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My copy of the letter that I submitted to the Boy Scouts of America seven years ago, along with some of my awards and honors that I earned during 18 years of scouting.

As I’m sure many of you have recently read in the news, the Boys Scouts of  America has reaffirmed its ban on gays in scouting.  This is by no means a new debate, but the recent coverage and reaction has given me pause.  In addition to the all too usual, but nonetheless heartbreaking, articles about gay scouts and scouters being removed from the organisation, I have been reading of more and more Eagle Scouts who are straight that are returning their Eagle Awards in protest of the discriminatory policy.

I have to admit, that it is heartening to see these brave individuals stand up to an organization that I know they love dearly.  The Boy Scouts for me was a second family, and I would not be the kind of person I am today had it not been for the training and opportunities that I enjoyed growing up in the BSA.  As one for whom these young men are standing up, I thank you.  You are fighting an uphill battle.  But that you are standing up for what you know to be right is extraordinary and speaks well of the true morals that scouting has instilled in you.  I would also add that the best way to help change the BSA is to let them know just how many out there do not support their discriminatory policy.  Whether that is by individuals organizing a signature campaign or by substantial donors withholding support until the BSA is respectful and inclusive of all, there are many ways to encourage change.  Keep working from within, because there are those of us who no longer have that capability.

In light of the controversy, a friend of mine requested that I post the letter I submitted to the BSA seven years ago when I chose to no longer condone by my silence their policy of discrimination.  Because of my own experience, I have a more intimate perspective that can offer a glimpse into the heart of this controversy and show you what really happens to those of us who are gay and are expelled from the ranks of scouting.  As I do so, I want to take this opportunity to speak to 1) those straight members of the scouting movement that are taking a stand for their gay brothers in scouting, 2) those gay scouts who are feeling most intimately the fears and demoralizing effects that such policies encourage through threats of ostracization and bullying, 3) those closeted gay scout leaders and executives that I know are still working within the BSA, 4) the gay scouts and scouters that have fallen silently away from the BSA rather than face the rejection that the organization promises, 5) the leaders and executives of the Boy Scouts of America that are in charge today, and 6) those on the outside who are watching this controversy and broadly condemning the Boy Scouts of America on whole.

First, for those that need, rather than taking up more space here, I offer a bit of background on the current state of the BSA and its relationship with the Mormon Church in this post, HERE.

Now to give you a little background on myself and the letter I’m about to share.  As I explain in the letter, I had been a scout for 18 years by the time I wrote this.  Of the numerous achievements I had earned in my scouting career, these included: Arrow of Light (highest award in Cub Scouting), Eagle Rank (highest award in Boy Scouting), God and Country Award (religious award within scouting), Vigil Honor (highest honor in scouting’s elect honor society, the Order of the Arrow), Founder’s Award (highest award given at the council level within the Order of the Arrow), twice Camp School certified (as Nature Director and Chaplain), trained at National Leadership Seminar (national leadership training course for the O.A.), invited trainer for National Leadership Seminar, summer camp staff for 10 years (final three years as Camp Chaplain), Chapter Chief (highest youth office within the O.A. at the District level), Lodge Chief (highest youth office within the O.A. at the Council level), four-time medalist in O.A. ceremonies (three regional, one national), and then further adult advising positions I held after I turned 21.

After all of that, at the end of the summer camp season in 2005, I felt it was time to be fully open with the BSA.  The year before I had just graduated from college with a BA in Religion.  Earlier in 2005, I had felt a call to found a Religious Order within the Episcopal Church as a ministry of intentional community to renew contemplative spirituality.  It is the same Religious Order for which I have served as abbot to this day, within a Church that has proudly affirmed just this summer its belief in the inclusivity of God’s work in the world.  Back then, several of my closest friends in scouting knew that I was gay.  I was out about my sexuality at church and school and to my family.  Scouting was the only place left in my life where I had to hide who I was.  And the fear that came with that was pervasive.  Because I was so well-known throughout the Atlanta Area Council, which includes the greater metro area, I was terrified to be seen going out on a date in public in case someone saw me and word made its way back to the Council office.  I was afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand if we went to the movies for fear of someone seeing me and talking.  Most straight people will never know the suffocating burden of having to hide at all times, the fear of being found out at any moment, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of a majority who holds such control over your life and yet has no reason to reconsider prejudices that you know in your heart to be wrong, and the devastating feeling of being thrown away, rejected, and forced away from your life’s work because of the views of that same callous majority.  As chaplain, I had counseled a number of youth, both campers and staffers, who were wrestling with their sexual identity.  I saw firsthand the pain inflicted on these youth by having to hide who they were in predominantly Mormon, Baptist, Fundamentalist, or Catholic troops.  Because of my position and experience in scouting, the vast majority of Atlanta area scouters knew who I was and the dedicated work I had done over the years.  So for the sake of those youth who were being hurt so deeply, and had to cry all the more silently, I felt it was time to bring to light, through the witness of my own life, the unfairness of such a prejudiced policy.  The policy said that homosexuals were not suited to be leaders and role models, but I had heard so many Scoutmasters pull their youth aside and, pointing at me,  tell them, “If you work hard, you can be like that.”  So with that in mind, I wrote what was the most painful letter of my life.  The copy I kept is pictured above, but I invite you to read it in full HERE.  Yes, it is long.  But there is a lot in there that I think people still need to know.  So please, I ask that you take the time and read through.

After submitting my letter, I received the official response along with a check refunding my $10.00 annual membership dues.

The “official letter” I received in response along with the refund check.

For the ease of reading, I have transcribed it HERE.  It is disturbing for me to read that, even though the medical community has finally said homosexuality is not a disease or aberration, the scouting policy still believes that as an issue of morality one’s sexuality is a choice, and that as a homosexual I am somehow not “clean in thought, word, and deed.”  To be frank, prejudice is a choice.  Bigotry is a choice.  Hate is a choice.  One’s sexuality is not.  And I would certainly think that prejudice, bigotry, and hate are far more deviant of our Scout Oath to be “morally straight” than any genuine love that I may feel for another person my age, regardless of gender.

And so after 18 years, I was removed from scouting.  I lost contact with so many friends that I only knew through scouting circles.  Afterwards, as my letter began to circulate, I received emails that were both vile and supportive, abusive and consoling.  Honestly, there were some emails that were grossly hurtful and abusive.  And to think that it was I who was being removed for “unscout-like behavior.”  In any event, it was obvious that despite the policy, the membership of the Boy Scouts of America were not of one mind, and that at least gave me hope that maybe someday this would change.

I would like to share one instance that helped me know that for all the pain I was going to endure, my decision was in fact the right one.  Just after I had announced to my fellow staffers at the end of the summer camp season that I would be submitting my letter and would be expelled for it, that after ten years on staff I would not be coming back, a young staff member of only 14 or 15 years old whom I had taught that summer as a counselor in training (CIT) came up to me with tears in his eyes, wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug and said, “Thank you.  My uncle is gay.”  That’s all he said, but that was all I really needed to hear.

So, as I mentioned earlier, there are a few groups of people I’d like to address if you’ll allow me such a personal indulgence.  To the straight members of scouting that are standing up for their gay brothers in scouting, I want to say “thank you.”  You have truly taken to heart the Scout Oath and Law.  You are being “loyal,” “kind,” “courteous,” “friendly,” and, above all, “brave.”  For those that don’t have to lose what they hold dear because they are the protected majority to then risk that place of protection and acceptance in order to stand up for those that are being injured is commendable.  In no movement towards civil rights, whether women’s suffrage or race equality, has the achievement of the persecuted minority been accomplished without the help of the privileged majority.  If there will ever be a time in the future when a boy can grow up in scouting without having to fear being rejected, bullied, or abused because of who he is, it will be because of your help getting us there.

To those youth scouts who are gay and must remain silent out of fear, who may be questioning their own worth because of what their leaders say, I want you to know that you are no less a scout because you are the way God made you.  I want you to know that there are many of us who are hoping and praying for you.  Many of us that know the pain you are feeling.  And so many more of us know that you are strong enough to endure.  As the popular online campaign says, it really does get better.  Know that you are loved!  While you are struggling with your identity and wrestling between being true to yourself and following the scout leaders that you have come to respect, know that your own heart will always be the truest guide.  God did not make you to condemn you, no matter what other conservative denominations may say.  Times are changing, and this, too, will eventually be behind us and we will see a better future for it.  Know, above all, that you are not alone, and that even though you may never meet me personally or the thousands of other gay scouts out there, we are nonetheless “bound in brotherhood.”

To the closeted gay scout leaders and executives that I know are still throughout the ranks of the Boy Scout organization, keep fighting from within if you can, but don’t ever let you silence condone the emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse of gay youth within the Boy Scouts of America.  Reach out to those youth where you can.  Many of them are terribly isolated, and you may be the only affirming voice that they have the chance to hear.  I used my time as an adult leader and camp chaplain to counsel many gay youth, several of whom were on the brink of suicide.  Never underestimate the positive influence you have from the position that you are still in.

To the gay scouts and scouters, especially my fellow Eagle Scouts and Lodge Chiefs, that have chosen to quietly leave the BSA without coming out and so avoid the pain of outright rejection and expulsion, I would invite you to consider the same question I faced before I wrote my letter: if you are going to leave the BSA anyway because you know that you are not accepted by national policy, which will serve the BSA and the scouts that you leave behind better – to leave silently and no longer be active, or to let them know that you were a valuable member of the organization, that you were in fact gay, that their view of gay scouters is wrong, and then no longer be active because they officially expelled you?  In either case, the end result regarding your participation in the program is the same.  But as I see it, if coming out publicly to the BSA causes at least one person to question whether their policy is justified, then you have paved one more step towards a day when not a single youth will have to live in fear of being himself in the midst of this second family that is the scouting movement.  After all, if every Eagle Scout, Chapter Chief, Lodge Chief, and Scout Executive that was gay actually came out, would they really be able to uphold such a discriminatory policy in light of the thousands that they would have to kick out?  As the vast majority of scouting professionals that I knew counted their success in “money and numbers,” your staying silently on their ledgers only goes to justify their success and continue their policy.  I know how painful this option is, but implore you to at least consider it for the sake of the youth that coming up through scouting after us.

To the current leaders and executives of the BSA, I point out the obvious.  Having a policy that forces your membership to hide who they are by threat of expulsion is in no way encouraging Trustworthy scouts.  Expelling scouts and scouters that have exemplified years of service to the BSA simply because they are honest about who they are is in no way Loyal to those members.  Enforcing a discriminatory policy that encourages bigotry and bullying is in no way Helpful to those who are most in need of support and protection in such formative years of their lives.  In no way is such an example of ostracization based solely on conservative religious beliefs Friendly, Courteous, or Kind.   I fail to see how such religious based exclusion is even Obedient to your own inter-faith policy.  How does such a discriminatory policy encourage Cheerful behavior, either in the scouts for whom you are condoning their bullying and hazing by your example or the scouts that are being subjected to that bullying and hazing? I fail to see how driving away membership is being Thrifty of the resources that you have in order to sustain what is otherwise a noble organization.  It is absurd that such an organization should punish its members who are Brave enough to stand up for who they really are.  Holding the BSA financially hostage in order to enforce discrimination that leads to bullying and teen suicide certainly does not leave your hands Clean.  And as a monk, theologian, and former BSA Chaplain, I can assure you that enforcing your religious prejudice on others is in no way Reverent.

Finally, to those who are on the outside looking in, those who feel they are supporting gay rights by condemning the entire Boy Scouts of America for their policy, I would encourage you not to judge the organization solely on this issue.  Condemning the whole organization for this one policy is little different than the Boy Scouts condemning a person based solely on their sexuality.  In either case it objectifies the other and tries to make black and white what is inherently shaded in grey.  The reason I wrote my letter was in the hopes that eventually the scouting movement would change its policy.  I still believe firmly in the institution of scouting and the positive influence it has on youth.  I am a proud example of the good that scouting can accomplish as it develops today’s youth into the leaders of tomorrow.  It is unfortuante that the Mormon Church and other conservative groups have gotten a strangle hold on the upper leadership of the BSA, but condemning the whole organization for this policy ignores the amazing good that it still does in practically every other aspect of its work.  While this policy absolutely needs to change, we must continue to push so that it can do so, not cripple it so that it has no chance to.

I hope and pray that this helps some of you out there, whether gay or straight.  I hope that my experience can offer insight into the repercussions of a policy that so desperately needs to change.  And I thank you for reading this, and allowing me to share this with you.  God’s Peace.

Silentio Coram Deo,

Br. Kenneth Hosley, O.P.C.

Abott, Order of St. Anthony the Great

Eagle Class, 1999; Vigil Class, 1999

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As my other post was getting rather long, I’ll explain the current state of the BSA here:

For those that are not as familiar with the situation in the BSA, I’ll offer a little background.  As several online writers have pointed out, the main push for the discriminatory policy is coming from the Mormon Church.  This is the same church that spent so much money on a hate campaign in California to pass Prop 8 back in 2008.  What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that the BSA actually owes its continued existence to the Mormon Church.  And that’s really the irony of this whole situation.  Back in the 1980’s, the BSA redirected its focus towards urban scouting, veering away from its traditional outdoors skill set.  As it did so, membership plummeted.  Just as the BSA was dwindling from this mistake, the Mormon Church adopted the BSA for its male youth program, put the focus back on the traditional outdoor skills, and revitalized the organisation.  With practically every Mormon church sponsoring a troop, numbers swelled and the Mormon Church took advantage of its weight by dictating policies for the BSA.  But here’s the irony: the very religious group that saved the BSA in the 1980’s is now the fundamental cause of people pulling away from the organization because of its religious based discrimination.  While the Mormon Church sponsors troops, their enforced discrimination has caused numerous other churches to no longer sponsor troops because such discrimination runs directly against their own doctrines and firm Christian beliefs.  I have lost count of the number of Episcopal, UCC, United Methodist and Lutheran churches that will no longer sponsor troops because these troops would not allow their own parishioners to participate.

As the Mormon Church, and other conservative churches that hold sway (such as the Roman Catholic Church), continue to enforce their brand of “Christian” values on an organization that is supposed to respect the values of all religions by its own inter-faith policy (being a former BSA Chaplain, I am very aware of this policy and how often it is ignored), they are driving away support from other faith-based organizations.  As these organizations leave, then the BSA become more and more dependant on the conservative churches that remain.  So essentially, the Mormon Church that saved the BSA in the ’80s is creating a dependency that the BSA can’t afford to upset.

But here’s the flip side of the coin: if the BSA did eventually change its policy on gay scouts and scouters, then, yes, membership would initially drop as the discriminatory churches pulled support.  But once you re-open scouting for everyone, then the faith-based organizations would be able to come back.  Gradually, membership would return.  And perhaps, the BSA might even be surprised to find that when it comes down to it, the discriminatory churches that are currently enjoying their bit of control won’t actually leave when it comes down to denying their youth the immense opportunities that scouting still provides.  And maybe then we, as gay men, will no longer be used as scapegoats for the inappropriate behavior of others.   Perhaps that is the greatest moral lesson to be learned in all of this.

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Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland.  He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence.  As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities.  He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.

There once was a young novice who had entered into religious life in the Abbey to find peace and an inner experience of God.  He had fled to the Abbey in order to escape a very difficult life.  Since the outside world was filled with distractions and hardships for him, he had hoped that life in the Abbey would let him leave that trouble behind and so find an easier path for his spiritual formation.

After being taught the basic practices of the contemplative life, he set to work trying to center himself and still his restless spirit.  Unfortunately, every time he sat down to silent prayer, his mind would plague him with all the pains and hurts that he had experienced before coming to the Abbey; the very pains and hurts from which he was trying to escape by coming to the Abbey in the first place!

Distressed by his recurring emotions and troubled thoughts, he went to the Abbot to seek help and find out what he was doing wrong.

“Father, Abbot,” he said, “I came to live here at the Abbey in order to leave my troubled life behind.  I had hoped that here I could find peace for my soul and be with God.  But every time I put myself to the task of silent prayer, I keep revisiting all the troubles of my past.  No matter how hard I try to center, I just can’t seem to avoid these thoughts and painful emotions.  How can I enjoy the peace of inner stillness if I can’t get around these thoughts and emotions?”

The Abbot laid a sympathetic hand on the novice’s shoulder and led him outside to walk with him through the Abbey grounds.  As they walked on in silence, the novice became more and more distraught.  Perhaps there’s nothing the Abbot can do for me, he thought.  Maybe I’m just not meant for this kind spiritual formation.  Maybe I’ll never be able to achieve inner stillness with God.

As the silence wore on, the novice fell farther into his disparaging thoughts.  He had become so preoccupied with thoughts of his failure that he almost stumbled over the Abbot who had stopped along the trail.  Looking up, he noticed that the Abbot was gazing intently at a brambly bush that spread out in the understory of the forest.  Upon closer inspection, the novice saw that it was in fact a blackberry bush.  Being late in the season, all the outer berries had been picked clean by the other Brothers and Sisters for the community meals, but buried deep inside behind the sharp briars, there were still plump and juicy blackberries.

The novice hadn’t realized how long they had been walking, preoccupied as he was in his own thoughts, and it only occurred to him then, as his mouth started to water at the sight of the juicy berries, that they must have been walking straight through the lunch hour.

Undoubtedly aware of this, the Abbot asked, “Are you hungry at all?  Would you like to have some blackberries to eat?”

“That would be very nice, Father Abbot. But all the blackberries on the outside of the bush have already been picked.  I’d have to reach through the briars to get to the ones that are left and they would surely cut my hand.”

“Ah, you’re quite right,” replied the Abbot.  And without another word, he started off along the path.

As they walked on in silence, the novice fell again into this own worrisome thoughts.  Why isn’t the Abbot talking to me?  Maybe he realizes there’s nothing he can do.  Maybe I’m just to broken to fix!

On and on these thoughts circled through his head as he walked behind the Abbot.  Then, once again, he almost stumbled over the Abbot who had stopped along the trail.  When he looked up, he noticed that it was well into the afternoon.  He had no idea how long they had been walking now, so preoccupied had he been with his own thoughts and worries.  It must have been quite a while, though, because now he was far hungrier than before.

Just as he was about to ask the Abbot if it would be wise to go back to the Abbey for some food, he noticed that they had stopped in front of the very same blackberry bush.

“Are you still hungry?” asked the Abbot.  “Would you like some blackberries?”

“Yes, Father Abbot.  I’m still very hungry!  But the only blackberries left on the bush are all deep inside, and I’m sure to cut my hand on the briars if I reached in.”

“What if you reached in carefully?”

“I’m sure I’d still get cut!  Those dense briars are unavoidable.”

“Then I guess you won’t be able to eat,” said the Abbot.

Just then, the novice’s stomach growled loudly.  Perhaps the cuts wouldn’t be as bad as the gnawing hunger in his belly.  Making up his mind, he knelt down, shut his eyes, and reached slowly into the bush.

Sure enough, even though he was being as careful as possible, he could not avoid the briars.  They picked and cut his hand and then his wrist and then his arm as he reached farther in to pluck the juicy berries.  He kept his eyes shut tightly, for he was certain that if he looked, he’d see a ragged mess that was left of his arm.

Finally, his hand brushed against the soft flesh of the berries growing deep inside the bush.  As he grabbed the berries, he found out that his clinched fist snagged on even more briars as he drew them out.  With each stab of pain, he thought about just letting go of the berries and quickly withdrawing his hand.  But he knew he’d still get cut, and then he still would be without any food.  So, enduring the pain, he kept his fist clinched and slowly drew out the handful of berries.  He kept his eyes resolutely shut; not wanting to see the dripping blood that was undoubtedly coating his arms, and thus lose his nerve entirely.

At last, his hand cleared the last of the briars.  All he could do was bite his lip, take short, sharp breaths, keep his eyes closed to avoid the gruesome sight, and just endure the burning pain along his arm and hand from the numerous gashes, cuts, and scratches inflicted by the briars.  Gradually, though, the pain began to subside, and eventually went away entirely.  With the pain gone, he opened his eyes to find that his skin was red and scratched, but hardly torn apart as he had imagined.  And there in his hand he discovered some of the largest and juiciest blackberries that he had ever seen.

“Well,” asked the Abbot, “aren’t you hungry?”

Eagerly, the novice popped the largest berry into his mouth and was overjoyed by the sweet, refreshing juice.  How delicious they were!

After he had finished the handful of berries, he found that he was still hungry, but not nearly as so.  At least these berries had taken the edge off the gnawing feeling in his belly.

“These berries were delicious!” he exclaimed to the Abbot.

“Why didn’t you pick the blackberries the first time we stopped?” the Abbot asked.

“Well, at first, I was afraid of how much the briars would hurt.  I was certain that they were going to tear up my hand arm, and the pain would be unbearable.”

“So why did you finally brave the briars?” inquired the Abbot.

“I just got so hungry that I figured the cuts wouldn’t be as bad as the hunger pains I was feeling.  And thankfully, as bad as I thought the cuts would certainly be, once I reached in and got the berries, they just turned out to be scratches that eventually stopped hurting.”

“Then how do these briars differ from the thorns inside your heart that are stopping you from reaching within to find that space of peace with God?”

With these words, the novice saw that there was no way to avoid his troubling thoughts and emotions as he sought to find inner stillness.  In fact, the very search for stillness would bring him face to face with all his past troubles.  But trusting his Abbot’s example, he was determined to meet them head on, and one day, by working through them, find that the phantoms were not as terrible as he thought, and so find that space of peace with God that was waiting inside him.

Here is the audio of Br. Addison leading us in the prayer of compassion during one of our weekly meetings.

Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland.  He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence.  As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities.  He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.

One of his monks, a young novice who was fairly new to the Religious life, came to him and explained that during their private prayers, he could find silence if he focused long enough, but when he would then leave to take care of his duties on the monastery grounds, farming, feeding the animals, and so on, he found his mind racing and his heart chattering all over again.  “How can I be still in my heart and yet still be active in the world?”

“Follow,” answered the Abbot, and he led the young novice down to the river that passed through the glen not far from their cloister.  With a swift push, he knocked the young man into the cold waters.  The river flowed quickly and with great force.  It took the monk several moments before he righted himself and was able to keep his head above the churning waters.

“Now,” said the Abbot, loud enough to be heard over the chatter of the river, “I want you to be still right there in the river.  Do not let the force of the river rule you.”

Confused, the monk went to work, trying to follow the Abbot’s direction.  He fought against the current as best he could, trying to be still and stay stationary in that spot where his teacher had pushed him in.  First, he began to swim, constantly fighting the current upstream.  When he felt certain that he was remaining in that spot, he shouted to the Abbot between strokes, “Father, I am now still in the river and not letting the force of it control me!”

“No,” replied the Abbot.  “You are not yet still in the river.”

Frustrated, the novice tried another approach.  As the river bottom was strewn with rocks, he wedged his feet between them and anchored himself in that spot, though he had to fight hard to stay standing with his head above water.  “There,” he sputtered, “I am still in the river and it does not control me.”

“No,” replied the Abbot.  “You are not yet completely still in the river.  Again, I tell you, be still right there in the river; do not let its force rule you.”

Even more frustrated, the monk fought against the current, desperately trying to keep his place while keeping his head above water.  His legs were rigid, but quickly growing tired as was the rest of his body.  Finally, unable to keep up the swimming or keep his feet locked any longer, he let go of this fight and started drifting in the river.  Exhausted, he relaxed and floated on the water’s surface.  He watched the clouds drift and the trees dip their branches into the passing water for some time, unable to move a muscle, exhausted and sore as he was.

After a while, he heard his teacher calling to him from the bank.  He had been following his student’s progress down the river the entire time.  “Now, my son, you have at last done as I instructed!”

And sure enough, though the river still moved him and moved all about him, he was finally still. Taking the lesson to heart, he climbed out of the river and went off to attend to his chores.  And from there on after, by finding his center in his times of silent prayer, he was able to keep his heart still while being directed about by the flow of his daily chores and responsibilities.

Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland.  He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence.  As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities.  He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.

One day, a young novice came to the Abbot, complaining that he was having difficulty sifting through his thoughts when we sat down for silent prayer.

“There are times when I realize I need to be alone with God in silence,” the novice explained, “when my life is troubled or my emotions are in turmoil.  So that’s when I try to sit and find peace with God, so God will take away my worries.  But when I do, I find myself spending all my time trying to chase off my many thoughts and feelings.”

“Are you finding time for silence every day?” asked the Abbot.

“Well, no.  Just when I feel that I need to be centered with God.”

Recognizing the novice’s shortcoming, the Abbot told him a story about a remarkable young boy that he had encountered many years ago on the eastern cost of Ireland.

“Once there was a boy,” began the Abbot, “who lived near the beach.  Each day he would go to the water’s edge and play in the waves.  He delighted in the feel of the surf as it tugged at his bare feet on the shore.  Still, as much as the distraction of the waves enticed him, what he loved most was to play in the sand.

“He would dig for hours on end; building sandcastles that he knew would last no more than a day.  For as evening fell, he would always have to return home, beckoned by his mother’s call.

“One day, while digging on the beach, he decided to see how far down the sand went.  How remarkable is the idealistic curiosity of a young person!  So he started to dig deeper and deeper into the sand.  This was difficult for him the farther down he went, as the sand would constantly shift, falling back to cover where he had just dug.  Bit by bit, though, the hole grew deeper, widening ever more as he went.

“His hands began to tire, and the sand slipped through his fingers as he tried to push it to the side.  But even then, as the sand fell back, he kept digging.  Bit by bit, the hole grew ever deeper.

“Then, suddenly, his finger tips raked across a hard smooth surface.  He didn’t know what it was, but it certainly wasn’t more sand!  ‘This is it,’ he thought.  ‘I’ve found the bottom of the sand!’

“As he cleared away the sand, he found, much to his surprise, a door buried there in the sand.  With delight and anxious curiosity, he pulled open the door.  And do you know what he found there?  He found the greatest treasure imaginable.  Carefully, he let himself into the room and stayed there with his new found treasure.  He felt at peace with it, calm, and loved.  No words he knew could really describe it, so he never tried.

“His peace was eventually broken when his mother called for him.  It sounded like she was calling from a great distance, be still he knew he had to return.  Leaving the treasure there in the room, he pulled himself out through the door which fell shut behind him.  With the treasure secure within, he ran quickly back to answer the terse scolding of his mother.

“The next day, he went back to the beach.  His feet led him quickly to the spot where he knew to find the door, and behind the door his treasure!  But the sight that met him made him stop short at the edge of the hole.  He looked down and where he knew he should have seen a door was nothing more than a floor of sand.  The hole was shallower that it had been.  The sand he had so diligently dug away had been washed back into the hole during the night!

“With the memory of his treasure driving him forward, the memory that had stayed with him and comforted him through the night, he began to dig again, pushing the sand to the side, delving deeper into the hole.

“And there it was.  The door was still there, buried beneath the sand.  He pried back the door.  The little sand remaining fell away.  He was met inside by the presence of his treasure.  Again, as before, it soothed and calmed him.

“Each night he headed home, but each day he would return, dig away the sand that washed back, and stay there in the room with his treasure.  There he felt peace like no other, and though its memory kept him when he was away, it was only a tiny piece of what he felt in the room.

“One day, however, he could not return, nor could he return the day after.  Finally, after a week, he came back to the spot where he had dug away the sand.  All that remained of the great hole he had dug was a small impression in the smooth beach.  And so he dug as he had the first day.  For hours he clawed at the shifting sand, until finally he found the door again.  With great relief, he slipped inside and rested in the presence of his treasure.  But he could not enjoy it as he had before, for his fatigue from digging so much distracted him.  Thereafter, it was only when he came each day that he could enjoy the treasure fully.  If he stayed away for longer periods, he would find the room nonetheless when he finally returned, but the experience with the treasure was never as full.

“The room was always there with the treasure, his greatest treasure, always waiting inside.”

After a few pensive moments, the young novice bowed his head in silent thanks and retreated to his cell.  It was said that thereafter, for the remainder of his time in the Abbey, the Brother could always be found throughout the Abbey sitting in silent, still prayer.  Every chance he could find, between chores, between the daily prayers, he would find a space to sit and be still so that the clutter around his heart was always kept cleared away, and that the space for God within him was always available in just a moment’s notice.

Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland.  He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence.  As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities.  He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.

A monk came to the Abbot one day and was greatly distressed.  “When I first came to the monastery,” the monk explained, “you introduced me to many types of prayer.  By praying the Divine Office, the Prayer of the Heart, and so many other practices, my soul quickly grew in God!  It was wonderful how quickly my prayer life grew and fulfilled me.  But now, I’m praying the same way and no longer feel any growth.  What is wrong with me?”

The Abbot looked sympathetically at his monk and offered this advice: “My Brother, I cannot help you, but I there is someone who can.  He lives high up in one of the mountains in the far north of our emerald isle.  It is a long journey through rough and varied terrain, but if you can make it there, then he will most certainly be able to help you.”

“How do I get there,” asked the monk.

“Simply go north till you find the tallest peak, and you will find him there.  He has lived as a hermit in that mountain cave for many years and has great wisdom to offer.  To start you on your way,” said the Abbot, reaching into a cabinet, “you will need these.”  He pulled from the cabinet a pair of shoes and handed them to the eager monk.  The shoes were simple and light, and would allow the monk to move quickly along the road to the north.  So, with a blessing, a prayer, and the new shoes, the Abbot sent the monk on his way to find the hermit.

After several days of walking, the ground grew soft and wet as he reached the marsh lands before the great northern lake.  As he trudged through the marsh, his shoes became water logged and started to chafe his feet badly.  Finally, unable to stand the discomfort, he sat down and pulled off the shoes to let his feet dry a little.  As he sat, an old man came upon him and saw him massaging his feet.

“You won’t get far in the marsh with those shoes,” said the old man.  “Here, take these instead,” and he pulled from this bag a pair of waxed leather boots.

Thanking the old man, the monk slipped on the boots and found that the marshy waters didn’t seep through and his feet remained dry and comfortable.  When he looked up again, the old man was gone.

With the new boots, the monk made his way through the marsh until he finally came to the great northern lake.  He could only barely see the shore on the other side and knew that he couldn’t swim across.  On the far shore, he saw a line of trees, and rising above them, a high mountain.  In despair, he sat on the beach, lamenting that he would not be able to find the hermit.  Just then, a local fisherman came up the shore and found the monk sitting and staring despondently out over the water.  Quick to see his problem, the fisherman climbed through the low scrub on the shore and pulled out a small boat, complete with a single oar.  Without a word, he dragged it over to the monk, left it beside him, and continued on his way.

Elated, the monk climbed into the boat and set out across the great lake.  For a day and night, he paddled across the water till he reached the distant shore.  Knowing how helpful the boat had been, he picked up and carried it along his back and he started into the thick forest that now stood before him.  The forest grew on rocky soil that gradually sloped upwards towards the mountain.

It was rough going for the monk as the boat kept knocking against the trees and the waxed boots did little to protect his feet from the sharp rocks.  After a while, the monk heard footsteps coming up behind him and they were quickly gaining.  He turned and found an old huntsman trekking up the rocky slope.  When he reached the monk, he asked if he might use his boat because he needed to go across the lake.  He even offered to trade shoes with the monk and give him his tough leather boots that had heavy metal soles.

Gratefully, the monk pulled off his boots in exchange for a pair that was better suited for the rocky terrain.  Happy for the trade, the huntsman started down towards the lake, leaving the monk to continue on his way up the mountain.

His new shoes made the rocky hike far easier, and in no time at all he was high up the mountain.  The farther he climbed, the colder it became until he started seeing snow and ice covering the rocky soil.  The farther up he climbed, the thicker the snow became.  His heavy metal soled shoes sunk through the snow, forcing him to drag his tired legs through the drifts.

Worn down by the thick snow, the monk stopped to rest.  As he sat, shivering in the snow, a mountain herder came upon him.  Taking pity on the monk, he gave him an extra pair of broad soled snow shoes and one of his thick woolen cloaks.  The monk gave thanks for the kind gifts, and with his new shoes strapped to his feet, started up the mountain again.

As the sun eventually set and the sky grew dark, he began to worry that he would miss the hermits cave.  But just above, he saw the faint flickering of fire light coming out of the darkness.  With renewed vigor, he hiked up the mountain towards the light and discovered the low entrance to a cave.  Thankful for the shelter, he crawled in and found a large roaring fire in the center with a man just visible sitting on the other side.

Exhausted, he sat by the fire, his snowshoe clad feet stretched out in front of him, and basked in the warmth of the fire.  Gradually, the fire started to die down, and the monk wanted to know if the man on the other side was indeed the hermit for whom he had been looking.

“Excuse me,” started the monk, “but I have come a long way in search of a hermit that my abbot said could help me with my spiritual growth.  Are you the hermit of whom he spoke?”

The man replied, “can’t you tell by looking at me?”

The monk tried to look past his cumbersome shoes that had helped him get up the mountain, but could not see around them.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t see you clearly,” he said.

“Then you should remove what’s getting in your way.”

Taking the advice, the monk removed the snowshoes and looked across the fire.  To his astonishment, there was no one there and he found that he was completely alone in the cave.  He saw that the fire was dying, so he added some wood that he found around the cave, and sat by it, continuing to enjoy the warmth.  The monk sat for some time.  Disturbed and disappointed that he had not found the hermit that would help him in his spiritual growth.  But the longer he sat, silently staring into the fire, the greater his peace became.

And to this day, there is a young monk who lives as a hermit in a cave, high up on the tallest peak.  He sits there, in quiet contemplation, warming his bare feet in front of a well kept fire.

Within the past several years, both parishes and the national Church have been experiencing significant financial shortfalls.  This hardship is obviously not unique to us.  Churches and religious institutions across the board are experiencing the same austerity that families across the world are having to cope with due to the waves of national recessions.

That being said, the subsequent budget cuts that have come from this are of no great surprise.  What has truly disturbed me, though, both at General Convention and Diocesan Conventions, is that one of the first items to get axed is funding for college and young adult ministry.  The arguments have ranged from the national level saying it’s the responsibility of the local level, to local dioceses saying that since these young adults are not the major tithers, that’s not where they should be focusing their limited resources.  Granted, this is very pragmatic from a business standpoint: only invest in the areas where you get the biggest immediate return.  The problem is, the Church is not meant to be strictly business.  Then of course, there’s the question of why a local diocese should spend so much on college chaplaincy when the students are from (and will most likely return to) outside the diocese when their collegiate careers are completed.  What really floors me in all of this, is that within the same Conventions in which the young adult ministries are being cut, delegates are distressing and discussing at great length what is to be done about the drop in numbers in our Church.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to offer my own two cents for what that’s worth.  Since I’ve been on a parables kick for the past few weeks, I thought this might best illustrate the point.  I invite any and all college chaplains, youth, young adults, and leaders thereof to share this and pass it around.

There once was a man who inherited a farm from his dearly departed father.  His father, you see, had been a farmer in his later years and had built up quite a great track of land.  Like any good farmer, he had staggered his planting to be sure that plants would grow and ripen over a gradual period of time instead of all at once.  Well, the farmer had passed in the middle of the growing season, so his son inherited a farm with plants in all various stages, from seeds just planted to plants bearing fruit that were just about ripe.

When this young man turned new farmer moved out to the farm, he was very excited about all the fresh produce that he was about to pick and be able to eat!  Unfortunately, he had never learned much from his father, and didn’t know all there was to farming, let alone the great amount of work and long hours that are required.  The only thing he really knew was that you needed to water the plants to get them to grow.

Not realizing that his father used to get up before dawn to begin work, the son slept in well past sunrise before he would get up to water his new charge.  Since he had to pump water to each area of crops in order to water them, he quickly found out that he just didn’t have enough time during his day to water everything.  So, concentrating on the plants that were about to ripen and would thus guarantee some fresh produce for him, he watered the mature adult plants only.  Every day he tended to them, watering and weeding around them.  And sure enough, as time went on, the fruits and vegetables on these plants ripened, and he was able to enjoy such wonderful fresh produce!

But then, as you’d expect, theses plants passed their growing season and started to die off.  Wanting to keep the tasty produce coming, the son turned to the next patch in the field where a later stage of crops was growing.  Unfortunately, he found a lot of these crops had withered.  Some had even perished from the lack of water and the weeds that had grown up around them.  Desperate to keep this patch going so he could get produce, he focused all his time and efforts on watering and weeding these remaining plants.  With time, he was able to salvage what had survived, and eventually got fresh produce from it, but it was nothing compared to the amount that he had gotten from the first patch.

Well, just as before, this patch reached the end of its growing season, so he turned to the next patch that had been planted after.  This was the patch that was just seeds in the ground when his father had died.  Well, what do you think he found there in the patch of seeds that he hadn’t watered and never took the time to weed?

It wasn’t long thereafter that the other farmers in the area saw a perplexing and pitiful sight: a young man driving out of town in his packed up car, complaining loudly out the window that his farm just wouldn’t produce!

 

Silentio Coram Deo,

Br. Kenneth

Many centuries ago, there was an Abbot who was head of a monastery in Northern Ireland.  He was renowned for his compassion, insight, and great inner silence.  As Abbot, his charge was to lead the monks of his monastery and teach them the spiritual life that had been passed down through the monastic communities.  He was a teacher, and this is one lesson he taught.

Sometime after teaching one of his novices how to be still in his heart while remaining active in the world, the same novice came to him with another problem.  While he was sure that he was excelling as a monk, having understood his Abbot’s previous lesson, he was discouraged by those around him in the monastery.  They were far cries from what he knew monks should be!  So he approached the Abbot and explained the situation.  The Abbot could plainly see the novice’s sincere distress.  After describing the many short comings of his brothers and sisters in the monastery, he asked the Abbot, “Father, what can I do to change them and make them see how they should be better monks as I know they should be?”

After a moment of thoughtful prayer and consideration, the old Abbot rose and gestured for the novice to follow.  He led him down to the same river as before that ran near the cloister.  The novice was reluctant to approach the river bank, remembering the Abbot’s previous lesson, but when the Abbot kept walking down the river, he quickly followed.  Eventually they came to a pool in the middle of the river where the monks in previous generations had dredged the soil and lined the shore with rocks so they would have a place to soak and bathe.  As the Abbot knelt down at the pool’s edge, he called over his shoulder to the novice, “Come here and see my son.”

The novice looked down to the water where the Abbot had indicated and saw only their reflections in the still waters.  “Now watch the water carefully,” the Abbot said. And the novice knelt closer so that all he saw was the Abbot’s clear reflection on the water’s surface.

Suddenly, the reflection of the Abbot began to glow.  A radiant light shone around the reflection and the novice was amazed by the sight!  After a moment, the Abbot rocked back on his knees and the reflection disappeared from the water.

The novice looked up at his Abbot but before he could voice his marvel at the sight, the Abbot said to him, “Learn to do that with your reflection, and then we can discuss what needs to be done about the other monks in our monastery.”  With that, the Abbot rose and left the young novice kneeling by the water.

For the rest of the afternoon and for days thereafter, the novice sat by the water and intently stared at his reflection, trying to make it shine as he had seen with the Abbot’s.  At first he thought it was a trick of the light, so he changed his view point from side to side, trying to make the sunlight reflect off the water around his own reflection.  While it would sometimes look similar in appearance, if he squinted his eyes, he knew it wasn’t the same.

Next, he thought that perhaps the Abbot had previously hidden a reflective glass or stone under the water where his reflection fell.  He scoured the shore and water’s edge, but could find no such stone.

Perhaps he had been distracted and hadn’t seen the Abbot manipulate the water, he thought.  So next he tried to splash the water and throw small pebbles at it to send ripples across the surface to affect the radiance he had seen.  This, however, only proved to distort his reflection and break it apart.

For days, he sat by the shore, staring at his reflection, directing his thoughts at it and trying to make it glow with sheer force of will.  No matter how much he stared at it, or how much he prayed for God to make the reflection glow, it simply stared back at him on the water’s calm surface.

Finally, consumed with his frustration, he sat back and decided to center himself in silence to take a much needed break from the problem.  As he closed his eyes, he stilled his mind and moved into his heart.  There inside, he sat with the Presence of God and allowed himself to enjoy the Love that consumed him.  After a while, much refreshed and still feeling the Presence in and around him, he leaned over the water to try again.

When he leaned over and saw his reflection, what wonder do you think met him?  His reflection was glowing just like the Abbot’s!

Amazed, he rushed back to the monastery to find the Abbot.  Soon, he found him calmly walking through the cloister gardens.  “Father Abbot!” he cried.  “I did it!”  And without needing to see his reflection, he turned inward and touched the Love of God that was there.  The smile on the Abbot’s face told him that he was glowing with light just as the Abbot had done.  The smile on the Abbot’s face made him want to shine all the more!

“Now,” said the Abbot, “shall we work on your earlier problem?”

“Earlier problem?” asked the novice.  “What on earth could be more important for me to work on now than to be able to do this at all times?”  With that, he left the Abbot in the garden and went into his cell to sit with God and shine with God’s Love.  And sure enough, the Abbot was pleased to see that every other monk that came in contact with the novice thereafter began to shine on their own as a reflection of God’s Love that shined from him.

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