " BRAVO!"


One Thousand Young People, A Corn Field, and Hope...

For the past three days about 1,000 young people mostly in their twenties have been camping in a cornfield a little south of Chicago. P.A.P.A. stands for people against poverty and apathy. Their purpose - to respond to the question: " How then shall we live?" They came from all over the country especially the east coast and middle states. These are the new Christians who share an urgent concern for the environment and living together in a way that sustains all life . Their politics is radical and their theology is traditional. Many of them come from intentional Christian communities and others are interested in joining or forming such demonstrations of living well. Many call themselves " emerging Christians" and seek to enter into dialogue rather than debate doctrine. They are non-violent but not passive. They seek to make a difference through deeds of justice and non-violent resistence based on intelligent critique of the political system. They seem to be primarily lay led rather than depending upon clergy and they move forward through consensus rather than hierarchy. Their resources go into the real needs of the community and not into expensive buildings and paid clergy. Therefore , in many cases they have money for those who are in dire need - the poor. In one case I heard about a man who lives in a community where people do not have health insurance but instead people in the community provide for each other and a network of 10,000 people - a community of communities - contribute to each other's well being in the case of emergencies.
One particular aspect of this gathering is called the New Monasticism. Basically it is the grafting of certain key monastic principles and practices into the life of a community. It is believed that 1500 years of monastic practice might just have something to say to our post-modern world. So, for many of these communities morning and evening prayer, silence, communal work and certain common disciplines shape their daily life .
Can this be the future of the Christian church? As the American Empire seems to be crumbling from within is this a new and hopeful direction for people of faith? Is the growing economic crisis in the United States actually helping to convince people to give intentional community a try?
Three days with these young people was inspiring and challenging, not to mention exhausting!
There is indeed new growth on the forest floor of Christianity and it would do all of us good to be aware of it and encourage this new life in every way.
For those of us well over thirty we need the passion and perspectives of the young and they in turn seek our experience and wisdom. It's a good match! It always has been...

From a Hopeful Field Outside of Chicago.
Stefan Andre


Walking the Streets of Chicago with Br. Jim...

Today I walked the streets of a neighborhood in South Chicago with a man who goes by the name of Br. Jim. Br. Jim doesn't walk for exercise or to see the sights. He walks to speak with people who live in a poor neighborhood where gang violence is a common reality. Today I walked with him . Together we walked through three neighborhoods. Some of them are called " projects". As we walked we encountered people who immediately recognized Br. Jim and we began to have some very good conversations. One man told us that he had recently been released from prison serving twenty years for murder. It was a retaliatory killing. Now he wanted to find a job and asked us repeatedly to help him. " Just give me a chance!" This was his mantra. Another woman we met shared that she was doing alright. Br. Jim later told me that two of her sons had been killed by gang violence. Wherever we went we encountered people who have lived and are living through the other side of American life - the side that American media doesn't really understand and does not cover in depth. The killing fields of Chicago's south side are a testimony to the growing gap between rich and poor in this country, to a persistent racial prejudice, and to the general apathy of the American people and of our government.
In these neighborhoods there is also tremendous fraternity. The struggle of the poor in this country has sometimes created a strong bond of community among those in poverty's grip. People sit out on the front lawn together and hold conversations and joke about just about everything. A group of young boys stopped to tell Br. Jim about their summer plans to work and raise some money. Real pride on their faces and real praise from Br. Jim. One expression of solidarity and the need for a positive identity is the formation of gang life. It does both. Of course gang life also brings with it some negatives including violence and addiction to drugs. There is much to understand and no one has all the answers.
Br. Jim has his own approach. First he dresses in a monastic robe made by himself out of blue jean patches. He sort of resembles a modern day Francis of Assisi. It is an outward sign of solidarity. He follows his retired predecessor Br. Bill who began this work among the poor. Br. Jim also follows Br. Bill in a four-fold rule which is well worth considering. 1. Fear No one and Nothing.
2. Trust God Always and for Everything.
3. Forgive Everyone Everything.
4. Love. You are forbidden to do anything but Love.

As we walked together I could see this four-fold rule of life in action. He becomes a friend to everyone he meets...to children and adults. There have been times when Br. Jim and before him Br. Bill walked in between warring gangs when bullets were flying. Close calls gave ampl;e opportunity to practice all four parts of the rule.

We spent the whole day together and I felt grateful for the opportunity to meet all the people in these neighborhoods. I expect to return and continue the friendships.

Tomorrow I leave for a festival that is focused on poverty in America. It's called the P.A.P.A. Festival. It stands for People Against Poverty and Apathy. Three days of conversation, music, and expanding the growing network of people who want significant change in this country.

On the Streets of Chicago with Love,
Stefan Andre


In Birmingham, Alabama...

What do you think of when you hear Birmingham, Alabama? For the past three days the Birmingham Unitarian Church and the Mendel family - a lovely Jewish/Christian blend - have offered me warm welcome and great hospitality. The church here is rooted in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality. On Sunday the church was full with people of all ages and we sang new songs of peace and justice . People came with guitars, fiddles, whistles, and drums. We shared stories of hope and open hearts. We prayed in words, in silence, and in song. We lifted our prayers on behalf of those who are denied a voice . We held each other in our struggles and in our pain. We shared a new sense of hope that seems to be beginning in this country and we envisioned a better society guided by the Spirit of Peace , not war. We affirmed the dignity of all people and welcomed people in their differences

Tonight we sat together in silent meditation in a Buddhist Sangha in an Episcopal Church named after St. Francis . We went on a silent walking meditation. We gathered to sing a new song based on Celtic melodies - a song of hope and passion called " I Arise Today". We dreamed of new possibilities.

Back at the Mendel House a very articulate young woman shared with me a video that I would suggest everyone sees. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat or Independent go to You Tube and see the latest Obama video selections. There are some amazing moments that speak of a new American hope and belief in our human possibilities. Look especially at the delightfully satiric " Obama in 30 seconds".

Through our gathering...in our conversation, our singing, our shared silence, our listening, our walking, our laughing and our learning, and through our eating together we encourage each other. This is the communion that Christ calls us to enter. This is Eucharist. This is Joy!

In Birmingham, Alabama...
Stefan Andre


Did You Notice...Joy in the United States?

Amidst the fear and anger of American politics, and in the middle of all the cynicism and sophisticated analysis, there was something else that appeared. Did you notice? On a recent news report a writer pointed out in passing that the African American community in the U.S. experienced that rarely reported human experience - joy. When Senator Barack Obama finally emerged as the new Democratic candidate for President something happened that is worth savoring. A ripple of joy ran through this country and especially through the community of people who not too long ago were enslaved in this very land. In addition a similar current has been unleashed in this country especially among women. For although Senator Hillary Clinton failed to capture the nomination she conducted an historic campaign and came closer to the nomination than any other woman in American history, and now is in a position of tremendous political power.
All of this signals a major shift in American politics and a deep change in the American psyche. This shift has not gone unnoticed by our European friends. There is for the first time in many years a more positive and hopeful response...even admiration .
It seems that we are weary of war-making and political policies that do violence to our own people. This is indeed a moment to reflect upon and cherish. Perhaps this is also a moment to revive our own hope and our own joy as we build on this momentum and chart a new course toward a more open and inclusive society. In that there is indeed true joy!

In Hope...
Stefan Andre


Listening to Bill Moyers...

Today I listened to Bill Moyers on Youtube.com as he spoke at the National Conference on Media Reform , June 7 in Minneapolis. In short he calls us to a passionate , and intelligent patriotism. His stirring words challenge us to ask the un-asked questions of our leaders and our media and continue to ask them until a satisfying and credible answer is given. Asking difficult questions is never easy and it may just save lives. Holding our leadership accountable is no easy task but it may be the only task if we are to claim a representative democracy.Suppose we and our media had indeed asked the really difficult questions leading up to the Iraqi invasion perhaps we might had discovered the truth that we needed to know before sending our young men and women to kill and be killed. The Senate has now confirmed what so many of us had for years believed but failed to say , namely that the Bush administration misrepresented the facts and exaggerated the evidence in presenting its case for the war in Iraq. Truth, not lies is what we needed then and what we need now. Moyers goes on to say that in an age of media conglomeration we must be ever vigilant to create and sustain independent sources of news, and alternative viewpoints. Public radio and public television , with its own flaws, must be supported beyond the current levels or we will fall even faster into a Orwellian political nightmare of distorted information and social apathy.
I encourage you to listen and respond to Bill Moyers and his prophetic warnings. Not easy to hear. But truth seldom is.

Disturbed by the truth,
Stefan Andre


Remembering Robert F. Kennedy...

Gore Vidal once said that we Americans live in the " United States of Amnesia". A good grasp of history and the lessons of our collective experience do not seem to be our strongest qualities as a people. Forty years ago in June, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was murdered .Two months earlier Martin Luther King was killed . The nation was reeling in grief and more and more people were speaking out to end the bloodshed in Vietnam . Many believed that Kennedy would be the next president and even more than his brother John ,it would be Robert who would lift up the poor , bring greater justice to our American society, and end the Vietnam war. Kennedy was a good study in personal/political transformation. From 1966 - 1968 he underwent significant changes in perspective. From pro-war to anti-war is no little leap! From authorizing the phone tapping of Martin Luther King to supporting the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez is a titanic shift! His growing awareness of the widening gap in this country between rich and poor , and his deepening passion to work for social justice was well known. Many believed he had found his life's calling. In his traveling across the country he had come to see first hand the poverty and hunger that exist in our inner cities, in the Mississippi delta, in Appalachia, on Native American reservations, and more... It seems that personal experience and public protest worked hand in hand to help transform a man of privilege into a more compassionate man.
There are many today who share Kennedy's awareness and passion and like Kennedy many are speaking out and working to create a more peaceful and just society. In the face of a habitual cynicism there are many who are finding ways to plant and water the seeds of a new society. Can we take just a moment to consider what it is we may be called to be and do? What are the ways of transformation for us and for our time?Using our gifts and resources how can we fulfill this deep calling? In our so-called post modern world there are many uncertainties and shifting grounds, but one thing remains clear: the urgent call to be a maker of peace and a creator of justice.In this call we find meaning, and purpose, and joy.

In a Common Cause,
Stefan Andre


Remembering Who We Are on Memorial Day...

Monday , May 26 Memorial Day in Washington , D.C.

Today is a Day of Remembering. We remember all those who have suffered and died in the many wars of our common history. We pray for the families and friends of those who continue to suffer because of the present day wars around the world. We also remember what gives meaning to the lives we live. And finally we remember what causes war and what we might do to make war no more.

For the past three days a gathering of people have sung together, spent lots of time in silence, and walked in the beautiful woods and meadows of Dayspring Silent Retreat Center just outside of Washington, D.C.. So Good!
In the process we reminded ourselves of something very important - who we are. In the silence and in the singing, in the walking, sitting, and even in the sleeping we remembered that we are beloved children of God. All of us...everyone. Fraternitas. Such a simple thing to recall and such a totally life changing reality when we allow it sink in to our consciousness. When we remember who we are there is no need for violence. If we are indeed brothers and sisters beloved by God why would we harm one another? No need for envy, greed, or fear. No need for war. In the shared silence and in the singing we lay down the weapons of our heart. We disarm . We enter the realm of peace - the very Reign of God.
Let me encourage you , dear reader, to recall your true identity and to live it out. Indeed we are all called the Beloved of God upon whom the Spirit of Peace descends and dwells . Through each of us the Holy Spirit moves and draws us into actions of peace-making and justice, everyday. In and through us the risen Jesus lives again. As we live out our true identity we feel the very pleasure of God.
" You are my Beloved. And I delight in you."

Stefan Andre


On the Road Again...

Tomorrow I leave for Washington, D.C.. It will be the beginning of two months of travel in the United States. from east coast to west coast The traveling is for the purpose of sharing new music - written in Ireland and recently recorded in Memphis, TN - and encouraging others in our common search for peace and justice. It begins with a three day Retreat of Song and Silence just outside of D.C. in a beautiful place called Dayspring Silent Retreat Center. Silence and song...the inner journey - a very good way to begin. While in D.C. the following week I'll be visiting with friends in the peace movement. Some of these friends have for many years been speaking out for peace and for justice in our country and aboard. Their lives are an inspiration to me. One woman in particular I would like to introduce . She is 76 years of age and a retired school teacher. Her name is Eve. For the past 5 years she has been an outspoken advocate for peace and against the war in Iraq. A highly intelligent and passionate person Eve has been interviewed on public radio about her recent court appearances and the many times she has been arrested for civil disobedience in her protesting of our government's policies which Eve believes are responsible for thousands of American soldier's deaths , thousands of soldiers mental and physical suffering, and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and injuries, not to mention the destruction of the Iraqi society's infra-structure. How long we will allow this to continue? This is Eve's question. How can we help move this country from an imperialist war making nation to a country that participates in global peace-making and the rebuilding of both the Iraqi infra-structure and our own as well. As billions of dollars are being poured into the war-making machine our basic human needs in this country are being neglected . It is no secret that our own health care system, our educational system, even our roads and bridges are in need of urgent support. With the very price of food in this country rising beyond the means of many , many are forced to consider Eve's question: " How long?"
By the way, speaking of women and peace...did you know that Saturday May 24 is the International Women's Day for Disarmament? Starting in 1982 this day serves to remind us of the great contribution that women have made and continue to make towards world peace. For those of you in Ireland the conference on banning cluster munitions is going on right now in Dublin, Ireland.
On the road this summer I look forward to learning new ways of peace and in the songs I share being a voice for creating a future of justice and peace.
On his death bed St. Francis, in referring to his own life of working for peace in the world, said, " I have done what was given me to do. What has been given to you?"

On the Road to Peace,
Stefan Andre


Farewell to Ireland with Love

Here's a wee poem that I wrote which expresses my own feeling about that magical place called Ireland. While I lived there especially in the place called Glendalough I would walk the hills and everywhere I went I could hear the sound of water flowing . This music filled me beyond any words and brought to the surface a depth of feeling that still sings.


Ireland... this land that sings
in secret, dark, and luscious things.

Ah, this lovely land that streams her scented song
in flowing verse and phrases long.

O'er blue green hills and golden gorse
cross mossied rock and nettles coarse.

Oh, breath! I feel your rising roar
til op'ning earth can bear no more
she cries, she cries
and joyful pours
from glist'ning eyes
to list'ning ears...
her ancient Celtic tears.


Feeding the Five thousand and Community

These days I am staying at the Monastery of St. Clare in Memphis, TN. I share quarters with a friend of mine who is a priest while the sisters of St. Clare live in a separate building on the grounds. Once this place was a thriving community of women devoted to living out a life of simplicity and service. Now , like many religious communities, it has far fewer members while still living the life. It is a good place to reflect on the meaning of community and the ways we might create new structures that would sustain people today in their desire to live community.
A story... there was once a man who gathered thousands of people together and fed them a nourishing meal. It was amazing! All kinds of people... mostly poor though, gathered together and ate and drank, prayed, talked, sang, learned, and were satisfied. Of course this story is the gospel account of the feeding of the five thousand. This story is all about community and has both personal and political implications. Hungry people were fed and organized into groups of fifty. Think about it... What then? Perhaps then they could think about their situation and respond as a group. Perhaps then they would have the strength to say " yes " to building community and " no " to Empire. There was a lot going on on that hillside.
Fast forward about twenty centuries... on a hillside in the region of Burgundy in France and imagine yourself with several thousand people eating , drinking, talking , singing, learning, praying, and being satisfied. This is the community called Taize. The community itself is a Christian monastic community consisting of about 100 brothers who welcome people by the thousands .For the past 60 years or so this community has tried to live out a life of simplicity and service rooted in the Christian tradition.
Each day they gather to share a common life. Each member of the community is vowed to simplicity, celibacy, and a community of goods where everything is shared. Each day their songs and prayers offer themselves and the world into God's loving care and guidance. In the trusting of faith they continue beginning each day again and again.
What might this community have say to us in the 21st century? Is a community like this something that the people in the United States would benefit from? In what ways?

More to come...

Stefan Andre


The Question of Community...

More and more I hear people wondering about the possibilities of community. Community - defined as the intentional gathering of people to sustain one another over time in ways social, economical, spiritual, political. The more I reflect on matters in this country as we move further into the ways of Empire it seems clear that forming community is a good antedote, and an urgent medicine to the ills of Imperialism. As our American government pours more and more funds into the military-industrial complex less and less monies are available for health care, education, social programs for the poor, roads, bridges etc... How do we respond to this? One very practical way is indeed community. There are many ways to form community and many creative possibilities. In the next few entries I will be reflecting on these many ways and sharing specific stories and examples of courageous people who are responding. In addition I will lift up certain Gospel stories and attempt to demonstrate how Jesus calls us to a kind of community that not only nourishes human beings but also challenges powers and structures that keep people poor.
I invite your thoughts.

Stefan Andre


April 4, 1968 Memphis TN

Today, April 4 is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King . Here in Memphis where the murder took place many people continue to feel the grief , the sadness, and the anger of that day. A phone call from a good friend this morning made this very clear to me. " I have got to do something today", she said. " I can't explain what it is like to have experienced that day 40 years ago here in Memphis". Her voice was trembling , full of emotion and I felt for the first time the pain of someone who lived through April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN.
At this moment I am sitting in a little coffee shop in a poor neighborhood in Memphis. The Caritas Village is a new social justice oriented place where rich and poor eat together and share conversation. Across the table from me is Randy, an African American friend who works with Pax Christi on matters of racial reconciliation. Inbetween e-mails on our respective laptops we enjoy conversation. We speak honestly , fearlessly, like brothers. Memphis... a place of suffering and pain...a place of healing and reconciliation.


Jesus on the Steps of the Church

Remember the story of Jesus when he washed the dirty feet of his friends? This past week a friend of mine from California sent me a message where that story was retold and its implications unraveled. I read it and promptly ignored the meaning of it for myself. Here's the story...
Today as I was walking out of a church where we just finished another rehearsal for the new CD a man walked in to the church. He seemed a bit disoriented. He sat down and said he was waiting for the Pastor of the church to come because the Pastor had promised him a sandwich. SO , he was hungry too. As I looked at him more closely I'd say he might have been homeless. I explained to him that I needed to lock up the building and that he would have to wait outside on the church steps. He kindly obliged and sat on the steps outside. It started to rain. I locked up and said goodbye to the man and got in the car and drove off, trying not to look at the man sitting on the church steps waiting in the rain for a sandwich. I was in a hurry.
Only later did I realize what had just happened. I hope next time Jesus shows up and asks for a sandwich I will say yes. Washing feet is what Jesus calls us to do. It takes many forms...

In the name of the Man on the Steps of the Church,

Stefan Andre


Sing a New Song!

This past weekend we gathered at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis to begin to record music for a new CD of Celtic music. We were thirty singers, a harpist, a guitarist, two video cam recorders rolling and two very competent recording engineers from Ardent Records. Words like " exciting, exhilarating, exhausting" come to mind. Two very long days of " let's do it again". It was a lovely gathering of people from various faith communities around the city and two very fine soloists - one from California and one from New York City. After these first two recording sessions we'll go into the studio to add other instruments and do the necessary editing. After that we'll begin to rehearse more music including new songs and chants. It is a long process and a very good process indeed.
As we enter the second half of this work I want to extend my sincere thanks to all who are involved in this creative work. Singing a new song with you is an honor and a delight!
And to those who would like to join ...you are most welcome!

Stefan Andre


In the Face of Horror...Murder in Memphis

Dear Friends,

How to respond in the face of the horror of murder? Here in Memphis , on Lester street, in the neighborhood of Binghampton, we have witnessed the unthinkable . A family was murdered and mutilated -four adults and two children. Three other children in the family are in serious condition. The reality of this horror is slowly seeping into our stunned consciousness. It is the unthinkable. The unsayable... I hesitated to even mention this here but it seemed to me that to speak of it was more healing than to not speak of it.
It seems to many here in the city that the level of violence, anger, and rage is rising . Over the past few years more and more shootings, killings, expressions of anger and rage. What is happening? Why? How to understand this? How to respond? In the spirit of compassion, courage, and hope may we reflect together on these and other important questions.

First, it is clear that as a community we are grieving. The grief is very real...very deep. At times it feels overwhelming. How to feel this grief and how to express this grief is our human task. Our media reports all kinds of things in rapid succession giving us precious little time to respond as feeling beings. But to be human is to feel, and to feel deeply. And so we grieve. We allow oursleves to experience the pain of loss and suffering. Collectively we enter the wound. And we support each other as we do so. At the same time we offer ourselves to those who are living through this horror. We especially offer our expressions of practical loving to those little children who remain alive and in serious condition in hospital. Memphis is responding in many ways to help medically, financially, and in the emotional and physical healing of the people directly involved.
One question: Can it be said that Memphis is a place of relatively high anger, rage and violence? Many would say yes to that question. Many point to the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 in Memphis and the ongoing culture of poverty here in Memphis as key elements in a peculiar legacy of violence that shapes the general climate of the city and seeps into our everyday interactions. At the same time one police report indicates that the violent crime rate in Memphis has declined by 18% over the past year. Perhaps both are true.
One thing is clear: we must do all in our power to learn non-violent ways of being. We must pray and work toward being more and more non-violent in our many relationships. And when we are confronted with violence we must learn creative and courageous ways to respond.
As an example one report says that every time a neighborhood holds a block party the level of violence in that neighborhood goes down. Something to ponder...
May it be so.

In Memphis...In Grief...In Hope...
Stefan Andre


Breathless...at 30,000 Feet!

Oh, to be a painter or a poet! Moments filled with exquisite sights that take the breath away and stir the heart! Imagine... flying thirty thousand feet looking out the tiny window of a Delta Express Jet onto an infinite expanse of unbelievable colors, shapes, and textures of the California coastline. And God said, " Let there be Beauty." It seemed as though I had never seen such a sight. As the sun was setting I was transfixed. Before the magnificence of the sky's display there lay the humble, and eloquent cities offering their own visual splendor - strings of glistening, golden-blue pearls lovingly laid across a darkened earthly body. Above her -an adoring sky covered with shifting gray-black phantom clouds hiding slim streaks of the palist blue. And in the center and farthest side of it all, everything came together in a blazing artistic horizon of every possible hue of intense fire and flame where boundaries of land and sea and sky are joyously blurred. On and on , for mile after mile, I gazed absorbed, lost in Divinity's Dance.
Finally, I looked away ... and breathed.

Deo Gratias,
Stefan Andre



Have you seen the latest film called, " Once" ? Do....

A story about two ordinary/extraordinary people, creativity, some beautiful songs, courage, contemporary Irish society, and much more.
It is a startlingly refreshing film created with a low budget, camcorder, and shot in lovely Dublin.
In addition , this is one movie with special features that are worth viewing.

Did I say that this film is brilliant? It is. More please...

Astonished and Delighted,
Stefan Andre


Playing the Game of Faith with Passion...

" Go, Go, Go!" " C'mon, Get 'em" " Yes!" " No!" "Yeeeeeeessssss!!!" "Nooooooo!!! " These are only a few of the passionate cries coming from an enthusiastic family here in Memphis as we watched the basketball game on television between the Memphis Tigers and the University of Tennessee Vols. It was INTENSE! Did I say INTENSE? I mean INTENSE!!! The intensity was magnified intensely by the fact that some members of the family were cheering for Memphis while others were cheering for Tennessee. Delightful...
Besides being intense it was also beautiful. Beautiful in that a wide range of free, spontaneous, raw emotion was being felt, expressed, released, and enjoyed together. A deeply human experience...a shared community of passionate agreement and disagreement.
Flash forward or backward to your local neighborhood church, synagogue, temple and anticipate or remember your own church, synagogue, temple experience. Compare... How would you describe it? Intense? Passionate? Beautiful?
Spontaneous? Free? Deeply human? Delightful? Enthusiastic? Can it be? In our religious communities can we bounce the ball of faith with such fierce intensity back and forth , playfully, seriously,and remain committed to remaining together in the game? Maybe if we could " play" like this, our communities would be filled with passionate participants and our church , synagogue, temple experience would rise to the level of YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!

Just wondering...
Stefan Andre


An Ecumenical Celtic Celebration in Song!

Little by little, a growing group of people, both singers and instrumentalists, is forming to record a new CD of music that is both ecumenical and Celtic in sound. Based on traditional Irish melodies this new music will consist of a Celtic Mass, songs and chants. Singers will be accompanied by flute, harp, fiddle, pipes, drums, guitar and more. Representaives from various Protestant and Catholic Churches will come together on March 16 , Palm Sunday and on March 17 , St. Patrick's Day at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, TN.. With one voice this emerging group of Christians will fill the glorious space at St. Mary's with the sound of many voices and many instruments singing and playing in praise of God and in love of neighbor!

The invitation is open to all. Come... sing... pray... bless and be blessed!

Stefan Andre


Deep Shift - From Civilization to Humanity...

Think about it...Jesus did not call himself the Civilized One. He referred to himself again and again( as if we were not really listening) as the Human One. The " Son of Man" had many connotations not the least of which was - the one who is deeply and essentially human - the model human being. As I receive the news about more and more violence in America and around the world I can't help but wonder. Is this civilization we have created? Listen to this: " U.S. Hispanics under attack Amid Immigration Crackdown"; "Clinton Obama Rachet Up Attacks on One Another"; Clinton Obama Closed Debates Spark Texan's Anger"; Israel Braces for Hezbollah Revenge Attacks"; " Five Students Killed in North Illinois University Attack". This was just a slice of the media pie offered up for us today. There is an author, Derrick Jenson, who writes in his book entitled " Endgame; the Problem of Civilization" , that civilization as we call it needs to be dismantled because it is in reality a social construct rooted in the horrible violence we claim to abhor. Check it out... We seem to have created a so called civilization in which everything from our language , our politics, our social and religious structures ( consider the origins of the religious term - diocese. It reflects the language of Imperial Rome), right on down to the toys that our children play with , is infused with the " attack" mentality.
Perhaps our grief over this , and our collective awareness of the reality beneath the reality, will lead us forward to a deep and compassionate listening to one another. Isn't that a key question in all of this? " How do we respond when violence is committed toward us?" Do we attack in return? Do we flee out of fear? How can we respond like the " Human One"? How can we make the deep shift from " Civilization" to truer Humanity?

Seeking Peace,
Stefan Andre


Another Shooting in Another American School...

We gathered around the dinner table tonight , about 12 -15 people in a little place called the Village, here in Binghampton in Memphis TN. The topic of conversation: young people and violence. The sorrow of another young person killed in another American school just reported, it seems as if there is a palpable increase in the level of violence in this American city over the past few months and the mood in the room is a mix of veiled grief, and light-hearted southern humor. We begin by sharing stories and asking questions. What are the causes? Why? What might we do? How to understand a society founded and sustained by violence and bloodshed? Are we really that different from the violent gangs and individuals we hear about? Are they not a startling reflection of our own fearful and angry lives?
Out of the conversation we offer a possibility: what if we go to the schools in Memphis - not trying to fix anything - but to offer regular listening sessions with the students? What if we bring the local media with us to offer the students an opportunity to be heard and understood? Rather than simply reacting to the next outbreak of violence why not begin an ongoing time of listening and building relationships with the young people in Memphis? " Could take a long time", one perceptive person commented. Do we dare?

In the Struggle...In Hope...Together...
Stefan Andre


The Emergent Church

Dear Friends,

Recently I had the pleasure to hear Phyllis Tickle and Tony Jones speak in Memphis , TN on the the subject of the Emergent Church. Their speaking marked the beginning of a Lenten Series at Calvary Episcopal Church. Emerging Christianity, the Emergent Church, Emergents... all this may be new language for some, but according to the speakers the reality of this new kind of Christianity is part and parcel of our postmodern age. According to Tickle, the Emergent Church is part of a new beginning of Christianity similar to the beginning that the Protestant Reformation created about 500 years ago. No little thing. So, what is it? In a nutshell it consists of " the new communities of faith, the innovative forms of monasticism, the adventurous theology"( Tony Jones) and more. It is more interested in conversation than creed. It is the new growth of forms , ideas, and structures on the forest floor of American Christianity.
Along with Jones and Tickle I am reading Brian Mclaren's writings on this new kind of Christianity. A Generous Orthodoxy is a very good read.
Lest anyone think that Emerging Christianity is simply an armchair reading assignment let me suggest that this emerging faith can be a positive way forward out of the mire of violence in our American society. " Conversation, not Creed" is one motto we would do well to practice in our conversations be they religious or not. I connect the violence of our society to our obsessive attachments to our own egoic ideas and beliefs. We cling and defend our creeds, religious or not, and commit violence on those who disagree. We avoid conversation with those who are different. We refuse to listen to a contradictory point of view. We exclude those who are not like us. In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways we draw our circles of acceptability.
Perhaps the Emerging Church can help us by drawing new social circles and giving us living demonstrations of letting go and letting in.

Stefan Andre


In the Path of a Destroying Wind...

Last night millions of people throughout the southern United States faced what could only be described as a living nightmare of nature - a fierce, and deadly series of tornados moving at rapid speeds threatening everything and everyone in their path. When it was over at least 50 people were dead, many more were injured, and untold numbers of homes, and buildings were damaged or destroyed. Last night we were - all of us - together - caught in a common life threatening peril. At any moment one of several death-dealing winds could, and in many cases did, bring an abrupt end to our life on earth. In that moment, fear was our common bond and hope was the thread that held us together.
As I looked out the window and saw the ominous clouds and shifting sky I offered a simple song playing on a keyboard and praying... feeling fear...feeling hope... realizing one more time the illusion of control...and singing a prayer of trust- whatever happens.

To those families and friends whose loved ones died or were injuried we offer our heartfelt love and sincere prayers.
For those of us who live to tell about it perhaps we can remember what it was like to be... in that moment ...together.

Your little brother,
Stefan Andre


A Very Modest Proposal...

Listening to the President deliver the State of the Union address last week I was moved. I felt inspired to suggest, in the tradition of Jonathan Swift a very modest proposal. Keeping in mind that we are about to enter the sacred time of Lent - traditionally a time of fasting and letting go, I would like to suggest a few things that might help our President . Because President Bush is so committed to freedom I would like to propose that in the spirit of freedom and free-choice he ask the American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan if they would like to come home . Now, since the President has made it clear that freedom requires their long-term presence this modest proposal would allow for troop return only during Lent. Think of it as a time of military letting go and fasting from violence and bloodshed. Truly, a very modest proposal. And to fill in the gap I propose that all the members of the current administration who believe deeply in this war and who voted to continue this war freely volunteer to replace the troops who decide to return home during Lent. Voila! I have no doubt that President Bush would be the first to sign up and go to the front lines! Further, this would be a great opportunity for all the presidential candidates , members of Congress, and all who also want to support the war to demonstrate their patriotism by following Mr. Bush into battle.
The more I think about this the more appeal this proposal has. If the Republican party wants to secure their hold on the Roman Catholic vote and for that matter all religious groups that take lent seriously, here is the chance. In one simple act of personal courage and conviction the current administration would observe Lent, bring families together, restore participatory democracy, and stand up for the cause of freedom in the world. Does it get any better?

In the Spirit of Jonathan Swift,
Your smiling friend,
Stefan Andre


Dog Whisperer ...Whispers of Peace

There is a TV show I would like to applaud. It's called the Dog Whisperer and stars Caesar Milan. Milan is a skilled dog trainer and more... He teaches dogs how to be dogs and people-how to be people. His approach to life is a delicious combination of common sense , pack psychology, and a little Zen philosophy. And it works wonders on both canines and humans! In minutes people and dogs shift their mind set and their behavior resulting in a much happier and relaxed way of being. Amazing!
What can we learn from this about our society and our urgent need to " learn the ways of peace'? Just tonight I was asked to visit a church to speak with the choir about how to encourage congregations to sing. I mentioned the Dog Whisperer to them and before long we were discussing the parallels between Milan's work and that of a choir working with a congregation. There are common principles which underlie both. How to encourage a congregation to sing ? What do they need? How can we effectively lead a congregation in singing? How to give a congregation what they need so that they might enjoy singing in church?
In our search for peace perhaps we can learn something from the animal kingdom and those who are especially sensitive to the ways of the beast.

Stefan Andre


At the Inter-Faith Trinity Conference on Religion and Violence

Dear Friends,

It was a great gift for many last week when the Trinity Conference on Religion and Violence presented four internationally known scholars who spoke on the relationship of religion and violence. What was especially meaningful was that each speaker came from a different religious tradition and spoke from a deeply personal perspective...one born out of years of experience and struggle. Present were James Cone, Suzannah Heschel, Tariq Ramadan, and James Carroll. As we sat and listened one theme came through again and again and again. Each religious tradition contains both the seeds of peace and the potential for violence. How we interpret and apply our sacred texts is what makes the difference.
For me , it was a hopeful moment when we all sat and simply listened to one another. We listened and sought to understand the other. Can we, in our different religious traditions ,come together to listen, to pray, to sing and dance the dance of peace? Can we meet often to deepen our common purpose, celebrate our differences, and nurture our growing friendship?

In the Hope of Waging Peace,
Stefan Andre


Flight into Egypt Then and Now

This morning as I listened to news from around the world I heard of the thousands of people from Gaza who are " flooding across the border into Egypt". It is clear that these people are not just " flooding" but that they are also fleeing. Their flight is from a situation of suffering and violence - a closing of borders by the Israeli government and military that makes life in Gaza a degrading scramble for food, water, fuel, and other basic resources. The Palestinians in Gaza fear for their lives and the lives of their children as their imposed poverty increases day by day.
In this very complicated situation which defies easy solutions it may be helpful to remember that there was another time not too very long ago when a group of people from this region ( albeit much smaller) fled from a situation of violence and suffering and threats from the government and " flooded" across the border into Egypt. Their names- Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. At that time an angel warned Joseph in a dream to cross the border into Egypt to save the life of one small child - Jesus. Perhaps that same angel is guiding people today as they follow in Mary and Joseph's footsteps and like them they will save the life of one, two, or maybe two thousand children.

Stefan Andre


Speaking of Peace - A New Blog for Encouraging World Peace

Dear Friends,

Peace to You! Can we imagine a forum for people all over the world to share every day examples of peace and peace-making ? Stories from our lives that encourage one another and inspire us in our journey toward that blessed shalom/salaam we all desire. There are so very many stories from the media that seem to focus on the negative, and those things that discourage us . Why not create a specific blog that would work in the opposite direction?

So, I invite you to come to this blog SPEAKING OF PEACE and share your thoughts, your stories, your every day experiences that will inspire us all to go deeper and further in our common journey toward peace.

In the joy of peace-making!

Stefan Andre


Voices of the Angels...

Walking into San Juan Bautista Mission Church here in California is walking into the rich layers of our American histories. The sights , the structures, the textures all speak of centuries of prayer, of relationship ... in diversity, in struggle , in beauty, and in peace. In the silence you can hear so much that has been and still is. As I stood and listened, along with about thirty or so other people, out of the silence came a sound, a voice. In melodies and syllables that were new to us all this voice poured blessing after blessing. Truly it was a voice that filled the space and all who were present... a voice that came from centuries before and somehow at the same time deeply present. All of us listened. Many of those who were standing sat down or knelt in response to this voice. Many closed their eyes so as to listen and receive this voice more deeply. This was no imaginary voice. This voice came from a woman standing in the church with eyes closed in prayer. Her name is Shannon White Eagle. She is the voice on many a CD from a new organization called Voices of the Angels based here in California. At that moment, which seemed to be timeless , she was also our deepest voice.

In Peace,
Stefan Andre


In Gratitude and in Friendship...

Dear Friends,

I want to express my sincere gratitude to the many people in the Bay area in California whose warm welcome and deepening friendship encourages and inspires me. How can we ever hope to be our true selves and walk into the future with integrity except in the arms of true friends?

So, as we begin this New Year together may we extend our welcome and friendship to more and more people , to all beings, and to this lovely earth .

Looking forward to being with you again very soon.

Stefan Andre Waligur