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Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Winter 2002

A reflection by brother Toby


There is outdoor work to be done at Starcross this time of year. We have to watch the sky and take advantage of breaks in the rainy weather. Looking back on my life, that seems to be what humankind has to do in general.

Shocks in recent times have brought feelings of great insecurity to the surface — 9-11, the war in Afghanistan, spiraling violence in Palestine. And, there has been no let up of personal shocks as well, sickness, deaths, loss of employment and misfortunes of all kinds.

These days we find ourselves clutching for solidarity and comfort as we face new fears and trials. I recently had a birthday. David, who is 16, gave me a book and a CD, Hiroshima and Steve Reich’s composition, Different Trains, with excerpts from Holocaust testimonies. Streamliners went all over this country before I was 10. Everyone was proud of them. For us kids, tracks led to a better world somewhere. Then on January 20, 1942, when I had just turned 11, 15 German civil servants and officers met in Wannsee to handle the logistics of exterminating 11,000,000 European Jews. Children, students, mothers, fathers, grandparents were rounded up. Railroad tracks carried the trains to places like Auschwitz.

They, and “we” are in that “they” somewhere, only managed to kill 6,000,000 Jews because the war ended. On August 6, 1945 we, the Americans, intentionally killed more than 100,000 civilians in a flash at Hiroshima. I was 14½ on that day and didn’t have a clue about the 100,000 Japanese, nor the 6,000,000 Jews for that matter.

So where do we go from here—those of us who are living and the spirits of the 3000 who died on 9/11/2001, the 100,000 who died on 8/6/1945, and the 6,000,000 who went down those efficient tracks to death? At my present age I’m not sure it matters how I answer that question. It does matter how the 16-year-olds of the world answer it. There, I have considerable hope.

Walking down a city street a few nights ago, my thoughts were as bleak as the cold winter evening. Suddenly there was the scent of plum blossoms. I was shocked and looked up. By the light of the street lamp I saw a tree in full bloom. Spring is coming for me and for you. It will also come at “Ground Zero.” It came in Hiroshima. It even came at Auschwitz. That story hasn’t changed. It is a story we need to remember.


The main topic of conversation around Starcross these days is OLIVES. Despite torrential rains in December, our new orchard survived without erosion. The 1,200 olive seedlings are thriving. But so are the weeds! Many hours of hoeing and pruning are required. We've visited other olive people to form a network of helpful advisers. Our friend, John Finigan sent a memorial contribution and asked that we designate a particular olive tree to a friend's name. We were very honored to cooperate in such a living memorial. If this appeals to anyone else, simply contact sister Marti.

We were apprehensive when WREATH SEASON began. It was impossible to tell what people would do after 9/11. Our early sales were less than half what is usual. Then the orders started pouring in, and we ended by having one of the best seasons ever. Thank you all! We had a bad drought in the fall, which made fresh greens harder to find. Our new bow and pine cones brought a lot of positive response, though some were disappointed that we did not stick to the traditional plain bow and cones. The dried fruit was very successful. When our new barn is finished this autumn, we can pack dried fruit trays and have them available all year round.

David (16) has been chosen to play a violin solo with the London Mozart Players on March 9th. He and a schoolmate from France have also been invited to perform at the Green Music Festival Youth Weekend at Sonoma State University on Saturday, July 27. They will perform several other recitals in Sonoma County the last two weeks of July. Donald and Maureen Green sponsor David at The Yehudi Menuhin School in England. Holly (11) and Andrew (10) are both progressing well in music -- Holly on viola and Andrew, at the other end of the spectrum, on the electric guitar he got for Christmas.

At a family meeting in December the children decided they should take more responsibility for helping with household chores, which has made a real difference for all of us. We have started having someone read a poem before dinner each day, and find it enhances our mood and helps bring conversation up a bit from everyday logistics and problems.



He writes with candor and compassion ....


Those who can’t help but judge Christianity by some of its more outlandish practitioners ... will find Brother Toby a welcome contrast. In these pages Christianity is revealed as a faith in God that offers abundant love and joy and the strength to bear life’s difficulties.


McCarroll is a Catholic with a heart big and strong enough to include ... Zen monks, Jewish mystics and Protestant ministers....A rigorous intellectual foe of intolerance and orthodoxy....Thinking With The Heart is a visionary work, but it also offers a series of practical stepping stones for people, like most of us, who live in the midst of crisis and chaos.


A book rich in honesty, insight, and compassion. ... Tolbert McCarroll—monk, scholar, therapist, adoptive father, and incorrigible lover of life—offers wisdom gained through his remarkable 70-year journey to all who are seeking a spiritual path through the thickets of the twenty-first century.

Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak and The Courage To Teach

His light touch is especially helpful to those who frequently find orthodox Christianity stifling rather than freeing.

Jean LeRoy Doswell, Virginia

This is a book I want my children to read!

Terry Miraglia Santa Rosa, California

To learn more about or to order "Thinking With the Heart" click HERE

Raising 100 children is no small task. Some of the unique challenges facing our House of Hope for AIDS orphans in Uganda were shared at a recent meeting of about 50 friends, many of whom are sponsors of the children.

Brother Toby opened the Santa Rosa meeting with these points. There is a moral obligation to extend the definition of “neighbor” across the globe. Even a few people with limited resources can make a difference in solving huge problems. It may be a drop in the bucket but as Mother Teresa said, “The ocean is made up of individual drops.” Our way at Starcross is to avoid becoming an institution or an agency. Children need a home environment. That simple approach worked in Romania. Our House of Hope for children with AIDS there has become a UNICEF model which they will attempt to replicate in China. Since September 11, everyone realizes that problems in the Third World affect us all. Terrorism develops in a base of poverty and despair. Our kids understand that people in the US care about them. There are no future terrorists in any house of hope.

Sister Julie will be at the House of Hope in March. Her agenda will include overseeing the construction of a much needed dining room and looking at some of the growing self-sufficiency projects. They are a great source of pride to the young people. Our assistant director Margaret Nanteza has been teaching tailoring on two used treadle sewing machines we bought. She proudly reported that six of the older girls can sew clothes and school uniforms for the younger ones. The kids are learning a variety of other useful skills. An old manual typewriter will help prepare them for computer keyboarding. They have built some benches and tables for the house. On their own initiative two boys with special artistic talent created a wonderful series of Christmas cards, the scenes carefully cut from dried banana leaves.

Julie’s trips are times of catching up with each child. Some need loving encouragement. Others need to be told to shape up. There were too many “academic probations” last term. As a former teacher, Julie has heard all the excuses before. The little kids are anxious to show Julie the baby chicks and the new dairy goats they named Kelly and Ken.

Each trip is unique, bringing unanticipated adventures. As the children become young adults we must look toward their futures. Before long they will be ready for jobs, higher education, or setting up their own businesses. Our commitment is to launch them into a successful adulthood, just as their kin would have done had AIDS not claimed their lives.

Our generous sponsors have made all of this possible.

A Ugandan who attended the Santa Rosa meeting wrote, “There will be a lot of spirits thanking you for being kind to them! Most of those kids would have died quietly in some bush. Most of their contemporaries never made it.”


Our friend Monica Schwalbenberg-Pena expressed a desire to see what daily life looked like for her four sponsored kids. She went through boxes of sister Julie’s trip photos and has put together a great little album of representative scenes around the House of Hope. Monica was excited by our tape of the kids’ informal singing and drumming and offered to copy that as well. As Ben Ssennoga once explained, for Africans it is singing and dancing which keeps them sane. It’s a daily essential. The exuberance of these original songs will energize you for the day! Send $5 for the booklet or $10 for the cassette.


Two things are clear. First we do not have the money to fix up the century-old farm house. Second, we have a desperate need for guest housing.

We have to turn away a lot of requests to come here and much of the reason is housing. We need a place for volunteers who want to help out on special projects. This is especially important when we are shipping wreaths, working in the olive grove, or canning the harvest from the garden or orchard. Friends, especially those who are seriously ill, want to come for help in the spiritual challenges they face. Some of our former foster children now have children of their own and would like to bring them to see the farm where they grew up. Good, but emotionally worn-out, people sometimes need a place of retreat and renewal.

It is not clear what we can do but we are seeking the opinions and the help of friends. If you feel you can help in some way please contact sister Marti.


Each day at Vespers we remember people who have died, either on the day of their birth or their death. This is a special quiet moment of spiritual solidarity for us and our friends.

If you would like to put someone in our memorial books we would be honored to remember them. Just send their name, dates of birth and death, which date you wish them to be remembered on, and a few words about them.

To fill out a Memorial Book request, click HERE



 Annual Day of Recollection

 Saturday, August 24 * 9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.

 A one-day retreat with times of joining the community in the chapel for Lauds and Vespers, spiritual talks, music, walks and quiet. We will send information including directions and what to bring for the pot-luck. Space is limited. Please contact us soon if you plan to come.

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