What Facebook Can’t Do

Facebook has been growing at an explosive clip since it launched in 2004, and the number of users on the site is over 1 billion. Plenty of people have figured out how to use the vast social network in productive, positive ways — but for others it still feels like a challenging, new frontier.   http://legacy.wbur.org/2013/02/20/facebook-perfection             

Craig Malkin, of Harvard Medical School:  “We’re really just in the infancy when it comes to research on Facebook but there are some themes that are emerging.  And one of the clearest themes is when people go on to Facebook they’re often crafting a persona — they’re portraying themselves at their happiest. They’re often choosing events that feel best to them and they’re leaving out other things.”

“This is something that keeps showing up in the research,” Malkin explained. “Some people out there wind up negatively comparing themselves to what’s portrayed on Facebook by their friends.”

We get this.  Who among us hasn’t compared their life to that of a friend who is posting yet another happy photo from their European vacation?  And, who among us has not been tempted to carefully craft our persona?

I recently had a beer with a buddy from the Pacific Northwest where I used to live. He said:  “I’ve enjoyed your Facebook photos from New England.  You seem to be very happy there”.   My response: ‘Well, it’s Facebook’.

He took my point.

In truth sometimes I’m happy and sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes life is going well.  Sometimes not.  How about you?

While some of us do post our pain and struggles on Facebook, most of us don’t.  For the most part I choose not to.  For me Facebook is a way to let friends and family know in general what I’m up to, to comment and sometimes vent about sports, politics, faith and culture.

Facebook does have its place.  Having lived in several parts of the country it allows me to catch glimpses of people I care about but rarely see.  I enjoy seeing photos of their families and seeing their kids grow up.  I like to hear what people are passionate about.  Some postings make me laugh and think.  When an area of  concern or need is posted I can offer a word of support.

But I know ‘it’s just Facebook’.  It’s only a glimpse into another’s life.

I’ve lived for 60 years.  I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  As a pastor I’m invited into the most vulnerable, complicated and joyful moments in life.  I hold such moments to be sacred.

What I’ve learned is this:  ‘No one has their act completely together’.  To varying degrees ‘we are all train wreaks’.  That’s certainly true for me.

This is what it means to be human.  We are a mix of strengths and weakness, light and shadow, wisdom and folly.  Some of us more than others experience love.  Some of us more than others suffer.

Such is the price of being human.  Neither Facebook nor any other social media platform can speak to the complexity of the human experience.   I find this reassuring.

When I use Facebook I know I’m only catching a glimpse of the lives of family and friends.  I know that there is more going on under the surface.  Much that isn’t being said.

Facebook and other social media platforms have their place.  And limits.

How then do we get to know and be known at a deeper, more substantive level?

The answers vary for each of us.  It takes courage to share the stuff we struggle with. Hopefully we each find those we trust to share with.  Those who will hold what we say in confidence and listen with care.

It is freeing and affirming when we choose to share a struggle or an area of shame or a deep wound with someone we trust. Some may entrust this to a therapist to help us find understanding and even healing.

It is a gift to be heard, understood and accepted.

In my Christian tradition this is called grace.  The deep-seated belief that God, whose very essence is love (I John 4: 7 – 12) listens, accepts, forgives and wants the best for us.

Philip Yancey a theologian offers  this about grace: “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less”.

Perhaps you’re a Christian, perhaps not. But we can each choose to be present to another.  We can choose to be gracious….to listen and hold with care the humanity that another may entrust to us.

Facebook can’t do this.





What a Boy Scout can teach Donald Trump

I will always be grateful to Scouting.  I became an Eagle Scout in my mid-teens and spent six summers from age 15 – 20 on staff at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rhode Island.  Through scouting I learned about leadership and values like honor, loyalty, integrity, compassion and team work. http://www.yawgoog.org

In recent years I’ve attended reunions of the staff from my boyhood camp.  It is inspiring to see how the lessons learned have helped shape the men we’ve become.

It is from this vantage point that I listened to President Trump’s recent speech to 40,000 boys and adults at the Boy Scout National Jamboree in West Virginia.  I was offended by the tone and content of his speech and his ignorance of the values that we as members of the scouting family aspire to.

Mr. Trump began the official address, delivered from a podium with the presidential seal, by pledging to talk about things loftier than politics.

“Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about with the fake news,” the president told the crowd of scouts and volunteers gathered in Glen Jean, W.V. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”

He quickly pivoted to a litany of personal slights, threats against those who don’t support his legislative agenda, criticism of President Obama and a series of rambling stories, none of which were relevant to the audience before him.

Rather than speaking, Mr. Trump would do well to listen to any twelve-year-old scout recite the Scout Oath and Law.  These boys have a lot to teach him.

The Boy Scout holds truth and honor as sacred trusts.  These rules that form the foundation of Scouting and are the cornerstones of a Scout’s character. http://www.scoutingbsa.org/Programs/BoyScouts/Principles_of_Scouting/Oath_Law_Slogan_Motto.html

As boys at Camp Yawgoog we were taught the importance of keeping your word, treating others with kindness.  We were taught how to lead others with a mix of personal integrity, strength of character and working as a team.

We learned that leadership was not about personal glory but working for the well-being of the community.  We learned to be good stewards of the land and to leave no trace when camping.  Scouting taught us to think not only of ourselves and immediate needs but to think of the generations of scouts who would follow us.  We were  committed to leaving future generations a world with clean water and air with healthy forests.

In short Scouting taught us to be good citizens and how to grow up to be men of integrity and honor.  This is what every twelve-year-old scout aspires to become.

I think our president has a lot to learn from a boy scout.  It isn’t about angry tweets, throwing adversaries and even friends under the bus.  It isn’t about inflating or bending the truth for ones own ends.

Donald Trump would be a better man and leader if he could learn the lessons of scouting and take them to heart.  He’d be well served to listen to any twelve-year-old recite the Oath and Law.

When the Visible and Invisible World Meet

There is in Celtic spirituality an awareness of ‘thin places’ in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into closest proximity. Monasteries and holy places were meant to be founded at such spots to increase the likelihood of a transcendental communication. These thin places are threshold places, a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html

Marsha Sinetar in a wonderful little book entitled ‘Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics’, reminds us that the search for thin places is not just the purview of those religious types who live in set apart places. Each of us has the ability to discern and experience such places and moments of awe and wonder.

From my experience such places sometimes are found in houses of worship but more often are found in the everyday. Often in nature.

Have you ever been in a thin place?

I am a pastor serving a church along the North Shore of Massachusetts.  With a limited warm weather window many of us savor days at a nearby beach or on rivers and lakes.   Instinctively we are drawn to such places because they not only provide relief from the heat but also nourish our soul.

This summer at church we are spending less time indoors and more time attending the ‘Church of Woods and Water’.  At this church we dig our toes in the sand and our paddle in the water.  We listen for the voice of the Creator in the wind and waves just as aboriginal Peoples have done since the beginning of time.

Such settings serve as portals into the ancient rhythm of creation.  Such thin places remind us to slow down, to savor, to reflect on what matters and where we belong.

John Muir said:  “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

This summer I wish you a good journey to places both familiar and thin.  May we walk slowly, breathe deeply and paddle well.

When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.

On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.


When Lost in the Woods

My friend Harper is four years old.  Yesterday after a worship service at church, Harper sought me out.  She came up to me with a solemn look.  I knelt down so we were at eye level and I asked:  ‘Harper, what’s up?’

Let me pause for a moment and say that Harper is a very wise soul.  She lives fully in the moment.  You know when she’s happy, frustrated or sad.   With Harper you don’t need to guess at what’s going on.   She’s honest, kind and fully present.   I have a lot to learn from her.

On this day she had a piece of paper to give me.  Her voice had a hushed and serious tone: “Kent, this is for you.  This is for when you are lost in the woods.  It’s a map so you can find your way home.”

Her words have stayed with me.  I don’t know about you but there are times when I feel lost.  Times when the darkness of the forest (metaphorically and literally) seems to hem me in and I don’t know which way to turn.

Harper wanted me to know that there is hope when I feel lost.  That I have a friend who cares about me and who has my back.

Who do you turn to when you are lost?  Who has your back when you feel overwhelmed by life?  What map do you use?

Harper reminds us that our hope is close-by.  It’s in the seemingly small expressions of kindness that remind us that we are known, loved, remembered.

On that same morning, my friend Mylinda Baits was leading a workshop at church.  She is a missionary who walks alongside people who have escaped human trafficking. https://internationalministries.org/teams/45-baits .

Mylinda draws upon resources from a program called First Aid Arts http://www.firstaidarts.org  Through art therapy she helps those victimized by unspeakable violence to find  their way toward healing.

In the workshop, Mylinda offered us a taste of her approach to accompaniment.  She asked each person present to introduce themselves with their name:  ‘My name is Kent and I am here to be seen, to be heard and to be honored.’ The twenty people present responded: “Kent, we see you, we hear you and we honor you.” And I responded, ‘I am here’.

Mylinda and Harper both understand that sometimes we feel lost.  It’s part of being human.  They understand too that finding our way home, comes as we let each other know that we are cared for, that we have each other’s back, that we are known.

Being seen, heard and honored is a gift.  On that Sunday at our church on Cabot Street we were reminded that we belong to each other and to a God who created each of us in God’s own image.  Perfect and worthy. A place of the heart to call home.

Harper, ‘thanks for the map’.


Church of Woods and Water

Last Sunday I worshipped at the Church of Woods and Water.  The church is located on the upper reach of the Charles River.

The Charles is a hard used, inspiring waterway which runs 80 miles from its headwaters in Hopkinton to the mouth of Boston harbor. The drainage is 312 square miles.

For 350 years this iconic river has provided sustenance to Native Americans, inspired poets and been hard used by industry.  The Rock classic, ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells says it all https://www.bing.com/search?q=song+dirty+water+by+the+standells&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85&sp=5&qs=RI&pq=dirty+water+by+the+&sk=AS4&sc=5-19&cvid=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85#CA!VideoFavoritesAddItemEvent

For the last 40 plus years, since Richard Nixon (bless him) signed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the Charles along with a host of other rivers, once used as a toxic dumping ground, has gradually become cleaner.  Insects, fish, birds and mammals have returned.

The woods, water and soil have slowly healed.   As a Christian, the theology of grace, restoration, resurrection come to mind.

Sure there are elements of toxic metals that remain in the soil and silt.  Points of pollution from fertilizer, to engine oil still find a way to the water.  But the Charles and rivers like it are much cleaner than anyone thought possible before the Clean Water Act was signed.

It is ironic, that Donald Trump is in the process of gutting the EPA by 30% and refers to Climate Change as a ‘hoax’.  The Charles, this fragile waterway which has come so far, is at risk of returning to the toxic pre-Nixon era.  That this newest Republican doesn’t respect the vision of his Republican predecessor is painful to see.

But last Sunday I put my worries for the river’s future aside (if for a few hours).  With my wife Tricia we slipped our kayaks into a stretch of the upper Charles and paddled upstream for several miles.  There were few signs of other humans… a few canoes, a few houses, the muffled sound of a distant car.

For the most part our companions were flowering dogwood trees, old growth white pine, maples, oaks, witch hazel. Birds were in full throat calling to mates, building nests.  Beaver lodges stood as sentinels along the bank.

As we paddled we were accompanied by the wisdom of prophets and mystics.  I heard Isaiah say ‘listen and your soul will live’….I heard the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating ‘the Creator’s first language is silence…everything else is a poor translation’….I even heard Martin Luther: “The sound of birds, wind in the trees, the fragrance of flowers, the mud, rocks, water…all are Logoi, ‘little words’ from the Creator.”  https://www.facebook.com/kent.harrop/videos/10212994239355454/

As dusk approached we allowed the current to return us.  We loaded our car, synched the ropes and left the river.

Soon the Church of Woods and Water will call out to my soul.  I’ll need to return to the woods and  water to be restored, to be healed, to be blessed.

Band of Brothers: A journey into what matters

Some of us keep a bucket list.  From the profound to the mundane we write down hopes and dreams and a plan to make them come true.  As a cancer survivor (ten years out) I’m mindful that life is a gift to be savored, lived as fully as possible.

Recently I spent a day hiking to and skiing the iconic Tuckerman Ravine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckerman_Ravine   I climbed with  ‘the boys’, five lifetime friends now 60.  We decided now was the time to experience  Tuckerman.

The ‘Tuck’ is a legendary bowl for spring skiing on the southeast side of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  No chair lifts here.

To get to the bowl is not for the faint of heart.  You begin with a three-mile hike rising from 2000′ to 4500′ feet while you carry your skis and boots up a rock strewn path.  Before the final ascent you check the Avalanche Information Board to know where to ski and avoid.

Once arrived you put on your boots to carry skis up a steep incline with toe holds made by others.  The best skiers keep climbing to drop over ‘the headwall’ with no room for error.  We watched two young guys far above us drop like rocks, catching air time and time again and eventually ski past us.  Beautiful to behold.

Suffice it to say I chose the bunny slope.

At 61 I’m happy to be able to get to the Tuckerman bowl.  It’s an awe-inspiring setting that causes one to look up and around and within.  The Celts call such settings a ‘thin place’.  A thin space  serves as a permeable membrane separating the conscious world from the supernatural.

For me (and I suspect many others) Tuckerman Ravine is a thin place a portal into a different way of seeing and being.  A place that calls us to look both outward and within in a deeper way.

The ‘boys’ left to right: Tom, Rob, Clyde, Dave, Kent

Adding to the experience was being with life long friends.  Together we’ve shared good times and hard.  We’ve lived long enough to know that life isn’t so much about the destination but the journey itself.

Back at the parking lot we headed to town for dinner and a beer.  We toasted the mountain and we toasted each other.  We were tired and grateful for this ‘band of brothers’.  Grateful for one more day on the trail.