A Word with the FSJ: Fasting for Peace in Gaza

The brothers of SSJE pray regularly for the cessation of war, the safe return of captives, and just and lasting peace for the Holy Land. We spoke with Christian Calawa, a regular worshiper at the monastery, about a recent experience of prayer and fasting for peace in Gaza that he helped organize.

Can you describe for us the basic outline of the fast?

The week was a 5-day fast with a core group of people down in DC. Some people had to come and go, but there were five of us who went without food for five days. There were a lot of people who joined remotely, largely in New England and some outside of New England and the East Coast, who joined in prayer twice a day, on a Zoom meeting that was structured. It was all very interfaith. We went from spiritual breathing exercises in the Ayurvedic tradition, to Compline, to other forms of prayers. But a lot of this was born out of a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that this world is very big and a lot larger than we’re able to engage with meaningfully in the way that we want to, that feeling being one of paralysis, and acceptance, and trust and belief that prayer is meaningful action, that prayer is not a passive thing to a God who is absent, that our prayer and intercessions are real and worthy of time. This is way we can participate as members of the faith community. It largely ended up being Christian.

We had a couple different themes. We were down in DC, and we spent one day each in front of big DC institutions: the White House, the Capitol building, the Israeli embassy, the Holocaust Museum, the Washington National Cathedral. Each day, the prayer was pointed toward the institution we were sitting outside of. There was prayer for wisdom, prayer for peace, prayer not to be bound by the normal political order that would often be slow or ineffective or managerial, prayer for meaningful action. That included all different forms; we weren’t very prescriptive on what prayer meant or what we wanted it to mean. I think allowing space for people to pray for deliverance, for justice, for aid, things both practical and impractical, that ultimately the God who is sovereign over all of this would be in control, that good may come out of the seemingly endless darkness was surrounding a lot of this. Read More

The Brakes: Learning Conflict Resolution

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“Oh, That I Had Wings Like a Dove”

 

I didn’t experience healthy examples of conflict resolution growing up. My parents were not happy in their marriage, and while there was no physical violence, wars of words were an everyday occurrence. Bullying was prevalent all through my primary and secondary education, with antagonism coming from both peers and teachers. Apparently if you wanted to motivate someone to behave and perform the way you wanted them to, there was no method more powerful than invoking fear and shame. You’re lazy. We’re just trying to learn how to live with you. You need to grow up. Why can’t you get your act together? These phrases I’ve heard and experienced my whole life.

Maybe this is why I have always had difficulty with conflict resolution. Throughout my life, I’ve wondered why there appear to be so many others who engage in conflict and emerge unscathed.

What about you? If you are like me, you may know the experience of having been bullied as a child and/or adult. You may have been singled out for ridicule based on your looks, your clothes, your interests, or your intellect. Perhaps you have been at the receiving end of verbal abuse from a teacher, mentor, employer, or someone whom you held in high esteem. Maybe you have felt dismissed by a friend, family member, or spouse, and have felt unworthy of love, respect, or dignity.

According to an article published online by Psychology Today, verbal aggression not only damages a child’s self-esteem, but also has been found to alter the development of a child’s brain. Studies show that emotional pain affects the same part of the brain as physical pain, and that verbal aggression can be internally absorbed by the body. Author Peg Streep summarized the science this way: “Words are powerful—they can lift us up and beat us down, soothe us or wound us.” Read More

Conflict: Jesus in our Midst


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It was about 5:15 in the morning, and I was in the shower. There was shampoo in my hair, and my eyes were closed. I was busy imagining an argument with a Brother, which probably wouldn’t even happen.

The argument was over dried fruit. You see, I had been getting the impression that a particular Brother of mine didn’t think I was replacing the dried fruit often enough. (This all happened back when I was a postulant, and my job was to be the pantry monitor. One task of being the pantry monitor was making sure our supply of dried fruit in the pantry never ran out.)

Now, this particular Brother, in my experience, was the biggest consumer of dried fruit in the whole Monastery. One day, that Brother walked over to a piece of paper we kept clipped to a cupboard in the pantry. That piece of paper had a list of tasks the pantry monitor was supposed to do. I noticed my Brother giving the list a long look, then looking at me, then looking back at the list. Finally, he walked over to me and said that refilling the dried fruit was on the list of tasks for the pantry monitor. Then he walked away. It was a simple enough exchange.

And yet, there I was the next morning in the shower, unable to stop thinking about what I should have said to him or what I would say if he mentioned something about the dried fruit again. I can’t remember how long this went on or how it resolved, but here I am, about five years later, and I still remember that moment.

There is no denying the fact that life in a community can be tough. Back when I was an inquirer, it seemed like every single Brother warned me about the difficulties of life in community. Of course, I believed them, but there’s a massive difference between hearing about something and actually experiencing it firsthand. Try to imagine thirteen men of all different ages and backgrounds living together in one large house. They all share their meals together, run a church collectively, operate a non-profit business as a team, and sleep in bedrooms the size of walk-in closets. Most of these men have committed to doing this for the rest of their lives. This may sound like heaven, hell, or purgatory to you. I would say it’s a little bit of all three!

Life in a community can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Living at SSJE with my Brothers has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. In particular, life in community has taught me the value of conflict and how it is an unavoidable yet potentially meaningful and transformative aspect of life.

In all our various roles and time together, inevitably we will grate against one another. We are spending so much time together and making so many decisions, that conflict is bound to happen. This is not an occasional occurrence, it is a day-to-day reality.

The chapter in our Rule of Life entitled “The Challenges of Life in Community” states that, in community life, “tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life.” This is one of my favorite lines from the Rule, and I find myself repeating it like a mantra on some days. I’m always struck by the choice of the word “everyday.” Personally, I might have preferred “weekly” or “monthly,” but such terms might not accurately reflect the reality.

Consider your own day-to-day life. Have you ever experienced a day without any tension or friction? Think about all the roles you may be playing in your life: as a family member, as a coworker, as a citizen, as a partner, or as a Christian. When have you ever gone a whole day without experiencing some conflict in at least one of those roles? (Now, if you want to know what it’s like to be a monk, imagine experiencing all of those roles simultaneously with the same small group of people).

 


What if God really is using the tension in your life as a means for your own conversion?

 


 

Whether you’re a monk or not, tension is inevitable in relationships. That same chapter from our Rule of Life goes on to say, “tensions and friction are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion.” For me, this is a very powerful and important statement. It argues that conflict can be transformative.

When you experience conflict in a relationship, do you consider it to be a sign of failure? Do you think that the presence of tension means that a mistake has been made? Do you treat it as something to be remedied or overcome? Try to imagine what it would feel like in your own life if your answer to all of those questions was “No.” Imagine what it would look like if you experienced conflict as an opportunity. What if God really is using the tension in your life as a means for your own conversion?

Consider how Jesus responded to conflict within his own community during his earthly ministry. One of my favorite anecdotes from the Gospels comes from the ninth chapter of Mark, where the disciples are engaged in an argument about who among them is the greatest. I find it both comforting and humorous that the disciples, despite being in the presence of God incarnate, are preoccupied with themselves and constantly comparing their status with one another. You would think that being so close to the only-begotten Son of God would result in permanent bliss and solve all human problems, but the disciples prove that wrong! We, like they, remain human.

One of the many reasons I love this passage is that Jesus immediately addresses the conflict. I imagine that he can feel the tension in the air and knows it needs rectifying. Jesus asks his disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?” Notice how Jesus doesn’t ignore the conflict, nor does he start addressing it by pointing fingers. He simply asks a question to initiate a dialogue between himself and his disciples. His question is an invitation to transformation, an invitation to address the conflict and make something out of it.

So, the next time you find yourself reeling from an argument, try to imagine what it would be like if Jesus asked you a similar question as he asked his disciples. What would you say if Jesus walked in and asked you what you were arguing about? Try to envision what he would respond to you as well.

I firmly believe that Jesus is right there in the midst of our most serious conflicts. In fact, I also believe that Jesus is present in the midst of our most petty arguments as well. During times of conflict and arguments, it is easy to push Jesus aside or think that we will simply have to wait to reconnect with him after the problem is over. However, when we do this, we miss the chance to discover Jesus right in the midst of our struggles and to allow him to help us grow through them.

Think back and consider how God has used previous conflicts in your life for your own conversion. In my time living in community, I have seen this happen many times. I have seen my community get closer together after going through conflicts. I have seen many Brothers disagree over something but have their relationship improve from navigating through that disagreement. 


I firmly believe that Jesus is right there in the midst of our most serious conflicts.

 


 

After all, conflict can force us to communicate. This may not always be pleasant, but it is usually helpful. I have been a participant in many difficult conversations during my time as a monk in this community. These discussions can be excruciating and draining, but from my experience, they are worth it. Some of the best changes I have witnessed in our community have arisen from such dialogues. The challenging conversations that may emerge from conflicts aid us in gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and the state of our relationships.

I find that one of the best feelings in the world is being able to look back upon difficult times of conflict in the community and have a laugh, knowing that the storm has passed, and things are better now. The Brother whom I thought was admonishing me about the dried fruit has been resting in heaven for about three years. When I look at the dried fruit now and remember the brief time we shared together, I both laugh and cry, reflecting on the full range of experiences we went through as Brothers in community. I can’t help but think that in heaven, when we are reunited with our loved ones, we will be able to do the same together again.

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, did not lead a life free of conflict. He freely and fully entered the maelstrom that is humanity at large. He did so with grace and tact beyond measure. We are called to follow his example every day of our lives. We cannot evade conflict; instead, we must embrace it. When we do so, we also welcome the transformation it brings.

 


Questions for Reflection

– Think back: How has God used the conflicts in your life for your own conversion?

– Think about your own communities. How have they formed you? What have they revealed about you?

– How does your personal, day-to-day life feed into that broader whole of the Church’s mission and witness?

 


In this utterly relatable reflection, Br. Jack Crowley takes us from an imagined argument – had entirely in his own mind while in the shower – through the complex realities of the tension that marks all forms of community. What if Jesus really was there, in the midst of those conflicts, big and small, that make community so hard? And if that very tension was a force for our transformation?

Best Gifts – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

Clement of Rome

Luke 6:37-45

You’ll get what you give, Jesus says. Forgive and be forgiven. Judge and be judged. Compassion. Accusation. There’s reciprocity in relationship. Don’t give what you don’t want to get, especially with feedback, correction, or teaching, acknowledge your own needs. Keep at own work first. “Take the log out of your own eye so you can even rightly see the speck in your neighbor’s.” You might need help. Logs are heavy. Jesus gives a direct word because community is hard work. We need each other. It’s easy to find fault, to hold onto hurt, distance, and cut off.

Today we remember Clement of Rome, an early church leader. There was division at the church in Corinth when some younger leaders convinced the whole to remove the ruling elders. Clement wrote a pastoral letter calling the community to stick it out and abide together, to keep and listen to its elders. Clement called for maintaining hierarchy and for balance with mutuality. For a couple centuries, some included Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Clement wrote: “All work together and are mutually subject for the preservation of the whole body.” Read More

Bred of Misunderstanding – Br. Jack Crowley

Br. Jack Crowley

Mark 8:14-21

Our Gospel tonight is full of misunderstanding. Jesus and his Disciples are frustrated, confused, and struggling to communicate with one another. To make matters worse, they are all stuck on a boat. It is an unpleasant situation. This Gospel passage would probably not be the best text to choose for a wedding, profession, or any other happy occasion. However, we do get to witness Jesus navigate through this misunderstanding and we have a lot to learn from how he handles it.

Just like any other misunderstanding, the background to this story is important. Jesus and his Disciples had just been confronted by a group of Pharisees. This group of Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah. Jesus refused and chastised the Pharisees. Then he got on a boat with his Disciples and sailed away.

We’ve all been in similar group situations like this before, when there has just been a major confrontation and tension is in the air. No one is quite sure what to do or say and everyone is on edge. We are also told by the Gospel writer that the Disciples had forgotten to bring any more bread for their boat ride and there was only loaf of bread to split among the thirteen men. This is when the drama begins.

Jesus, still simmering from his confrontation with the Pharisees, tell his Disciples on the boat to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Jesus is offering his Disciples very practical advice here. Jesus is warning his Disciples that the self-righteous mindset of the Pharisees is contagious, and like yeast, just a little bit of it can go a long way and give rise to all sorts of bad.

The Disciples completely misunderstand Jesus’ words. As soon as they hear the word “yeast”, they think Jesus is talking about literal bread. They think Jesus is admonishing them for not bringing any bread for the boat ride. This is common in tense situations, for group members to internalize what tension is in the air and become very self-conscious about what they have or have not done. Telling ourselves we have done something wrong gives us a narrative to hold on to rather than just sitting with the anxiety the group is experiencing.

Jesus, being the talented teacher he is, immediately picks up on his Disciples’ misunderstanding. He tries to explain himself and how ridiculous it would be for him to be angry about having little bread because he can always multiply more. Jesus reminds his Disciples that they have seen him firsthand multiply enough loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.

We have a lot to learn from how Jesus handles this misunderstanding. First of all, Jesus does not ignore the misunderstanding. Not only does Jesus immediately pick up on what his Disciples are confused about, but he also addresses it right away. It’s always tempting in times of misunderstanding to just not want to deal with it, to say you don’t have the time and energy to work through the conflict. Ignoring misunderstanding only leads to more misunderstanding down the road. Jesus does not do this and that takes courage.

Second, Jesus asks questions. In the span of seven verses, Jesus asks nine separate questions. Asking questions can be a powerful way to channel the aggressiveness we may feel during a misunderstanding. Good heartfelt questions can simultaneously get us closer to the truth while still expressing whatever emotions we are feeling.

Third and finally, Jesus moves on. Right after this Gospel passage ends, we are told that Jesus heals a blind man. Holding on to resentments over a misunderstanding is dangerous and gets in the way of us being servants of God. Jesus shows us that we need to constantly be moving on to stay focused on the work in front us, and that work is the will of God.

So tonight let us pray for the strength, patience, and courage to navigate through the misunderstandings in our lives, all for the greater glory of God, amen.

Turn Around – Br. Luke Ditewig

Luke 12:54-59

You can interpret a rising cloud to mean rain or a southern wind to mean heat, Jesus says. Why don’t you understand what’s happening right now? Don’t you see what I am doing?

Just before, Jesus said: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! … father against son … mother against daughter … mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law … .”[i] Though shocking now, family was everything, more powerful than in our current western context. Jesus invites radical change, creating a new community contrary to familial, social, and cultural norms. Discipleship invites conflict and division.

Mennonite pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler wrote: “The peacemaking Jesus intends for the disciples invites conflict in every aspect of our lives. Throughout the gospels, Jesus models this in a life of making enemies. The sword of Jesus’ good news is one that pierces natural alliances. Instead of focusing on the family, Jesus draws together those who were separated by ethnic and social hierarchies … .”[ii] God’s kingdom reorders relationships and creates one community where all belong. Read More

Conflict – Br. Jack Crowley

Mark 10:35-45

Jesus had twelve Disciples to manage. That means everyday he had twelve personalities to deal with, twelve opinions to listen to, twelve sets of emotional baggage to unpack, and twelve different backgrounds to understand. Jesus and his Disciples were not working remotely. This was not a Monday through Friday, nine to five gig. They were together all the time, and as our Gospel lesson today shows us, they did not always get along.

One might think that having the Son of God as the leader of the Disciples would prevent any conflict from arising. The Gospels show us that this is simply not the case. Despite witnessing Jesus’s miracles firsthand and having front row seats to his preaching, the Disciples still occasionally argued like children fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat of the car.

The drama of our Gospel lesson this morning centered on the Disciples James and John Zebedee. James and John were biological brothers. They were fishermen by trade who famously walked away from their job in the middle of a workday when they first called by Jesus.   Read More

Breathing Room – Br. Keith Nelson

Luke 11:14-26

What’s your experience with demons? Demons appear on practically every page of the Gospel. Sooner or later, every conscientious follower of the Gospel of Christ must arrive at his or her own interpretive conclusions about these demons, a personal demonology, if we are to engage in any life-giving and meaningful way with these ancient texts, their ancient authors and their first-century worldview. Read More

An Invitation of Urgency – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim WoodrumPhilippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

The other day I ran across a video on YouTube that made me incredibly uncomfortable.  The scene was of the famous conductor Leonard Bernstein rehearsing Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the BBC Orchestra.  In the video, the famous maestro singles out the trumpet section on a particular passage of music and tries to instruct them on what he would like to hear.  Confused, one of the trumpeters asks for clarification on the sound Mr. Bernstein is looking for.  The maestro answers:  well, not a brassy ‘waaah’, indicating how he thought they had just played it.  With an agitated expression on his face and obviously disagreeing with the maestro’s assessment of their performance, the second trumpet player responds to Mr. Bernstein, taking a tone that is both ungracious and confrontational.  The air in the room is tense as you would expect when a brilliant musician with a bruised ego pushes back against one of the most renowned conductors of that era.  At the end of the brief two minute video Mr. Bernstein summons the rest of the orchestra to move on and the camera catches the principal clarinetist smiling nervously, almost disbelieving what he just witnessed.[i]  I don’t know about you, but my reaction would probably be like that of the clarinetist.  Even though conflict and confrontation are sometimes inevitable in life, I have to admit, I certainly do not go looking for it. Read More

Friends of Christ – Br. Lucas Hall

"Br.Luke 6:43-49

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” It is easy to hear this question harshly. It is easy for me to imagine Jesus asking this, vexed, frustrated, indignant, angry, at his wit’s end. And that’s a challenge. If Jesus really came into the world to save sinners,1 to show the utmost patience and mercy,2 to be our most steadfast friend and companion3…where are those qualities in this question?

Perhaps it might be helpful to engage in some self-reflection. How do I feel when I’ve experienced conflict with friends? When I’ve hurt a loved one, I may get defensive. I may conjure up offenses, real or imagined, that that friend has committed against me. I may feel the need to deflect responsibility, or engage in a perverse game of score-keeping; somehow, in these moments when I finish tallying the friendship score, I always seem to come out ahead. These feelings and behaviors, though, do not get at the heart of the issue. What really worries me when I’ve hurt a loved one is that I’ve created an irreparable breach, an eternally broken communion. It is a profoundly uncomfortable experience; I feel lonely, claustrophobic, anxious, and weary. Read More