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    A lay monastic family,  questing for  the sacred,  and advocating for children.  

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Winter 2003

The Family Journal


Our children are growing up thinking of “The Wreath Season” as being comparable to fall. Most of our support comes from the sale of Christmas wreaths and dried fruit. This year we used our new barn for the first time. It is a wonderful, beautiful space. We all loved working in it. We did a lot more of the work ourselves than we have been able to do in former years, which meant more profit for our projects. For the first time Holly and Andrew were actual members of the work crew on the days they were home and were paid. They were very proud.

Santa brought a grey kitten, dubbed “Cyrano” for his bold attack on life. He has brightened all our lives during some dark and stormy days — 7 days without power just before Christmas. In the heaviest storm we lost a storage shed and part of the roof on the old farmhouse.

The Christmas holiday seemed short, but it was wonderful. We received many cards and messages from people sharing their joys and sorrows. This meant a lot to us, and we were humbled that people have allowed us to be that closely involved in their lives. We hope you all have a grace-filled and peaceful New Year.


As this issue of Sharings goes to press brother Toby and sister Julie are in Durban, South Africa joining the frantic efforts to give some protection to the millions of children who will be left orphaned and destitute by AIDS in that country. Our goal is to have 100 children in a secure program, which not only responds to their immediate survival needs but helps them gain self-assurance, education, and opportunities for a productive and nourishing life.

The program will be fully established when Julie returns for a month in June. We have good South African partners already working with orphans in different ways. We have the beginnings of a caring staff. We have identified many children, especially "child-headed" families, who would especially benefit from what we have to offer. We also have 26 sponsors for children who have responded to the need before we have even made an appeal to you! The sponsors continually amaze and encourage us. It will cost us about $800 a year per child to give these children the kind of help they need to grow up in a nurturing alternative to the family they lost. Before we are finished we will need about 74 more sponsors.

We will also need a one-time building investment of about $300,000 to provide simple and secure housing for the individual foster grandmothers and their families. This large expenditure worries us but in the past few weeks we have received funds from unexpected sources (wills, judicial settlements, family foundations and the like) which will provide a third of what we need.

The task we face is formidable but the response of everyone is making this a strong witness to what many friends of Starcross believe to be a part of our spiritual obligation to our young sisters and brothers and to the future.

A reflection from brother Toby


It is a great time to be in the barn. The pumpkins beside me in the loft cast a warm orange glow everywhere. Leaning over the rail I can see little evidence of the frantic activities of the recent Christmas wreath and dried fruit season. The barn is very quiet now, as it usually is. I have a warm and satisfied feeling — except for an air ticket to South Africa in my jacket pocket.

What calls to me mostly these days is a misty trail leading to a place where I can see life that has gone before me and, in the other direction, what is to come after me. I want to feel part of that stream. Even when I die the stream will go on. That is my immortality for I am part of an ongoing story. If our society had “elders” I would love to be one of them and share the story of our people with those who will write the next chapter. We don’t have elders but I still feel in the current of life which is not just about me. Yet, here I stand in my comfortable little barn-world reluctant to go outside, troubled by an airline ticket.

When Alicia, a 21 year-old friend and colleague of mine, was on her way to Thailand to be with a little boy she knew who was dying of AIDS, I asked her where this poignant story began. Her response was immediate: “I left Westmount [a Christian college in Southern California] when I realized something was wrong with the world.” What could leaving the comfortable, certain, cocoon of that compulsory-chapel-attending, college have to do with Alicia’s involvement in the AIDS pandemic? Everything. She, like most of us, lived as if on the SS Titanic. The fancy world on board the doomed ship went on according to it’s own rules, unrelated to what was happening outside it’s hull and bulkheads.

Countless are the little worlds in which we cuddle or squirm. When we do hear of tragic events outside our spheres of interest we often think, “What has that to do with me?” Don’t misunderstand me, I love little worlds! For the past two decades I have been a minor laborer struggling with the impact of AIDS; in my own home, in California, in Romania, in Uganda, and now South Africa. I thought I would get in there and help out, especially with children, for a while as we solved the problem. Then I would, with a sense of satisfaction, retire to my peaceful farm, raise olive trees, wander in the quiet of the barn, write poetry, enjoy those I love, and remove some of the distance between myself and the mystery I am comfortable labeling “God.” Now, at 72, I realize my life is never to be quite like that. Any real peace for me must be found in the midst of the conflict in which I live.

The top leaders of our institutions, especially church and government, have largely disappointed me this past year. Perhaps, for the moment, the world has outgrown our existing institutions. Which puts a fearful obligation on each of us to personally witness to what is best in our spiritual and cultural history.

I am making a long trip from my farm in California to join sister Julie for a while in South Africa. The seasons are reversed. Winter in California is summer in South Africa. I find that, and many other things, disorienting. So there we have it; I am going out there in the big world and something is wrong with it, and I am disoriented. But hopefully before I stand again in this barn a number of young people will have more of a future. That is what really counts, not only for them, but for all of us.


 If you have been calling or e-mailing about a wreath, African sponsorships, and the like, you have likely encountered the efficient and kindly Nancy Smith, who is helping sister Marti. We asked Nancy to introduce herself:

A longtime neighbor of Starcross Community, I had always hoped to join in their good work in some capacity. It has been a pleasure getting acquainted with so many kind and generous people through my position in the Starcross office. I feel a kinship with those who support Starcross through donations and sponsorships and wreath orders! I believe that all of us welcome the opportunity to be part of something that is good and will bring more peace and compassion to our world.


David, (our 17-year-old who has a scholarship to study violin at the Yehudi Menuhin School) chooses CD’s for us to listen to before some chapel services. When we printed some of these in Sharings a number of you asked for more, and David was glad to do it.

David: We’ve started a tradition of listening to music on New Year’s Eve leading up to our midnight meal. These are the pieces I chose this year. As you can see, I’m obsessed with the Kronos Quartet!

Piazolla - 5 Tango Sensations (Kronos Quartet) - Argentinian

Shostakovich - Violin Concerto No. 1 ( David Oistrakh, violin) - soulful writing and playing

Richard Strauss - Metamorphosen - thick texture, romantic

Brahms - Piano Trio No. 1 - a classic

Reich - Clapping Music - minimalistic

Gorecki - String Quartet No. 2, “Quasi Uma Fantasia” (Kronos Quartet) - repetitively effective

Stravinsky - Firebird - ballet


1963 — THE DREAM — 2003

The Epiphany story read early in January talks of three wise men following a star and a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a wise man of the last century who followed a dream. This is the 40th anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. As the clouds of war gather once again it is well to remember his dedication to nonviolent solutions to violent problems and that all war is the enemy of the poor. On January 20th, when we commemorate his life, perhaps we will recall some of his words:

 Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

We have inherited a large house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together C Black and White, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and HinduCa family unduly separated in ideas, cultures and interests, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.


For a few years the kids at Starcross have given up one present at Christmas and used that money (matched by other funds from our parents - Toby, Marti and Julie) to help someone in need. This year we were late doing that. Our parents have a friend, Brother Vincent Malham who is president of Bethlehem University. He told us how hard it is for the Palestinian students, both Muslim and Christian, to stay in school. Because of the war there most of the students' parents live in poverty. Some can't even get to school because of things happening and the many road blocks. And when they do get there they may find that the authorities have shut down the University. This happens a lot. The students often have little money for food or books, yet they keep on trying to learn.

We decided to try and help a student by giving him/her $100 a month for food, fees, transportation or whatever will help her/him stay in school. Brother Vincent said this would really help a student and he will select someone who is dedicated and in great need.

When we set up the creche in the chapel on Christmas Eve I felt good that we were helping someone in Bethlehem today.

Holly (age 12)


Ben Ssennoga, the director of our House of Hope in Uganda, joins in one of the many spontaneous dances which occur each day. As Ben told us years ago, the songs and dances are essential. When the drums are beating, people forget their worries and cares. There is only the now-moment.

We now care for 102 AIDS orphans in Uganda. The oldest will soon begin college. The youngest is just 7. Most of the children are not infected with HIV themselves but have lost parents, aunts and uncles to the pandemic. Thanks to sponsorships from our friends, they are looking forward to brighter futures.

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