Thursday, October 26, 2017

The journey continues... Houston

Dear friends,

I now write to you from Houston, TX where I arrived almost 1 month ago days ago after driving all week from my former home in Brattleboro, VT.  It has been quite the journey getting here and I have enjoyed seeing parts of the American south which I have never seen before.  In part, what was interesting is that this plan for me to relocate to Houston was envisaged weeks before Hurricane Harvey came in being.  After the storm, I didn't know whether I would still be moving due to the extent of the damage and disarray created by Harvey.  However, once the floodwaters receded and the city got back on its feet, it was clear that I would still be going, albeit with a slightly different plan in mind.  For me, this experience perfectly captures a part of the Divine Mystery: your plan for your life may not be the same plan that God has in mind.

"Your plan for your life may not be the same 
plan that God has in mind." 

I had originally planned on this move to Houston, and now this big devastating storm had come in a disrupted my plans. While this seemed largely inconvenient and negative, I quickly began to rethink how I could be of greater service to God's people through offering more of myself and my gifts to those in need.  It looks as though my work with Jerusalem Peacebuilders would now be even more crucial in the Houston area because of the growing need for interfaith understanding, conflict resolution, and dialogue between Americans of all stripes.

Introducing the JPB program to Jewish teens at the
Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism
Through the generous support of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, JPB was afforded a dedicated office space at the church, which I have been using daily to further the work of JPB.  Here I am working with the local youth group, developing an interfaith youth group, connecting with local organizations and faith communities, and recruiting teens for JPB's summer leadership institutes in 2018.  It is a busy, but rewarding time for me.  I continue to discern and listen to where the Lord is leading me through this next chapter of service and peacebuilding.  In January, I will return to the Holy Land and be based in Nazareth to teach in local schools there.  Stay tuned for more updates soon!

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The end of one chapter and the beginning of another

Dear friends,

As I round the corner marking my final month of service in the Holy City of Jerusalem with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, I reflect on my ministry here over the last eight months and look forward to the many opportunities to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and discern God's call in my life, both here in the Holy Land and back in the USA.

During my time in Jerusalem, I have intentionally sought to serve the Church and the people of God through my many roles as Teacher, Sacristan, Communications Minister, Jerusalem Peacebuilders Camp Director, Youth Mentor, and Pastoral Assistant.  There have been plenty of moments of stress, hard work, joy, learning and growth.  Each time I enter into a new assignment or responsibility in life, I think to myself "Will I succeed or fail in this new role?  What will I learn?  How will I change? Where will I find God? Where will God lead me to?".  These questions are important to ponder and reflect on during a Christian's journey of service to the Church and faith in our Heavenly Father.

Visiting the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
At the Treasury in Petra, Jordan
With my Jerusalem school programs all wrapped up, I am able to focus my attention on summer program planning with Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB), more reading of Scripture and theological books, discernment and reflection, and being a pilgrim and visiting Biblical sites.  One thing I've always struggled with since being here is that I don't travel around as much as I would like to because, for one, I don't have a car, and two, I have had a very full work-load which has prevented me from taking more personal time for leisure and tourism.  (Above are two pictures of me last year on a previous trip when I visited Jordan for a few days)

So, I guess for this final blog post on this current mission assignment with the Young Adult Service Corps, I would like to offer my answers to the above questions:

1). Will I succeed or fail in this new role?

Speaking with over 100+ students about the
JPB Leadership Program
In sum, my time spent here and the ministry I undertook was a great success, for me, for the Church, and for Jerusalem Peacebuilders. I launched two new high school leadership and peace-building programs and led the second year of a third program. In total, I worked with close to 100 teenagers, Israel and Palestinian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish in the school programs and other youth and MUN conferences. In doing so, I enhanced my knowledge and skills in teaching and training, curriculum design, content delivery, classroom management, dialogue facilitation, networking, youth leadership development, intercultural communication, public speaking, peace-building, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I balanced a hefty portfolio of programs, communications, and cross-cultural relationships, deepening existing partnerships and expanding JPB's reach to new organizations and entities involved in similar peace-building work.

With JPB Leadership program students
at a school near Ramallah
With my roles at the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, I also garnered great support. As a Sacristan, I prepared services daily, and the St. George's Cathedral staff and clergy were impressed by my attention to detail, organization, and overall reliability in making sure worship and Cathedral events went smoothly. As a Communications Minister, I was in charge of social media and email communications for the diocese. During my time here, I published several bi-monthly newsletters covering different events and ministries of the church in this land. The increased communications were a welcome blessing for the diocese, which led to greater engagement by the local church and the wider Anglican Communion. As a Pastoral Assistant, I helped the Dean of St. George's Cathedral with office work, Bible Study, and assignments related to his completion of a Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in the USA.

My efforts to serve the church did not go unnoticed, as I have received support to return to the Holy Land in 2018 and serve at Christ Church, Nazareth and teach in high schools in the area.

2). What will I learn?

To say the least, I have learned a lot since I arrived here last October. First, I have learned more about my strengths and weaknesses for ministry. I feel that my strengths developed in my personal qualities such as my compassion, integrity, flexibility, communication, initiative, and organization. In serving others, be they Cathedral staff and clergy, College course members, or pilgrims and guesthouse visitors, I approached these opportunities to express my love and the love of God with willingness and and joy. In essence, I learned that I have so much love and kindness to offer others regardless of the person or context. I also learned more about my limits and when to step back and focus on self-care and personal time, which I found absolutely essential in this context.

Diocesan clergy at the Chrism Mass service on Maundy Thursday
Professionally, I brought a high level of professionalism to my ministry and interactions with others, maintaining healthy boundaries at all times both personally and professionally. I regularly communicated with clergy and staff related to work assignments and events going on at the Cathedral. Within my roles, when I saw opportunities to take initiative and self-direct, I acted upon them to complete tasks without error or conflict. This was a major take-away of my learning here as there is a strict hierarchy here that an outsider must adapt to and accept if they are going to be successful in their ministry. With my work, I aimed to do good work and do it right, which helped lessen the risk of potential conflict and miscommunication. If I didn't understand a particular assignment or responsibility, I made sure to ask questions and seek a better understanding.  If there was a conflict that was going on within the community, I was careful to avoid gossip and unnecessary involvement. Lastly, I worked hard to establish and maintain good relationships with those I interacted with on a daily basis, thus allowing opportunities to organically develop.

Regarding my weaknesses, I learned that I continually need to work on being more assertive in my communications and presence. My personality tends to track more towards a passive stance, thus I was constantly reminded to be more proactive and forward if my needs were not being met or if I was unable to complete an assignment or attend events. I am a humble and modest man, and so I continue to seek to strike a better balance between these good Christian qualities with my own need for more self-advocacy.

3). How will I change?

While these questions and answers can blur, I also changed in several distinct ways. I developed a deeper sense of maturity and confidence in my call to the Diaconate, my purpose as a peacemaker, and overall person.  Through this experience I have grown in ways that I never would have anticipated beforehand, but only could have learned through direct experience and the passage of time.  Through a busy schedule of both church and work responsibilities, I had to maintain a high level of organization, discipline, and time management. Deadlines, meetings, classes, and services, all influenced my day-to-day lifestyle. Large parts of the self had to die so that I could maintain and excel in this routine.

Singing in the choir
Importantly, my worldview has changed during my time here. I have grown more humble and modest in my actions, and more open and nonjudgmental in my perceptions of other people and events. Spending a year in Jerusalem and being in the middle of what is perhaps the most intractable conflict in the world leaves one feeling like they have a lot more to learn. More people to meet, more stories to hear, more history to study, and more places to see. Often, people can get easily swept up in picking one side or the other to support and claim as right, good, and just.  The challenge for a peacemaker is to stay in the middle and bring the parties together, whether through top-, middle-, or bottom-level approaches. Its easy to pick sides, its hard to recognize and hold competing truths simultaneously. I return home next month forever changed by my experience here, ready to share my witness to the ancient and living stones of this Holy Land. 

4). Where will I find God?

Through this wonderful and blessed year of service, I believe I have felt God in all places and at all times. While I still don't have highly developed answers for where God is in the midst of war and horrific atrocities, I am assured of His presence with us and in us as we walk through life and create the beloved community. God's love shines forth in my life on a daily basis, largely in part because I believe that I see God working through us in gentle and profound ways. I witness to God transforming who I am and the lives of those around me. 

At the historic reopening of 
St. Savior's Church in Acre
A significant factor for why I feel this deep sense of God's love in this place, its people, and during the short time that I've been living and serving here is because of the development of my prayer life. In both corporate and private prayer, I am becoming more trusting and open to God's presence. Through giving God thanks and praise, as well as petitioning for God's help in my life with various challenges or for others whom I've met along the way.  I feel God and His son Jesus working in me in new and powerful ways. Sometimes these experiences of Christ's presence working in me are easy to recognize, and other times they are more hidden.  The same applies for when Christ reveals himself to me in other people or events.

Another area of my life here where I have found the Hand of the Unseen at work is in the community here at St. George's Cathedral: the Diocesan (Majma) offices, the Guesthouse, the School, and the College. In all these places I have met many amazing, loving, and committed people. From the deep sense of love and faith I feel in the Dean of St, George's Cathedral, The Very Revd Hosam Naoum, to the leadership and perseverance of our dear Archbishop, The Most Revd Suheil Dawani, and all the indigenous and international support staff who live and work here each day -God's presence is here in this loving community. While the Anglican presence in the Holy Land is very small, we are a stalwart denomination doing good work in service to the Kingdom of God in this place. 

To close this blog entry and cap off my first year of mission service with the Episcopal Church in this land, I leave you with a prayer for Jerusalem:

Psalm 122:

I was glad when they said to me,

   “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
   within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
   that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
   the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel,

   to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
   the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Peace: a shared vision for humanity

Dear friends,

Greetings!  A lot has been happening in the Holy Land since my last post regarding my work with Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) that I am eager to share with you.  Highlights include: 

  • I am leading the implementation of three Leadership and Peace-building programs in Jerusalem high schools. The programs are run for the length of the school's spring semester.
  • JPB just completed its first ever Youth Leadership Conference in Haifa with 20 Arab and Jewish teens from across Israel/Palestine.  I helped three teams of JPB alumni design, organize and lead workshops on dialogue facilitation skills, developing critical self-awareness, and examining the forces of inclusion and exclusion in our societies
  • JPB is preparing for its biggest summer of youth leadership programs in its history with three programs scheduled to commence: Service-Learning for 14-15 year olds, Interfaith Citizenship for 16-17 year olds, and Leadership for 17-18 year olds.  Over 70 teens in total are expected to participate.
These personal and organizational accomplishments are huge and I am very grateful for your prayers and continued support for this pioneering ministry that I am undertaking.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to contribute to peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and know that my work and service here will carry on to many other important and exciting endeavors in the years to come.  One big learning that I cherish is the the fact that while peace-building among societies divided by years and centuries of violent conflict and division is crucial, I realize that peace-building is not limited to these contexts.

Jerusalem Peacebuilders - Debate for Peace participants at the two-day
Youth Leadership Conference in Haifa
Peace-building is of universal value and necessity in the world, now more than ever.  It doesn't matter where you are or who you are, we are all called by God to be peacemakers and bridge-builders in this life.  Peace can be distant or present, it can also sometimes be fleeting, but it is our eternal call to always work to promote, create, and sustain peace in our communities, nations, and across God's Holy creation.  Jesus Christ's ministry included just that, proclaiming peace and healing those who were suffering, not for the select few, not for only his Jewish brothers and sisters, but for all people regardless of their identity.  Peace-building can sometimes seem like it is counter-cultural, going against the status quo, going against perceived loyalties, and going against human interests.  For in fact peacemaking is God's interest, and we must seek to align ourselves with His will.  Thankfully, God gave us the roadmap for how to pursue this sacred path in our own lives through giving us his Son Jesus as an example for all of us to look to, to believe in, to model, and to follow.

At the most recent youth leadership conference in Haifa, held in partnership with Debate for Peace (DfP), I was amazed and impressed by the commitment and desire of the 20 teens who were selected to attend the event to work together, learn from each other, and build lasting friendships across traditional lines of separation like religion, culture, politics, and nationality.  It is these moments of leadership in action that gives me tremendous hope for the future of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the rest of the world.  It is often said that if we can achieve peace in the Holy Land, then the ripple effects of this result will spread across the world, for nearly half the world's total population either identify as Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.  To God be the Glory forever.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Teens discuss democracy and pluralism at the Youth Leadership Conference

Teens share their learning during the closing session of the conference

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Our Walls

Dear friends,

Last week, on my day off (Friday) from my duties at St. George's Cathedral and with Jerusalem Peacebuilders, I decided to venture out from the safety of my familiar surroundings and explore the eastern parts of Jerusalem.  Usually I spend my day off reading, doing laundry, and relaxing from the week's events, not going anywhere but staying pretty close to home.  Friday is a day when most stores and businesses in Jerusalem are closed and the municipal buses and trains do not operate, because that night marks the beginning of Shabbat, the weekly day of rest practiced by the Jewish people, and ending on Saturday night.  Thus, staying in one place is not a tall order.

For a while, I had been wanting to explore East Jerusalem and experience its different areas and diverse neighborhoods.  With East Jerusalem being quite mountainous and rugged in some spots, a good pair of hiking shoes, a snack, and a bottle of water are advisable for the pilgrim or day traveler. I find a lot of joy in walking and climbing around these places, imagining an ancient landscape and perceiving its changes overtime.  Perhaps its my history interest or desire to discover and encounter the new and old; a genuine curiosity to learn propels me in life.

After crossing a couple of neighborhoods en-route to the Mt. of Olives, I came to the Zurim Valley National Park.  Its interesting to point out that while traveling somewhere in Jerusalem, there are few direct roads leading to your destination.  Consequentially, it becomes faster to cut through different areas and test out uncertain routes through alleyways and unmarked pathways.  For if you were always to stay on the roads your travel times would be much lengthier.  I like taking these risks because I quickly learn whether my hypothesis works or doesn't work.  I reach a dead end or find a route through.  I encounter walls and obstructions in the physical world and search for a way around them, through them.

After climbing up the to the top of the Mt. of Olives, I started to descend down the other side.  On my way down a street, I found a neighborhood run by a Catholic Charity that included a park and small tract of forest.  As I walked through the forest, the noise of the bustling city began to disperse, leaving an air of stillness and quiet which I had not yet had the pleasure of experiencing since I arrived last October. Walking on the green grass with the sun shining overhead I looked ahead and all of a sudden spotted the Separation Barrier 30 yards down below.  I admit that I was surprised to find it in this peaceful and tranquil place.

I approached a cliff overlooking the barrier where the trees were not shading the ground and I could sit down in the warm sunshine and reflect.  No one was around and all was silent. Indeed, this place felt foreign and weird, but I knew that this moment and my being here was a gift and sign from God.  As I sat there, I pondered the wall and its meaning, the people who built it, the people who guard it, and the people separated by it.  I considered the opinions, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, history, and suffering that had gave birth to it and have since been caused by it.  While looking out at the houses on the other side of the wall, I saw Palestinians doing their laundry, enjoying the sunshine, children playing and practicing dance moves, and men building a new house. I thought about and was troubled by how things had gotten so bad, deteriorated so much that this wall had to be built, that this wall had to be justified into being. Most importantly, I thought about the power of fear and how it grips and leads us into acting in certain ways.  I sat there and prayed to God to make me an instrument of his peace, for strength to break down the perceived walls we construct in our minds that limit our ability to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves, for my ministry and service with JPB, and to be a more effective peace-builder and bridge-builder between peoples in conflict throughout my life.  Lord hear my prayer.

This experience presents an invaluable lesson for me and for all of us because each and everyday we put up walls, we say no to ourselves and to other people because of our beliefs and assumptions. We retreat from thinking and acting in love and act out of fear, human nature, and self-interest.  In the end, these walls weaken our ability to love and receive God's love and live out our faith as Christians and the Children of God. 

God of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory. And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.

~A prayer of Julian of Norwich

In Christ,
Jack Karn

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas in the Holy Land: A spiritual frontier

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your families where ever you may be in this beautiful world.  After a busy couple of weeks leading up to December 25th, the calendar date reserved for Christmas for a large part of the Christian world, I am enjoying a few days of rest, relaxation, and reflection. While I have tried to stay off of my email and computer, I have found this blog to be a useful tool in conveying my own spiritual reflections and learning during this year of mission service in Jerusalem with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC).

Each year, Christmas takes on a new, deeper meaning for me as a Christian and servant of God.  In my youth, Christmas represented a time of material infatuation and increased stress due to the pressures of finding and purchasing gifts for friends and family that they might actually enjoy and figuring out the complex dance of scheduling times to see and please each respective party.  In many ways it seems that I thought that this was what Christmas was all about.  I was wrong.

Growing up in Maine, Christmas included going to a local United Church of Christ for the Christmas Eve service at midnight.  A special evening of caroling and readings retelling the fateful and miraculous story of events leading up to and the subsequent birth of Jesus Christ.  Going to church back then seemed more like a rite of passage, a necessary step along the way to the extraordinary bounty of gifts and presents that found their way under our pine Christmas tree in our living room each year on Christmas morning.  For me, Christmas more about the goods, and less about the inherent goodness and ultimate love of God revealed in the birth of Jesus.  Yes, I certainly knew something special had occurred in human history 2000 years ago with the birth of Jesus, but I neither had the will or perception to take things a step further, to go beyond what I read and heard each Christmas Eve to discover the full meaning and importance of Christmas.  Perhaps I did hear these messages, but they did not root as firmly as they have in recent years.

Christmas Eve service in the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
This year, being away from friends and family, in a foreign environment, serving in the church, has revealed additional parts of the truth surrounding the glory of Christmas.  Without these familial and societal pressures, I am able to see with a clearer perspective Christmas' meaning and magnificence. Being alone in this setting comes with its perceived hardships, but the fruits gained from this experience are far greater than those supposedly lost.  By experiencing Christmas in the Holy Land, I am blessed to see that Christmas is all about God's love for us, and for me.

Seeing our suffering, imperfection, sin, and poverty of spirit, God chose to become fully human in Christ. He made the choice to do this, a choice not motivated by compulsion but by love.  A love so profound, so divine, so powerful that it surpasses our best abilities to try to comprehend.  And so God sent His only begotten and beloved Son to dwell among us.

Christmas Carol service on Chirstmas Eve
at Shepherd's Fields in Beit Sahour
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, what was different about this year's Christian experience is that I am serving in the church and not simply participating in the celebration of the Nativity from the pews.  I have many duties and responsibilities during each service.  Be it taking photographs, printing programs, preparing the Sacraments, singing with the choir, serving as a Crucifer and Lay Assistant, and setting up the Cathedral space.  What this continued thread of experience shows me is the power and importance of facilitating religious experiences for others, acting as a conduit of God's divine love and Christ's servant nature.  
Christmas Eve midnight service at St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem
This service and leadership in the church helps me to discern God's call for my life and for all our lives.  Yes, sometimes this service can be physically and emotionally draining, but the treasures revealed to me in understanding Christ, His love, and acting as a vehicle for Him to communicate his love for us is the greatest gift a person can ever receive.  This peace found in Jesus Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, leads us to the Father.
Singing "Silent Night" during the Christmas Eve midnight service
at St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem

In his Christmas Day sermon, Archbishop Suheil preached that the birth of Jesus Christ teaches us "do not be afraid."  This simple yet profound statement holds as much weight today as it did 2000 years ago for the Jews and Gentiles living in the land of Palestine then, and Israel/Palestine now.  For this Christmastide and for the year 2017, I hold fast to and relay this message of Faith, Hope, Love, Peace and Light revealed in Christ the Savior.  Do not be afraid.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

In Christ,
Jack Karn

The Most Revd Suheil Dawani preaching on Christmas morning