Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sermon: The Great Vigil of Easter

VIGIL FIRETonight I had the extreme honor and privilege of preaching at The Great Vigil of Easter at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer. The readings can be found here (I focused on the epistle Romans 6:3-11), and the recording can be found over on SoundCloud

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We have been on a journey throughout these forty days of Lent, a sacred pilgrimage that has intensified in this past week. This time of fasting, self-denial, of prayer, and reflection in heart and mind has led us to this very moment. For this is the night, God brought the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin and restored to grace and holiness of life.   This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. We have arrived at the moment we have been waiting and preparing for . . . So now what?

Where do we go from here?

Do we go home to Easter Baskets, lilies, and family dinner?

Do we go forth from this place and return to daily life as if nothing has happened?

Is there something more to this night, than an end to our recent pilgrimage?

For the last several days we have witnessed the fullness of the life of Christ.  On Maundy Thursday we received the great commandment, the Mandatum from Jesus to love one another. This is not just any kind of love, for it is through this love that we are called to extend hospitality to friend and stranger, to extend loving, humble service to all people especially those who will betray us and fail to offer this same hospitality to us.

Last night we gathered on that most Solemn day in our life of faith – Good Friday. We stood in the shadow of the Cross. We witnessed first hand the very worst that humanity can do – the very worst that we can do. We were reminded of the ways small and great that we continue to crucify people today. We were reminded of the ways that we fall short of the glory of God.

This morning we gathered to keep Holy Saturday. We prayed together in the quiet starkness of the morning. We sat in that awkward period, as the world stood still, as Christ was in the tomb, waiting for this night.

For this is the night we remember the magnificent salvation history God has given us. This is the night we take all of that history together with the pilgrimage we have just completed and carry it through the waters of Baptism just as the people of Israel carried their history through the Red Sea to new life on the other side. This is the night we have been washed with the waters of Baptism. We have entered the watery grave dying to sin and death – to this earthly ordinary way of life – and we rise with Christ to a new and redeemed reality. As we pass through these waters we are restored to our full and true nature as humanity and can now turn our lives towards God. Here in this one night we witness and embody the great metanoia of all faithful people, we see humanity turning back towards God and the world being turned upside down.

It is this new life – this reoriented life – that Paul is concerned with in his letter to the Romans that heard a moment ago. Hear again the words of Paul:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

And again:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

We, by the virtue of our Baptism, are called to be alive to God and to walk in a new way – a Christ like way. While our Lenten and Holy Week pilgrimage ends this night, our Baptismal pilgrimage begins. For this is the night the Church, all of us, assume the identity of Christ’s own body in the world – the same identity of servant to the suffering world as practiced in the humble and loving actions of Maundy Thursday and in the Solemn Collects of Good Friday. It is our baptism, it is our being alive to God that incorporates us as Christ’s body and demands we walk this new pilgrim road. Baptism is not just some ritual act of cleaning it is the culmination of all that we have experienced in these last days.

In order to begin this Baptismal pilgrimage we must die. Paul makes this abundantly clear in his letter to the Romans. This is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, it is the truth of being one of the baptized. For as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” And this is what it means to die: we must sacrifice all control, pride, and stubbornness. We must relinquish our sinful preoccupations of getting what is ours, of focusing on our own needs at the expense of other. In stripping away all our earthly desires, in dying to this ordinary way of life, then and only then, can we fully embrace our need for God. It is then that we have made room in our lives for love, compassion, mercy, truth, and justice. It is then that we truly become the body of Christ.

So this night as Christ tramples down the gates of sin and hell we are called to trample down the gates of systematic oppression and violence.

This is the night we are called to shout out against the causes of evil in this world as loudly and passionately as we shout Alleluia.

As we are made into a new creation through the waters of Baptism we are called to make new God’s beautiful creation. No longer can we stand idly by as forests are cut down, as sea levels rise, and temperatures increase.

As we rise to new life in Christ all metaphorical and physical walls we build between them and us must come crashing down.

As we are nourished with the body of Christ in gifts of bread and wine we are called to nourish a hungry and starving world.

For this is the night that, as that prophet Amos proclaimed, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Because this night Christ has destroyed death once and for all, this night we have died to sin and risen to new life in Christ, this night we have baskets in those all powerful waters of baptism.

Beloved of God, this night we have a choice before us. We can deny the truth of our identity and continue in the ways of this world or we can accept the choice God offers – the choice to love beyond our limits; to shatter all that holds down the people of God; to proclaim Christ risen from the dead.

This night let our choice be God. Let us choose to love beyond what we deem possible. Let us choose to turn this world right side up once again.

This night, let it be so.

AMEN.

 

 

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The Path is Paved With Facebook Posts: 36 Hours Later

MSCsignThis is a rather long post, but I feel that it is important.  Included you will find my reflection on the last 36 hours of our organizing around Mount St. Charles’ policy regarding Transgender Students.  I have also included the text of both statements Mount St. Charles made yesterday, as well as links to various media outlets carrying the story.  The piece concludes with a copy of our press release.

The group of alumni I am working with love and care deeply for Mount St. Charles.  We seek to stay positive, productive, and proactive.  We look forward to working with administration to fix this policy.

The psalmist writes, “This is the dat that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118: 24, NRSV).

It has now been roughly 36 hours since I wrote my blogpost on my reactions of the Mount St. Charles policy on Transgender Students.  My head is still spinning from all that is happened in just 36 hours.  Throughout the day yesterday I was continually reminded of a quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The organizing I have been a part of started with 6 alumni (Julie Hamel McBrien ’06, Samantha Ward ’06, Alicia Bissonette ’08, Ryan Glode ’08, Nicholas Martin ’08, and myself ’07), and was only 6 alumni for the few minutes until we started a Facebook group (Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles’s Trans-Exclusive Policy).  Within hours hundreds of alumni had joined the group offering words of encouragement and pledges to support the cause.  While we were doing this, another gradate started a Change.org petition.  In the last 36 hours we have organized a letter writing campaign, written a press releases, had several media interviews, and responded to a statement published by Mount St. Charles, a second statement that was subsequently edited to have, what I believe, is a softer tone (both statements are included a the end of this post).

As I watched my Facebook account go insane from the number of notifications, I sat back and watched with awe.  As notification upon notification, message up message, post upon post, emerged on my screen I learned something very important: There is no stopping a group of Mount St. Charles graduates when they set their mind to something.

I guess I always new this, but what is happening on social media has taken this to a completely new level.  Mounties I do not know, Mounties I have not spoken to in almost a decade, Mounties I did not particularly get along with during our six years there have reached out and stood up.  The messages of love and support have been so overwhelming that I have had a difficult time keeping up.  Not only are these messages of love and support for my story, they are letters to the administration expressing disappointment, frustration, and anger, and they are messages asking what they can do to help.  This is what it means to be a Mountie.  This is why I have loved this placed so deeply for all these years.  This is why I refuse to retire some of my favorite Mount t-shirts.

So to the administration’s request for help – we have you cover.  We have always had you covered, all you had to do was ask.  

deskThis picture is what the corner of my desk looks like right now (yes, that is a Minion bluetooth speaker).
Before I went to bed last night, I moved my replica Mount St. Charles sign from a shelf collecting dust to the place you see it now.  I did that to remind myself why I have been proud to call myself a Mountie.  I did it to remind myself of the love and support that is coming out of the woodworks.  I did it to remind myself of the commitment I have made to work with my fellow alumni and the administration to make Mount into a place that can warmly welcome all student who walk through their doors. 

The psalmist writes, “This is the dat that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118: 24, NRSV).

As of this morning here is where things are:

My initial blogpost has been viewed 6,359 time

The Change.org petition has 1028 signatures

Our Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles’s Trans-Exclusive Policy group has 791 members

Here is what Mount initially set out on their social media profiles and via email: 

Statement Regarding Transgender Students at MSC

The policy that currently appears in the Mount Saint Charles Student Handbook is not intended to be discriminatory toward transgendered students nor is Mount Saint Charles Academy’s intent or desire to exclude transgender students. The policy was put in place for the simple reason that Mount Saint Charles feels that its facilities do not presently provide the school with the ability to accommodate transgender students.
As a Catholic school, Mount Saint Charles recognizes its call to serve all children who desire a Catholic education, but Mount Saint Charles also recognizes that it is not a comprehensive high school with the ability to serve all students. Some students may not be academically qualified. Others may have learning plans which the school cannot accommodate. And in some cases, our facilities may not be adequate to service some students.
Although the school has not been approached with any requests to admit transgender students, Mount Saint Charles Academy’s administration has been exploring ways in which it might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.
Rather than criticize the school for a policy you deem unreasonable, please try to understand the reason for its existence, please know that we would very much like to correct the problem, and your help would go a long way in allowing us to achieve that goal.
Here is their edited statement:

Statement Regarding Transgender Students at MSC

Mount Saint Charles Academy deeply regrets the unintended hurt feelings at and seeming insensitivity of our policy regarding the acceptance of transgendered young people. The policy that currently appears in the Mount Saint Charles Student Handbook is not intended to be discriminatory toward transgendered students nor is Mount Saint Charles Academy’s intent or desire to exclude transgender students. The policy was put in place for the simple reason that Mount Saint Charles feels that its facilities do not presently provide the school with the ability to accommodate transgender students.

As a Catholic school, Mount Saint Charles recognizes its call to serve all children who desire a Catholic education, but it also recognizes that it is not a comprehensive high school with the ability to serve all students. Some students may not be academically qualified. Others may have learning plans which the school cannot accommodate. And in some cases, our facilities may not be adequate to service some students.

Although the school has not been approached with any requests to admit transgender students, Mount Saint Charles Academy’s administration has been exploring ways in which it might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.

While Mount Saint Charles can respect that some may find our current policy somewhat inconsistent and intolerant, please try to understand the reason for its existence. This is certainly not our intent. Please know that we would very much like to address the issue, and your prayers and kind assistance would go a long way in allowing us achieve that goal.

Our Response to Mount’s initial statement: 

Thank you for responding, MSC!
On behalf of the 700 + alums concerned about this issue, we first want to remind you we love you and come at this with the intentions of preserving the community we know and love.
The language of the policy has unintended consequences of students, particularly LGBTQ students, to feel cut off or disconnected, and thus pained by the policy.
We acknowledge we do not know the reason for the policy and that is a main concern, as noted in our official statement (see below). We are criticizing the policy’s existence and language, not the reasoning behind the decision. We stand critical of the impact, not the intent.
We are wanting and willing to dialogue about this and help Mount fulfill its mission to serve students that meet Mount’s academic standards.
Please contact one of us for more questions

Official Statement for the Press
For Immediate Release
WHO: Concerned Alumni of Mount Saint Charles Academy
WHAT: Relating to transgender student policy in the Mount Saint Charles Academy Handbook, 2015
WHERE: Woonsocket, RI

We, the alumni of Mount Saint Charles, are deeply disappointed by the policy provision by the Mount Saint Charles Academy administration in the 2015-16 Student Handbook that refuses admittance for transgender students based on a lack of undefined accommodations. This policy also notes that current students who identify as transgender will be unenrolled. We were previously un-aware of the policy; this week it became widely shared on social media and came to our attention.

Mount Saint Charles has always been an incredible pillar of support for so many students. Many alumni give Mount credit as the formative experience in their lives that has led to success in the greater community. Actions like this seem wholly uncharacteristic of the institution and do not speak to the principles of Mount’s mission of valuing and treasuring each student.
Furthermore, we are also concerned as to what “accommodations” means, as it is undefined in the policy. There are solutions to explore beyond outright expulsion and refusal of admittance, from physical accommodations like putting in a family bathroom or social accommodations like creating a safe environment for all students, regardless of differences. Over 600 alumni have already come together to speak out against this action.

The alumni behind this belief love Mount Saint Charles and are speaking out from a place of concern. The community that is fostered there is meant to be one of love, respect, and support. That is what we were taught. We do not take provisions like this lightly. We want to protect and preserve the community that made every student feel safe and supported. This is an opportunity to learn, grow, and come together to push past our differences. We look forward to speaking further with administration to find a resolution to this decision. Julie McBrien ’06, Samantha Ward ’06, Dante Tavolaro ’07, Alicia Bissonnette ’08, Ryan J. Glode ’08, and Nick Martin ’08.

Want to know more about what is going on? Checkout these media outlets: 

ABC 6

The Daily Beast

RI Future

GoLocalProv

NBC 10: WJAR

WPRI 12 Eyewitness New

The Providence Journal

 

 

Official Statement for the Press

For Immediate Release

WHO: Concerned Alumni of Mount Saint Charles Academy

WHAT: Relating to transgender student policy in the Mount Saint Charles Academy Handbook, 2015

WHERE: Woonsocket, RI

We, the alumni of Mount Saint Charles, are deeply disappointed by the policy provision by the Mount Saint Charles Academy administration in the 2015-16 Student Handbook that refuses admittance for transgender students based on a lack of undefined accommodations. This policy also notes that current students who identify as transgender will be unenrolled. We were previously un-aware of the policy; this week it became widely shared on social media and came to our attention.

Mount Saint Charles has always been an incredible pillar of support for so many students. Many alumni give Mount credit as the formative experience in their lives that has led to success in the greater community. Actions like this seem wholly uncharacteristic of the institution and do not speak to the principles of Mount’s mission of valuing and treasuring each student.

Furthermore, we are also concerned as to what “accommodations” means, as it is undefined in the policy. There are solutions to explore beyond outright expulsion and refusal of admittance, from physical accommodations like putting in a family bathroom or social accommodations like creating a safe environment for all students, regardless of differences. Over 600 alumni have already come together to speak out against this action.

The alumni behind this belief love Mount Saint Charles and are speaking out from a place of concern. The community that is fostered there is meant to be one of love, respect, and support. That is what we were taught. We do not take provisions like this lightly. We want to protect and preserve the community that made every student feel safe and supported. This is an opportunity to learn, grow, and come together to push past our differences. We look forward to speaking further with administration to find a resolution to this decision.

ORGANIZER CONTACTS:

Dante Tavolaro: dante.tavolaro@yale.edu; Alicia Bissonnette : bissonne@seattleu.edu ; Nicholas Martin: nrhmartin@gmail.com ; Julie Hamel McBrien : juliehamel87@gmail.com ; Samantha Ward : smw424@gmail.com ; Ryan Glode : rglode@assumption.edu

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From the Great Eight Award to “Unable to Make Accommodations”: A Response to Mount St. Charles’ Policy on Transgender Students

Update: This week alumni of Mount St. Charles became aware of a policy regarding Transgender Students. Over the last 24 hours, more than 600 Mount St. Charles alumni have vocalized their frustration, disappointment, and anger regarding this policy. The passion for justice that is being expressed through social media is grounded in the lessons that were instilled in us while students at the Mount. We love Mount St. Charles and what it meant, and means, to us. We are dedicated to ensuring that future generations – that all people – are able to experiencing this amazing place in the same way that we did. We look forward to conversation with the administration in the days ahead and the opportunity to work with them to make Mount St. Charles the best place that it can be.

MSCThe psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart” (Psalm 38:8).

At 3:30pm today, March 3, 2016, my world was shaken in a deep and profound way. I was sitting in the refrectory at Yale Divinity School scrolling through Facebook passing the time until my afternoon class. A message popped up on my screen. It was from a dear and beloved friend, a classmate from my time at Mount St. Charles Academy. The message contained a link to a Facebook post shared by another Mountie. I knew something bad was afoot. I clicked, read the post, and instantly felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.

The post was a screen shot of the most recent version of the “Mount St. Charles Academy Parent-Student Handbook 2015-2016.” A bold red title appeared prominently reading: “Transgender Students”. Beneath the title were two lines containing 32 words, “Mount Saint Charles Academy is unable to make accommodations for transgender students. Therefore, MSC does not accept transgender students nor is MSC able to continue to enroll students who identify as transgender” (Note: This screen shot was taken from page 40 of the handbook).   As I read these words it took every ounce of restraint and control in body not to breakdown in the middle of the dining hall. As I read, reread, and read those words yet again the words of the psalmist instantly came to mind. “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail because of the groaning of my heart.”

Let me step back and clarify why these 32 words have dealt such a painful blow.

Up until 3:30pm today I was an incredibly proud and unabashed graduate of Mount St. Charles Academy. I have regularly boasted of the amazing education I received in junior high and high school. I have credited that institution, along with my time at Rhode Island College, for being the reason I am thriving as a graduate student at Yale University. I have already started lobbying my wife that we should send our future children to Mount St. Charles when the time comes. I have fervently defended my alma mater and encouraged others to consider sending their children there as well. You see the core of who I am rests largely on the foundation built during my six years as a student at Mount St. Charles.

It was at Mount St. Charles that I first learned that I could succeed as a student. It was at Mount St. Charles that I experienced the love and unending support from faculty and staff who sacrificed much of themselves for the wellbeing of their students. It was at Mount St. Charles that I learned to be a better person. It was Mount St. Charles that taught me how to be a better Christian. Not only did Mount St. Charles teach me to be a better Christian, it taught me how to live more fully into the promises of the Baptismal Covenant found in The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. My six years at Mount St. Charles taught me more about living into this covenanted relationship with God than any Sunday School, Confirmation class, or Baptism workshop I have ever attended. Most importantly, it was at Mount St. Charles that my vocation to the priesthood emerged and was allowed to blossom despite the fact that I was not Roman Catholic. It is because of all this and more that two years ago on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I wrote a blog post describing just how proud I was to be a Mountie. Sadly, I can no longer stand by the words, “I am proud to be a Mountie.”

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

Today, when I learned that Mount St. Charles no longer accepts Transgender students the foundation of who I am, the foundation built at Mount St. Charles, shattered.

It shattered because I am a Mountie, and I am Transgender.

Those two lines, those 32 words on page 40 of the Parent-Student Handbook mean that if I were to apply to Mount St. Charles today they would not accept me because of who I am – they would reject me because of my God given identity. If those shattering and painful sentences were the policy when I was a student, if they were included in the 2005-2006 or 2006-2007 Parent-Student Handbook, Mount St. Charles could have refused to continue my enrollment. I refuse to begin to contemplate what I would have done had I been kicked out of Mount St. Charles because my gender identity does not fit into a neat little box – but I can guarantee you it would not have been good.

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

Today I learned that Mount St. Charles has failed me. Today I learned that I am a second class Mountie. Today I also learned the value of a Mount education.

From the moment I saw the original Facebook post, my Facebook newsfeed has been overwhelmed with outraged alumni, I have received Facebook messages and texts letting me know how much I am loved and supported by my former classmates. What is emerging on Social Media are the fruits of the community we built at Mount St. Charles; it is a harnessing of the passion and commitment to justice that was engrained in us at Mount St. Charles. The letter writing, mobilizing, and organizing that began within moments of this news being discovered are the fruits of the education we received at Mount St. Charles. We are embodying the Mount St. Charles mission statement:

Mount Saint Charles Academy, a private, Catholic junior- senior high school in the tradition of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, serves a co-educational community in a college preparatory environment.

We challenge our students through rigorous academic programs and through religious and co-curricular experiences to become people of faith who use their talents and intellects to serve others.

Each and every student is known, valued, treasured, and taught in partnership with the family.

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

When I was in the eighth grade, I received the biggest award for a junior high student. I received the Great Eight Award, an award given to two students in the eighth grade who exemplify what it means to be a Mountie. Since 2003, as a result of this award, my name has been inscribed on your wall of fame. My name stands as a symbol of what it truly means to embody the spirit of the Mount. It is hard, it seemingly impossible, to reconcile the fact that I could go from exemplifying what it means to be a Mountie – something I have endeavored to do since the day I received that award – to being a person my beloved alma mater refuses “to accommodate.”

And so, to the faculty, staff, and administration of Mount St. Charles who approved this policy, to you whom I put complete faith and trust it, to you whom I relied on, to you who cared for me – you have failed me. You have failed not just me, but each and every student who does, who has ever, and who will ever walk through your doors. You have outraged me, you have disappointed me, you have hurt me, but most importantly who have cut down everything you taught me to stand for. I hope you remember that each and every time you walk outside the faculty room, every time you glimpse my name on the Great Eight Award plaque, because those 32 words inscribed in your handbook discredit everything you say you stand for. I am your student: what happened to “each and every student is known, valued, treasured, and taught”?

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

In the days ahead, more will be said, letters will be written, and campaigns will begin. But, today I can only manage these words. I can only muster up the strength to share my deep and profound pain.

Today I write, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

I sign this message in anticipation of day than I can once again say, “I am proud to be a Mountie.”

Sincerely,

Dante A. Tavolaro ’07

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