Friday, September 1, 2017

Standing with the Undocumented

I know what people say.  "They" are here illegally.  Our laws should be followed.  Not everyone can be let into this country.Others go further: Build a wall.

And, to me, it is clear that the system is broken.  A few years ago the U.S. Senate approved a bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that was never brought up for a vote in the House, where many believed it would have been passed. And signed by the President.

And here we are. A tragic mess.  

From the work I have been doing in the jail in Dover, what concerns me are the many traffic stops taking place in NH. Profiling immigrants.  These are not all the "bad hombres" mentioned in the campaign.  

Our society needs a real and wide conversation about how many advanced countries require and benefit from a vast pool of immigrant labor to do the work that many native born do not want to do. I'm not talking about I.T. professionals or engineers. I'm talking about the souls who work in our fields, pick blueberries in Maine, apples in New Hampshire and milk dairy cows in Vermont. They work in grinding poultry processing plants in Maryland and Arkansas and beef and pork processing mega-plants in the Mid-West.  Dangerous and tedious work. 

We can argue politics and demographics and laws, and I hope followers of Jesus will not lose sight of compassion and justice. Scapegoating outsiders for the many ills our society and culture carries risks.  

In the end, I know we as a nation of immigrants and ingenious peoples, can do better.  


Monday, August 28, 2017

Sermon from August 27, 2017

August 27, 2017
The Rev. Mark Pendleton
Christ Church, Exeter
Taken by Steve Portalupi on August 21 in Kentucky 
Our Fragile Island Home

The great eclipse of 2017 came and went this week. It was the first to be seen from coast-to-coast in nearly 100 years with its shadow racing across the surface of the earth at 2000 mph.  We will our chance in seven years when the next solar eclipse will pass directly over the North Country here in New Hampshire. 

Of the many quotes and comments from those who experienced the great eclipse in person, there were common threads:  awe, wonder, community.

Two of our members from Christ Church, Elaine and Steve Portalupi, drove over 2000 miles and back for 2 minutes and 32 seconds that they said did not disappoint. Elaine commented how it was such a moving experience it brought tears to her eyes – “during totality I felt like I was touching the face of God.”    Steve: “It was both profound and exhilarating. Seeing and feeling the effects of our moon's interaction with our sun made me feel much more a part of our solar system.”

An Episcopal priest whose church was in the sweet spot in Kentucky picked up those themes: “It was like a moment of seeing the holy. And you had nothing to do with it. It was just a gift. It’s like you are looking at perfection” (The Rev. Alice Nichols).  During those 2 brief moments of totality, people everywhere cheered, howled, applauded, cried, danced, stood with their mouths gapping open. An event of a lifetime.  The ultimate bucket list event.  “Magical,” “spiritual,” “more than I could have ever imagined.” 

What was so clear to me was how the goal for so many onlookers was not to find a remote and solitary place to see the moon pass in front of the sun, but to experience this natural wonder alongside others.  Entire football stadiums filled -- churning with anticipation. 

For two brief minutes, millions of people in our country looked into the heavens and were elevated and drawn out of and away from their daily concerns.  The weight of the world’s problems lifted for a brief time. There was little talk of politics, terrorism, hatred or war.  Bill Nye the Science Guy gave the best advice leading up to event: don’t spend too much time looking through a camera or phone: “just be in the moment.” 

One of the more memorable phrases in the Eucharistic prayer C in our Prayer Book and gave rise to its nickname as the “Star Wars” version is: At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses.” And then: “this fragile earth, our island home.”

 As we witness the change in weather patterns and rising global temperatures – we see the enormous amount of rain being dumped over Texas as Hurricane Harvey pounds the coast -- perhaps the liturgical scholars who wrote Prayer C were onto something true.  This earth is fragile, it is home to all of us.  

This past Monday I imagined what the God of creation would say to humanity. Looking down at so many of people wearing those funny glasses.  “Is this what I have to do to get your attention?  Send the moon every few years and place it between the earth and the sun for a few minutes so that the light of day turns into darkness? Is that what will bring you together, stop working and go outside, make you realize your place in the vast universe, bring tears to your eyes and smiles on your faces and experience something of nature with millions of other people?  OK, then.  That’s what I will do. 

We know and believe now that God does not live up there and the devil down under the earth as our ancient ancestors did -- God is beyond space and time -- but looking heavenward for inspiration and meaning is still worth our collective effort.    

We stand in need a constant reminding of our place and purpose in this world.   Who God is, what God does, and what we ourselves are called to do and become to respond to this gift.

Paul wrote his most theological letter to the emerging church in Rome:  2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

What might this mean to us?  Do not be conformed: be transformed. 

We spend a lifetime essentially conforming to what we should be. It starts early. Most of us, I believe, grow up as children seeking the affection and approval of our parents. Many us desire to be accepted within circles of friends.  So we incorporate ways of living to conform. Be kind.  Play nicely with our siblings.  Share. Don’t be rude.  Later on: study hard. Pay attention. Pick the right kinds of friends. Stay in your lane. Don’t color outside of the lines. Know your place.  

We spend a great deal of time and energy conforming to what our society and world tell us makes one happy and successful and good.  We know that advertisers paint a skewed version of perfection: the perfect body, family, career and life. The hard part is moving beyond what we are sold and told.    

Paul knows the Gospel and imagines a different way of living in the world. True transformation is a process that gets kick-started by this God we are all trying to understand more deeply and be in relationship with.

It is wonderful to stand in awe of the creation God has made: mountaintop experiences, eclipses, watching the sun rise and set over the ocean, enjoying the fruits of earth.  It is good to be transformed and changed by the awe and wonder that the God of creation forever activates.  And, let us be as inspired as we look into the heavens, to also look at our fragile island and those with whom we share this island home. 

We are to care for and about fragile things and people – the faces of God.  We can never forget those Jesus cared about:  the hungry, poor, sick, marginalized, sinner, outcast, and the stranger.  Who are they today?  The single mother, the disabled veteran living with the trauma of war, the transgender youth trying to figure out why she never felt in her own body what the world told him to feel, the immigrant who fled a violent homeland, risked his life and that of his children to work on our farms, pick our crops, and do other back breaking and tedious work that many here would rather not do. 

The late English writer G.K. Chesterton wrote this: “We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more at the earth.”

Permanent things:  the sun, the earth, our island home.  It is all we have. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Just using this space to ask if we have reached a turning point in this nation after last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and the President's mixed messages that are being taken by neo-Nazis, members of the K.K.K. and white supremacists as tacit support.  But there have been an abundance of turning points and straws that never seem to break the camel's back.  

Hate is hate.  Violence is violence.  And the hatred, racism and anti-Semitism of some will bring out rage and fear in others.  The flames are being stoked.  It is hard to face hatred with peaceful resistance.  

We are not all equipped and called to march and attend vigils. Some people pray.  Others write letters to political leaders.  Some speak out among friends and office workers.  Others channel goodness back into the world in quiet ways that few see.  Their actions will not make the news or be re-tweeted.  

We are all created in God's image.  We can not go backward -- we must more forward in creating the Beloved Community imagined by Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Both sides? Many sides?  President Trump: there is only one side we can choose.  The side of Jesus.  The side of justice, inclusion, peace and hope.  

God help us.  No, really: God help us through this moment. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wisdom from Mary Oliver and Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer quotes this wonderful poem from Mary Oliver:

"Nobody knows what the soul is. 
It comes and goes/like the wind over water."

He goes on to say this: (The Journey Toward an Undivided Live) 

But just as we can name the functions of the wind, so we can name some of the functions of the soul without presuming to penetrate its mystery:

The soul wants to keep us rooted in the ground of our own being, resisting the tendency of other faculties, like the intellect and ego, to uproot us from who we are. 

The soul wants to keep us connected to the community in which we find life, for it understands that relationships are necessary if we are to thrive. 

The soul wants to tell us the truth about ourselves, our world, the relationship between the two, whether that truth is easy or hard to hear. 

The soul wants to give us life and wants to pass that gift along, to become life giving in a world that deals too much with death.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Jail in Dover houses detainees

I am attaching a write-up in the New Hampshire Union Leader about the jail in Dover where I have been visiting and working with other volunteers to offer "know our legal rights" education.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Care for Immigrants and Refugees

I have long been involved and concerned about the plight of refugees and immigrants.  In the 1990’s, as a new rector in Connecticut, my parish settled several refugee families from Cuba.  In the early 2000’s while serving a parish in suburban Washington D.C., I served on a board and was active in a organization that advocated for the safe treatment of immigrant day workers, many of whom had fled Central America decades before in the aftermath of the civil wars and conflicts – wars where we as a country were very much involved.  This is pre-Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it you pay for it.”  I’ve also worked with others to plant Latino congregations and have tried through my mission trips to Latin America to keep my Spanish fluent enough to communicate, preach and counsel. 

Which for me leads to today. 

There is a whole list of things broken about our immigration system.  I have long believed that the vast majority of those who come to our country without documentation, in a more peaceful and prosperous world, would rather remain, live, work and die in the homelands of their birth.   Yet for a range of reasons – intractable poverty, political corruption, unfettered capitalism where few taxes from foreign corporations reach the people in need, gang violence fueled by destabilized societies racked by decades war and violence, the insatiable appetite for drugs in the U.S. coupled with weak governments to the south of our border that have failed to corner the cartels -- all these and more make for instability, fear, unemployment and underemployment that drive whole populations from their homes.  

And then there is the “little dirty secret.”  Undocumented immigrants, unable to acquire legal short term work permits, work in the underbelly of our economy: they pick our vegetables and fruits, build our houses, care for our elderly, process our animals into food, and tend our green grass.  When our economy is down, they do not come.  When times are booming, the immigrants come in droves -- hired by willing and paying employers.  

All valid sociological and economic theory.  How about theology?  We can quote verses from the Old Testament about the care of the foreigner and we can cite Jesus himself about love of neighbor, but all of that will falter if we are guided more by fear than openness.  If our loyalties are more tribal than to the greater human family? We are in a predicament.  How do we square faith and loyalty to nation when borders by their very nature keep some out and some in?  While few suggest that all borders cease to exist – boundaries have existed between peoples and nations from ancient times forward – how can Christ’s values rule our rules and draw and defend our borders? 

Many individuals and churches are trying to discern what to do and think in response to what appears to be dramatic shifts in policy towards undocumented immigrants in this country and refugees seeking asylum from countries around the world – specifically some countries (but not all) where acts of terrorism have been know to have been planned and carried out.  What is our Christian responsibility? 

We know that to simply say nothing or doing nothing is not an option.  Though Holocaust comparisons are by nature perilous, what the world learned in the World War II is that if good people remain silent that there will be few voices left to save even those same good people from harm. We all have something at stake in this conversation and reality. 

Some congregation are considering whether they should provide sanctuary for immigrants in fear of deportation. Some communities are increasing their support for refugee families still entering the U.S. 

I believe local and demographics matter.  My former congregation in Maryland, made up of over 30 nationalities and where I started a Spanish-speaking congregation of mainly Central Americans, is situated in a part of the country where immigrants and refugees would readily know of their presence and be assured of their support.  Urban churches, border churches, churches near high density immigrant populations can be magnets for the kind of outreach that offers the foreigner and refugees assistance and perhaps sanctuary -- an expression that honors human dignity. 

What might be the role of Christians in Exeter and the Seacoast?  First, have open and prayerful hearts.  Every person we read about in the news fearing deportation is a human being with a real human story. They have made choices in their lives that they never believed they would have had to make.  Many have traveled for far from home, families have been separated, traditions lost.  I hope we never lose the compassion of Christ as to think through these issues.  

What I decided to do as one person is this: I have begun to volunteer with a group called the New Hampshire Immigration Visitation program at the Strafford County Jail in nearby Dover.  NHIVP is a small group of dedicated volunteers who visit the facility to give “know your legal rights” advice, acting not as attorneys but serving as advocates and educators.  The jail in Dover receives persons arrested by the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Department (I.C.E) from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as some from Massachusetts.   Women and men can be detained for more than one year in the facility as they await court hearings for deportation or asylum requests.  I began volunteering to add to the volunteer pool that speaks Spanish, as many but not all of the detainees are from Latin America.

Through this work, I was asked to offer worship services in Spanish.  Last Sunday I celebrated Eucharist for about 15 inmates from various Latin American countries and one man from Africa who just wanted to receive the sacrament.  In this time of Lent, I commented how strange I felt coming from the outside to behind the wall to preach about wilderness.  I hope to find a regular routine to visit the jail to offer whatever hope and encouragement I can through the sharing of the sacrament of the Eucharist. 

We plan to community forum on Sunday April 30 to learn more about this pressing issue.  Stay tuned.