Thursday, December 15, 2016

Discernment in the Open

Dear friends,

Thank you for checking out my blog and reading its content.  With our lives constantly consumed by a multitude of distractions, I am grateful that you have decided to share a few moments of your day with me.  I hope that I can meet some of you in the Spirit of communion and Christ that unites us all and leads us to the Father.

This week I found myself in possession of a popular discernment book called Listening Hearts by Suzanne Farnham, Joseph Gill, R. Taylor Mclean, and Susan Ward.  This book has become a staple in assisting people who are considering paths to lay or ordained ministry or simply wish to discern a deeper sense of God's call in their lives.  The funny, fateful moment about how this book found its way into my hands is that I originally searched for it in the St. George's College Library's digital catalogue and saw no record of it.  Thus, I decided to search for a book by Thomas Merton -a popular theologian of the 20th century- whom I am beginning to read more of as I grow spiritually.  As I was about to locate the Merton book I had picked out, I looked down on the shelf and saw a copy of Listening Hearts. For me, this was a sign that I should read this book.  Also, it was further humbling and affirming to see that all four of the authors had signed and donated this copy of the book to the College's library, thus I sensed that the Hand of the Unseen was at work.  A quick read, I enjoyed my Sabbath day-off (Friday) reading the book and taking detailed notes while doing my laundry.

Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community, recommended to 
anyone who is exploring God's call
In this book I have learned several important insights that are helping me to listen, understand, and reflect on God's call in my life (I am currently exploring a call to the diaconate with my Parish Committee back in Vermont).  In the opening lines, it says "in responding to God's call, we discover ourselves." (p. 2)  For me, this simple yet powerful statement rings true.  When I was 23 and studying for my BA in History, I remember praying to God for guidance and direction in my life, asking questions like "God, what is my purpose? God, what am I supposed to do?"  I began to sense a dawning, a feeling, a call to be a better person and serve others in the world.  At the time, this sense of call seemed more worldly than divine, but as time passed and I continued to listen and seek the Lord, I discovered that it was the Spirit all along who had been trying to get my attention.  

"I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Psalm 32.8)

Slowly, I changed old habits, gave up my attachment to certain desires, and reconciled past traumas and conflicts.  The more I petitioned God for help and support, the more He answered me.  Never perfect, my faith led me to see more and more of God's truth made manifest in my life and in the world.  This ability to see, listen, hear, and respond to God is a life-long process that requires discipline and care.  It requires one's constant and full attention -something we all can neglect from time to time.  In responding to what I thought God was telling me do, I became a different person, transformed and made anew in Christ. This gradual transformation reveals the true Jack Mann Karn, and God's work is far from finished.

I have learned the meaning of and difference between the terms "call" and "discernment" -an important distinction for the focus person and their supporting community who are engaged in this process.  Call is God communicating with us that which he seeks us to do.  Each of us receives a call from God, and a call usually involves helping or serving others.  All true calls ask us to obey God. (p. 13)  Discernment refers to the process of discovering, distinguishing, and understanding this call, requiring us to look internally and externally for how to respond.  God doesn't just give us all the answers easily, but asks that we take responsibility and make an intentional effort to hear what He is saying.  

"The ability to discern develops from living the life of the Spirit, a process of growth involving an ever-greater integrating of desires, feelings, reactions, and choices with a continuing commitment to abide in Christ... As we move toward spiritual maturity, we move beyond the need for specific rules and answers into the darkness of God where we must act in faith rather than certainty.  In discernment we move through and beyond our feelings, our thoughts, and our reasoning about what God wants of us, to be led by God's spirit toward action." (p. 25-26)

The formal discernment process exploring my call to the Permanent Diaconate is in its early stages, and I feel it is going well, with our Parish Discernment Committee just finishing up its third meeting. Through our conversations, prayer, reflection, and reading this book, I am opening myself up to all possibilities and outcomes, remembering that through faith God will reveal his will and call in my life.  I pray that we all possess the sight and presence of mind to do same.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sacred Hospitality

Dear friends,

Jerusalem is a transit city. In ancient times before the rise of the Roman Empire, it was an important trading center connecting merchants and communities along the Silk Road to Europe and Africa.  Today, Jerusalem remains a transit city in the sense that all sorts of people including faithful Muslims, Christians, and Jews come for pilgrimage and tourism to visit and connect with the ancient and living stones.  Jerusalem is like many cities -a place where God’s diverse creation is well-represented and on display.
Jerusalem's Western Wall Plaza and the Dome of the Rock shining in the background

With so many strangers and visitors arriving each day, those who live and work in this city are tasked with an important duty of service that glorifies and pleases God.  These are the acts of practicing hospitality, love, and friendship to all people.  For Christians living in the Holy City and all over the world, this is a direct call to action to live out the tenets of our Baptismal Covenant:

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
 in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin,
repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
 loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
 and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.”

(The Baptismal Covenant, BCP p.304-305)

There are so many ways to practice hospitality in the world: inviting someone into you home for a meal, cup of coffee, or tea, pointing someone in the right direction who is lost, saying hello and smiling, holding a door or helping a person with their luggage, letting someone go before you in line, or taking a person, couple, or group’s photo if they ask, these are but a few practical examples.

Each day, in my role as Sacristan at St. George’s Cathedral and as a servant of the Church, I hold hospitality close, in my heart and mind, in my thinking and actions.  I greet and welcome people who wander into the Cathedral for the first time (and quite possibly the only time) and share brochures and information about the space and the daily worship services that take place.  In the evenings at the St. Michael’s Chapel, I regularly lead Evening Prayer for all who come, displaying my love for God and the act of hospitality through word, prayer, example, and fellowship.

Leading pilgrims to visit the Monastery of St. George in the Wadi Qelt, near Jericho
Almost every week, a new group of pilgrims from somewhere around the worldwide Anglican Communion arrives to stay at St. George’s Guesthouse (recent examples include: Diocese of Michigan, Diocese of Los Angeles, Diocese of Texas, Diocese of Southwark, Diocese of Nigeria, and the Diocese of South Carolina).  I sit down and break bread with guests and pilgrims and share my story serving with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) and Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB), expressing the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and my gratitude for how He has transformed my life.  These storytelling opportunities are good practice, as it helps me tell my story with greater ease and confidence and prompts me to reflect on God’s grace and enduring presence in my life.  With so many groups regularly coming to visit, I admit that I sometimes get tired of all the sharing and introductions and retreat with my dinner to my apartment for a quiet evening alone.  I have both introverted and extroverted leanings, thus I become recharged and reenergized when I have this space and personal time.

This daily hospitality is one way that I express and practice evangelism.  I remember from our YASC Missionary Orientation back in June when The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers shared how influential and beautiful evangelism could be in different forms beyond the common misconceptions most of us have about it. Personally, I am not one for proselyting non-Christians with aggressive, in-your-face, arguments for becoming a follower of Christ, but I do believe my person and ministry has a powerful, transcendental effect on those I encounter here in the Holy Land and will encounter throughout the rest of my life wherever God leads me.  I am a gentle, humble, compassionate, and sincere man, and I believe Christ’s love shines through me upon others in these exact same ways.  So, when I reflect on my “Missionary” job title with YASC, this all begins to make perfect sense.  

In a city filled with strife, in a world filled with strife, let us remember this important aspect of our Baptismal Covenant, offering hospitality, love, and friendship to our family members, work colleagues, the stranger, and even to our enemies. It is through these acts of unconditional love that we can heal the wounds of suffering, squelch the hatred, and break down the barriers of separation that strip us of our humanity.

Come visit me in Jerusalem and learn firsthand about the life of Jesus, walk where he walked, and pray where he prayed. I promise to welcome you in hospitality with the same spirit of His open and loving embrace.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Monday, November 14, 2016

Blessed Learning

Later this month, I will begin one of three high school leadership programs I am leading in and around Jerusalem. Through these programs, I will be able to promote invaluable knowledge and skills in communication, conflict resolution, and leadership development to more teens across many different backgrounds and parts of Israeli and Palestinian society. This responsibility is a humble blessing which I am grateful God has entrusted to me.

Speaking with students at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz School about Jerusalem Peacebuilders 
and the leadership program

My ministry here affirms my belief that we are all teachers, sharing knowledge, wisdom and truth about God’s promise and love with others as time passes. I also believe we remain pupils, having never finished our learning but continuously growing from our encounters with each other, God and his well-beloved son Jesus Christ. I am reminded of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus invites us to come as we are: meek, imperfect, incomplete, and with all our worldly concerns, and learn to follow him. He promises us rest and acceptance, which I equate as a form of grace. In walking with Christ, we begin to realize our true selves and see the glorious power of God’s unchanging truth. God entrusts us with this sacred responsibility in the hope that we remain vigilant and steadfast in living out our Baptismal covenant and commitment to each other.

In a world filled with violence and suffering, and after a divisive US presidential race, I pray that we all continue to teach, learn from, and understand those who are different from us, walking with Christ as witnesses and disciples of God’s mercy, peace, justice, and love. It is this blessed learning which upholds and nourishes me each day.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hit the Ground Serving

Dear friends,

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2)

Sunny, warm days dominate the backdrop for what has already been an incredible month of mission service here in the Holy City, Jerusalem. Upon arriving on October 2, I immediately assumed my responsibilities as a Pastoral Assistant (Sacristan) at St. George’s Cathedral. Eager, but having limited training in liturgical duties, I admit that I was quite nervous when I started. I made a few mistakes on the first Sunday and wrote detailed notes to learn the correct way to perform the tasks expected of me. Paradoxically, during the 9:30 AM service that morning, there was a shooting at a train station 5 minutes down the road from the Cathedral, in which three people were killed including the perpetrator. The repeated thunder of Israeli helicopters overhead and the tragic, unnecessary loss of life quickly eclipsed and diminished my concern about procedural errors made during worship.

The Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr, Jerusalem
It’s interesting to be in this role, because I am so focused on making sure the services run smoothly that my experience participating in them is different as opposed to when I am sitting in the pews at St. Michael’s (my home parish) with no assigned responsibilities. Because of the lower numbers of volunteers and servers here, I am balancing being a Lay Assistant, Usher, Lectern, Crucifer, and Counter –Jerusalem could use the St. Michael’s faithful! It is quite the responsibility and task to remember to do all these things. However, attending and serving in the Sunday and weekday Eucharist and Evening Prayer services are the highlights for me. To worship God in this place, day after day, is a real blessing and a powerful, disciplined experience. To monitor the Cathedral each day and walk down the aisles of the Nave when no one is present conjures humility and reverence in me imagining all those who have passed through its iron doors. I feel this inexplicable presence of countless souls who have sat in the reed-weaved seats and listened to the Gospel, prayed on the kneelers for the peace of Jerusalem, and came forth to Christ’s table to receive the gifts of bread and wine offered to all. All this, of course, happening less than a mile from where the events of the Paschal Mystery are remembered to have taken place.

“I am grateful to God -whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did- when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” (2 Timothy 1:3)

I have much to share, but I will hold off for now and write more in the next update, which will focus more on my work in the Diocese, schools, and with Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB). Please work and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

In Christ,
Jack Karn