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St. Thomas' Parish at Dupont Circle – Washington, DC

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Ministry in Daily Life – An Urban Experience




Dr. Wayne Whitson Floyd
Parish Administrator & Clergy Spouse, St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle
Parish Administrator, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church

I was asked recently to write something for a group of Episcopal bishops, clergy and lay people about the way that St. Thomas’ Parish lives out our baptismal covenant — the way we do “ministry in daily” life as a congregation.  Here is what I said.

“I work in two parishes, and belong to one of them, where my wife, The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose is Rector, in the heart of Washington, DC. The parish where I am a member has pioneered “ministry in daily life” now for more than three quite distinct generations.  Originally a large urban English Gothic church that could boast of F.D.R. as its Senior Warden before he was President, and that Eleanor Roosevelt delivered out first lay homily, the building that “was” St. Thomas’ Parish was a 1970 victim of arson that destroyed all but the previous social hall and parish offices, which remain our entire  “church” still.

The remnant of the congregation who remained swapped a “building” for a “neighborhood” – becoming a visible and vocal presence at the interface with Dupont Circle war and political protesters, and then the LGBT community, and more recently the influx of young professionals – straight and gay – who have adopted our neighborhood precisely for its generous-hearted and socially-active posture in the larger Washington, DC, urban context.  We are constantly being pushed to make more space for our community and its ministries, and as a result have raised almost a million dollars from our members towards a capital campaign finally to build a new worship space to house the work we do amidst our neighbors in Dupont Circle.

St. Thomas’ chose to remain committed to the neighborhood, whoever came to live and work here, in so doing found itself constantly changed by, as well as changing, the daily life of the area where we have lived and worshiped now for more than a century.

One simply couldn’t keep church and life separate when life has so much to say about how you “do church,” and when church understands itself to be intimately entwined in “daily life” – whether confronting police lines, holding funerals for community members and their friends who died during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when few other churches were willing to do so, developing one of the first services in the Episcopal Church in 1998 for the Blessing of Same Sex Unions, or claiming to have spiritual relevancy for a generation that can find it as hard to come out as Christian as a previous generation found it difficult to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“Daily life” for our parishioners is spent working for Congress members, holding senior positions in NGOs and nonprofits, doing research at NIH, going to graduate school, working for the State Department, or raising children while playing in the National Symphony Orchestra.  The sacramental life of the parish continues to seek new ways to ground people’s everyday attempts to find God in the world where they work.  They in turn bring that world back into the church with them in challenging and amazingly faithful ways.

Our leadership continues to emerge from the people who arrive on our doorstep, most of whom for a generation have been young, highly educated, professionally ambitious, and spiritually hungry. Our Junior and Senior Wardens are forty and under; several Vestry members are in their twenties; and hardly anyone grew up in the Episcopal Church – many didn’t grow up in any church whatsoever.  The parish took a risk to call a partnered gay man as their Rector in the 1990s and a straight married woman, who happens to be my spouse, as their first female rector eight years ago.  The “daily life” of our parishioners now includes more and more children, whose parents reflect the broad array of sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, political persuasions, and vocational choices that “are” Dupont Circle in the twenty-first century.  We “are” a slice of tomorrow’s America today.

We continue to pioneer ways of engaging the real world in which our members live and work and play – inviting a Montessori School to share our facilities, hosting a Korean Presbyterian congregation, and developing a Taize service that reaches many who otherwise have no ‘religious’ connections whatsoever. Most recently we have partnered with Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to begin work to start a Center for Nonviolent Communication at St. Thomas’ Parish that he will lead as he makes our parish his “church home” when he is in Washington in retirement and also working with the Center for American Progress.  We want to help facilitate a more civil and responsible public discourse that can invite “daily life” into “parish life” – and vice versa — in new and creative ways. In the process I think we will once again help to redefine both “ministry” and “daily life” in fresh and responsive and courageous ways.  We aren’t striving to be a “big church” but rather a “growing community” of involvement, responsibility, and faithfulness.

No one could have predicted the path we’ve taken to get this far.  But with God’s help we will find our path into the future, sure to be surprised and awed by who and what we find there and what faithfulness requires of us in ministry, as in daily life.

 

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General Convention Highlights



Highlights of the 77th General Convention include the election of St. Thomas’ Parish Senior Warden John Johnson to a six year term on the Executive Council of the national Episcopal Church! 

Out of the scores and scores of resolutions proposed and passed, of particular interest to the St. Thomas’ Parish community are also a handful of resolutions that were adopted by both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies and this become a part of “the mind of the church” as we know it in mid-2012:

Bishops and Deputies also approved the  provisional use of the rite “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”.  This is the first official rite for the blessing of same sex unions, despite the fact that congregations like St. Thomas’ Parish have been doing so for over a decade.

Another resolution passed adding transgender people to the anti-discrimination protections in the Episcopal Church.

It should not go without note that causing at least equal conversation was the creation of a task force to re-imagine the workings of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century. this group of up to 24 people will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Its final report is due by November 2014.

In an anti-climatic motion intended neither to affirm or offend, the General Convention passed a “no decision” resolution, effectively “kicking the can down the road” to postpone the rejection of the Anglican Covenant while holding open conversation with worldwide Anglicanism.

And on another much-discussed topic, so-called “open communion,” the House of Bishops has passed a resolution reaffirming “that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion,” striking down the additional phrase in the version passed by the House of Deputies that concluded: “We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.” The HOD subsequently concurred with the revised version without the pastoral sensitivity provision.  The discussion about this brief notice of this resolution in The Lead is telling about the significance different voices in the church see in this decision.

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New York Bishop Orders Gay Clergy to Marry

Initially this reads like something from the satirical newspaper, The Onion, who recently ran an article headlined, “Vatican Reverses Stance On Gay Marriage After Meeting Tony And Craig.”   Only this Bishop is Episcopalian, and … it’s true!  This article in The Christian Post is based on an official communication from the Diocese of Long Island to all clergy in that diocese, “A Theological Perspective and Practical Guideline on Marriage in the Diocese of Long Island as New York State Law Allows Same-Gender Marriage.”  At the end of that article, The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island, wrote:

“For the gay and lesbian clergy of this Diocese who are living in domestic partnerships or civil unions, I hereby grant a grace period of nine months from the effective date of the New York State Law permitting same-gender marriages for those relationships to be regularized either by the exchange of vows in marriage or the living apart of said couples.  I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community.”

The Episcopal Cafe blog has written about the variety of positions on gay marriage that are held by different bishops in the state of New York, as reported in this New York Times article.   To some extent this was to be expected, given the fact that right now there are some dioceses where clergy are performing same-sex weddings, while at the same time the Episcopal Church officially is still debating whether to develop official liturgies for Same-Sex Blessings or Holy Unions.

While numerous Episcopal clergy in this diocese have performed same sex ceremonies both inside and outside the Diocese of Washington (with some at times having been refused the right to officiate at same sex blessings by bishops of other dioceses), even Washington has become somewhat more restrictive since the legalization of gay marriage in the District of Columbia, restricting clergy to performing gay marriages only for members of their own parishes.  The published guidelines for various marriage-scenarios in the Diocese of Washington can be found here.

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VA Episcopalians OK same-sex unions

I don’t know about you, but I missed this bit of news that not very long ago would have made headlines as if Moses had parted the Potomac.   On January 21-22, 2011, the 216th Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia blithely passed the following resolution:

R-2a: Blessings of Same-Gender Unions
Adopted as amended, text pending final approval

Resolved, that the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia thanks Bishop Shannon Johnston and the diocesan team for the very fruitful “Listen … And Be Heard” sessions in 2010, and urges our Bishop to “provide a generous pastoral response” by moving forward with guidelines with regard to public blessings of same gender unions.

It may not seem like so much over here in the Bluest-of-Blue DC, but given the fact that the northern part of the Diocese of Virginia sat right on the ecclesiological fault-line that threatened to split the Episcopal Church and darned near split the Anglican Communion (it’s hard to tell how you’d know, to be honest), this is, pardon the shout-out, BIG NEWS!

Perhaps rightly, other LGBTQ-friendly voices were preoccupied with Joel Osteen’s declaration on “Piers Morgan Tonight” just a few days later that homosexuality is (still for him) a sin.  I couldn’t agree more with Joe Solmonese, president of HRC, who remarked with notable restraint, that “it’s a real shame that someone of Joel Osteen’s prominence and life experiences would repeat this tired and dangerous statement. It furthers ignorance and discrimination by some Americans and adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. … One would hope Mr. Osteen would use his pulpit, with an audience of over 7 million people, to tell all human beings that they are loved just the way they are.  Instead he chose to send a dangerous and irresponsible message.”

But while we wait … and work … for a Barbara-Bush-like change of heart from Pastor Osteen, we still can take some encouragement from the fact that something of equal significance, if not headline worthiness, happened across the river in Old Virginia.  It took a while …. admittedly a looooooong looooooooooooong while … but it’s still to be noted and applauded, even as we wait for marital equality someday also to get on their agenda.

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People do grow and change, some just surprise us more than others

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We’re Growing a Church Just For You

On June 20, 2010, the Vestry (or governing board) of St. Thomas’ Parish voted unanimously to move forward to rebuild a new worship space in Dupont Circle. While our new building is going up, I want to be in conversation with you about who we are, what we’re doing here, what we believe in, and why we think this parish matters to the larger communities we live in.

After the original structure, church home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, was destroyed by arson 40 years ago this August, our congregation chose to remain in the neighborhood of Dupont Circle, worshiping, as we still do, in the renovated parish hall. Over time this prophetic decision evolved into an intentional, creative, and courageous leadership role in solidarity with of the growing GLBT community in this historic Washington, DC, neighborhood.

  • We opened our doors during the height of the AIDS crisis – welcoming HIV positive individuals to the Eucharist, ministering to the dying and their grieving partners and friends, and honoring the dead with funerals and memorial services when few other parishes did so.
  • We pioneered the development of rites for the blessing of same sex unions in the Episcopal Church, writing a still frequently used and widely adapted liturgy in 1998. Subsequently we have hosted countless blessings of holy unions, and our clergy have officiated at many others beyond our doors. Most recently we have been celebrating a steady flow of same sex marriages at St. Thomas’ Parish, including a wedding just this week of a gay couple who have been faithful partners for 33 years.
  • All of us at St. Thomas’ Parish have been blessed, too, by a steady growth in the numbers of children in our ranks, some with same-sex and others with straight parents, all of them looking for a spiritual home where they can be assured, as one said recently, that “my child will never learn to hate in this place.”
  • As older straight and GLBT members have retired or moved from the parish, younger adults have found a home with us in growing numbers. The result is that the median age of our parishioners is about 35, with only a handful of members over the age of 55, and currently only one vestry member over 45. This influx of young adults has led to a doubling of our congregation’s size and budget in the past 5 years. Now we are in the both enviable and lamentable place of being almost out of room to welcome those still arriving at our doors.

People who come here find an inclusive congregation, whose life is centered in the sacraments of baptism and holy communion — “a place where all can find and be found by God.” We are constantly deepening our practice of faith rooted in vital worship and bold outreach in equal measure, continually learning to love one another and our neighbors, although sometimes it is not clear which is the more difficult. We are proud to be a part of our community, and we also are deeply committed to contributing to our neighborhood and world in days long after we ourselves are gone. We’re growing a church just for you — and a place of sanctuary and refuge, of inspiration and courage, of faithfulness and compassion for tomorrow and the day after.

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A General Convention Report

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Prepared by Eric Scharf

As you should know by now the Triennial General Convention is meeting this week in Anaheim, CA. This is the primary legislative body of the church setting forth the policy and program on a national level for the next three years.

Of particular interest to St. Thomas’ members are two issues; consecration of GLBT priests living opening in committed relationships and same gender unions/marriage.

The first issue addressed the consequences of a resolution adopted at the previous General Convention (titled B033) that called for a moratorium on “the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”  This issue has been the cause of wide ranging debate and discussion throughout the worldwide communion over the past three years.

A number of resolutions were proposed to further address the issue, which were considered by the General Convention World Mission Committee.  They developed one combined resolution D025 to bring to the convention floor for consideration.  The key clause reads “That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.” Other sections of the resolution address our continuing commitment to the Anglican Communion.  The full text as finally completed will be available later this week.

Sunday evening the House of Deputies passed D025 by a vote of 77-31 in the lay order and 74-35 in the clerical order.  The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for their concurrence.

Jim Naughton, Communications Director for the Diocese offered this assessment of the D025:

“My sense is that the resolution doesn’t repeal or rescind B033, which in any event urged but did not compel. Rather it expresses the fact that we live now in a new reality. It does not so much pave the way for the election of another bishop in a same-sex partnership as it does remove an artificial impediment to our ongoing discernment on this issue that may, resume diocese by diocese and case by case. I think the resolution will face a much tougher climb in the House of Bishops.”

While for many this resolution will not represent a strong enough action, however it probably represents the best compromise that is possible at this time.  It has not been announced when the House of Bishops will consider D025.

As for the second issue, again a number of resolutions to both amend the Canons to allow the performance of same-gender blessings or marriage rites and others to develop rites for these.

The collective resolutions were the subject of a legislative hearing on July 9th which heard from more than 50 speakers. On July 13 a major resolution (c056) on same sex blessings cleared the Prayer Book Committee by a huge margin (6-0 among bishops, 26-1 in deputies.)  The key clause states: That all bishops, noting particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships’ are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church. Bishop Henry Parsley supported the resolution, but in a minority report will argue that the “generosity” in the  resolve noted above be limited to states where same sex marriage is legal. Further action in the House of Bishops has not yet been scheduled.

For more information on these issues and following further developments the following resources are suggested:  Integrity General Convention Presence — http://sites.google.com/site/allthesacraments/Home

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A quiet week in DC Northeast

It was a quiet week in Washington Northeast . . . . At least until the Metro crash. I had just arrived home from teaching French at Catholic University of America when vehicle after emergency vehicle went wailing off towards where I had just come from, and auto theft alarms and the hundred-thirty-pound Rottweiler next door (incongruously named Flossie) raised up their voices in orgasmic worship of the siren gods. Great fun until I turned on the news and learned what it was all about; it will be some time before I hear another really really loud fire engine and say, “Cool.”

It was a less quiet week for the fellow doctoral students whom I’m coaching through their language qualification exams in French and German. It’s easy enough for me to concoct a quiz question like, Circle the correct completion: Elles sont (a) allé (b) allés (c) allées. Not so easy for George, laboriously mastering his first foreign language at thirty, or Dave, trying to memorize conjugations while his wife is weeks away from delivering their second child and he is entertaining The House Guests from Hell – old college friends with a four-year-old, the three of them fighting like cats and dogs. Being a doctoral student at Catholic U is not a stress-free occupation.

And, curiously, especially not so for my fellow students who are Catholic.

I’m free to float past the authority claims, the arguments against permitting use of condoms in any circumstance (though shouldn’t we take care to protect lives now, so we can attend to souls later?), and the posters for pro-life novenas and campus chastity drives. My Catholic colleagues are not. Sally, an historical theologian in my German class, understands what was lost at Vatican I (1870), when the teaching authority of the church was taken away from university theologians and given to an ordained hierarchy lumbered with its own claim of infallibility. As a committed Catholic, she is stuck with living in an institution that now will not, because it cannot, ever overrule itself; there will be no Brown vs. Little Rock-equivalent doctrinal declaration in her lifetime.

By historical accident, not by superior wisdom, we Anglicans arrived at a different understanding of authority. Queen Elizabeth, knowing she faced the possibility of religious civil war in sixteenth-century England, created a Church of England that demanded uniformity of worship but knew better than to seek uniformity in how that worship was understood; “I desire not,” quoth she, “windows into men’s souls.” We were left free, individually but in community, to decide for ourselves what Scripture is really saying to us and what God demands of and for us in the major decisions of our lives. This has its own risks; where a Roman Catholic polity can be as centripetal as a black hole, ours can be as centrifugal as a dandelion gone to seed.

It also calls us to a different kind of responsibility, both in individual discernment and in balancing individual discernment with the demands of living in a communion that functions by consent and consensus. For some of us, the question is how to balance the conviction that in-church blessings of same-sex unions are not merely lawful but demanded by God’s justice, with the regrettable but deeply felt reluctance of African bishops to countenance any such thing. For others, the question is how to live with being answerable for so many choices. One of my German students is a cradle Episcopalian who became a Catholic in search of greater certainty. The infallibility of Pope in Council is for him the foundation of all spiritual security, and he scraps about it continually with Sally. Their most recent blow-up (not, thank heavens, in my class room) was about, of all things, the validity of Anglican ordinations. She, arguing for, thought the matter was still open for theological discussion. He, against, was quoting canons of Vatican I. Verbatim. In Latin.

Desmond Tutu has asked for a sense of proportion in the Anglican Communion’s debate about sexuality and authority; why is this one sin, if it be a sin, so much more important than any other? Yesterday’s Metro crash, also, is a call to perspective; are we really going to enquire into firefighters’ personal sexual orientations before letting them go into the wrecked cars to pull out passengers? Action is as important as purity of doctrine; our faith doesn’t count for much if it doesn’t take us outside ourselves and outside our immediate faith communities to serve Christ in the world. And our discernment isn’t on the right track if it makes us less, not more, charitable towards those who disagree with us. My gut reaction to Bishop Akinola is to reject him as vitriolically as he rejects me. But then I remember what living in Nigeria was like, how the culture operated, and I can see – just – how many of the authoritarian certainties that represent safety to him are threatened if two men are free to kiss. Anger and fear are joined at the hip; it is his fear that makes him angry, and we can insist that it is time for the church to endorse the blessing of same-sex unions, not later but now, and still pray for his fear. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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Selling Advent

There are almost as few things for sale with an Advent-theme as there are Lenten-collectibles.  Lent, of course, is focused on the events leading up to the end of Jesus’ life at the age of thirty-three.  Lent is a hard sell, and few people try to make a living off of Lenten trinkets.

But it comes as a surprise to many of us that one of the central themes of Advent is the final judgment.  Advent, we are jolted to learn, isn’t just about waiting for the baby Jesus in the manger, but also our anticipation of the end of all things at the last judgment when Christ comes back on ‘the last day’ as the Lord of all of creation for all time .

No wonder that both seasons – Lent and Advent – are ‘hard sells’.  They are, after all, periods for introspection about “the time of this mortal life” (BCP, 211), and thus have a certain ‘penitential’ quality to them – a tone of giving-up or turning-loose of our attachment to ‘things’. So ‘selling Advent’ sounds like an oxymoron, if not just in bad taste.

As a result, we are left with Advent Wreaths and Advent Calendars for the most part, although personally I can never find where I put the four-candle-styrofoam-form last year for my wreath, and I always get to about December 15th before I realize that I’m ten days behind with my calendar already, and give in to sloth.

So it’s been interesting to think about whether there are actually any ‘consumer goods’ out there with Advent themes that are worth considering even in an age of recession. The trick, of course, is how not to fast-forward to Christmas, even when trying to celebrate Advent — like this Nativity Advent Wreath I found for sale online this week.

In protest you could wear an “It’s Only Advent” button while you’re out doing your Christmas shopping.  Or you you could be less self-righteous than I tend to be and look at a wonderful website and blog by the artist Jan Richardson to see some of her fabulous Advent art and to buy one of her Advent books – Nancy and I own Night Visions and have just ordered The Advent Door.

Here’s someone who’s been captivated by Advent, and her art can unleash a whole new set of associations about this special season.

Spend some time looking at her Advent Hours Series of Greeting Cards, or one of her fantastic prints, like “Wise Women Also Came.”

Advent is such a curious season for so many Christians because it invites us to entertain the possibility that God chose to be in our midst precisely because creation is one of God’s favorite places to be.  God took flesh, became incarnate, because our flesh was worthy of bearing God … then … and still is now.

It’s hard to sell Advent because we’ve been so thoroughly taught that our bodies are bad that we can no longer even imagine they are good enough to be God’s place to dwell.  So we wait in Advent for this miracle to become ours again  … althought it is already, if we were only awake enough to see it.

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I dozed off … what happened?!

It was a long and at times unbelievable ride last night – at one moment I wished I was in Grant Park, then I was glad I could trundle upstairs and go to bed at 2 a.m. instead of trying to get on a CTA train with 100,000 other people.

It made me think of the sermon Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Washington National Cathedral, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”  On the one hand, last night I felt “fired up, ready to go.”  And on the other hand, my deep fatigue reminded me how hard it is going to be as we move forward to remain awake, and carry through the revolution that lies in front of us, not just the one we can see in the rear view mirror.

I thought it was very fitting to find this morning that bloggers already had begun posting prayers for the new president, not just congratulatory accolades.  For in Peter Baker’s words in today’s New York Times: “No president since before Barack Obama was born has ascended to the Oval Office confronted by the accumulation of seismic challenges awaiting him”

We woke up today understanding a little better what poet Audre Lorde meant when she wrote that “revolution is not a one time event.” It isn’t a one-act performance, but a very long play. The danger now is that, tired out from the exertions it took to get us here, we will lie down, doze off, and sleep through the real revolution that still is to come.

If the debacles of the past eight years were a forest fire, at 11 p.m. last night we were reassured to find it is now 52% contained.  The dangers are not past — a still sinking world economy, Americans fighting in two wars, Russia thumbing its nose at the West, and a country where 46% of us, voting figures tell us, woke up today less hopeful, rather than vice versa.

Still, the majority of us declared on Tuesday our intention to seek to move beyond the bitterness, divisiveness, polarization, demonization, and greed that have run amok for so long.  As Kevin Merida said in today’s Washington Post, “The magnitude of his win suggested that the country itself might be in a gravitational pull toward a rebirth that some were slow to recognize. Tears flowed, not only for Obama’s historic achievement, but because many were happily discovering that perhaps they had underestimated possibility in America.”

But we must not doze off.  While California was electing Barack Obama, it also was voting to ban gay marriage, as did Arizona, which went for John McCain, and Florida, which went for Obama.  Arkansas was voting to deny gay couples the right to adopt children.  Nebraska and perhaps also Colorado voted to end affirmative action.  Electoral College maps can obscure the extent of the enduring divisions between urban and rural, young and old, rich and poor.  We are united, but still not yet fully capable of providing  equal access to the the American dream for each and every person in our land.

Enlightenment, the Buddha discovered, was simply the ability to stay awake and fully mindful of the reality of the world around him, when all others grew distracted, disinterested, and forgetful.

Our work has just begun. Together we can do it, “yes, we can.” But only if all of us stay awake for the revolution, as participants, not couch-potato spectators.  Then when someone one future day says with a yawn, “I dozed off … what happened?” we can say: “I can tell you. We remained awake for a great revolution. I was there when we changed the world.”

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