When I was going through my discernment process and preparing for ordination, one of the people on the ministry committee asking me, “Does Jesus save? And if so, from what?” It’s not exactly the kind of question you expect from a UCC minister. But my answer, which arose automatically, also surprised me: “Yes, Jesus saves. He saves us from despair.”
I thought of that this week as I listened to a radio story in which a reporter asked several environmental scientists if we should despair as we discover that glacial melt is occurring at a much more rapid rate than anticipated. To a one, they replied, “No.” But, they emphasized, we should act.
Our relationship with God nourishes us with a steady stream of hope, but hopefulness should always be an engaged state of being. It’s sometimes hard to figure out how to act and to engage, so I want to express my gratitude for the many ways I see people in the OCC community paying attention to what is going on around them and responding with care and energy. Whether that is through our green team, our faithful ushers and communion servers, the people who alert us to congregation members who need support, those who care for our children and youth, and those who push back in so many ways against injustice, this is a thoughtful and committed community.
I look forward to getting to know more of you as the fall proceeds and people settle back into their lives after their summer’s adventures. Let me know if you’d like to meet up for coffee or tea! In the meantime, many activities are bubbling up — Eartha Newsong’s spiritual journey, our new contemplative worship (beginning with a 6:15 dinner on September 11, followed by a short service in the chapel), a discussion of Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, and a series on aging and spirituality. Look for dates and times in weekly eblasts and church programs.
Lest the difficulties and tumult of the world threaten to throw you in despair, remember that we are part of a larger reality that finds its meaning in God’s love. May that love rescue us from despair and help us to turn to each other in gratitude. We’ve got work to do, and I feel so glad that I get to work with you.
Yours in God’s peace and care,
World events have been a little overwhelming lately. Between tensions with Iran, racist comments toward our elected officials, and environmental degradation, it would be easy to feel defeated.
I've been trying to reorient myself toward a faithful sense of hope, and two memories have helped me. The first memory is of talking with a school administrator while I was in graduate school. This was a man who directed a small alternative high school for at-risk youth, and I was interested in working at the school. I was excited about the school's emphasis on the arts, its outreach to especially vulnerable kids, and its innovative pedagogy. Despite how dynamic the school was, the director was burnt out. He was frustrated with traditional schooling methods, bitter about the difficulties of funding the school, and angry that he was having so much trouble retaining teachers on his shoestring budget. I mentioned to him that I had been active with a project at the local Quaker meeting, and he articulated his thorough distrust of faith communities.
I think this encounter has stuck with me because I realized that this deeply dedicated man had no way to contextualize his limitations and no place to go to restore his energy. I'm not saying that I've never been burnt out (Oh, I have!), but it's been centrally restorative to me in those instances to trust that all our human fallibility and limitation is nested in the larger reality of God's understanding and love. Seen that way, the little that I can do isn't too little: it is an effort that belongs in the good current of Divine creation. I'd love to tackle the systemic causes of homelessness, for example, but there are some days when all I have is a fresh bottle of water and a few minutes' conversation to offer a person living on the street. Nothing that we have to give is inconsequential, our prayers and our hope least of all. In the divine back and forth, we give and we receive. That reciprocity with God revives us when we have compassion fatigue or burnout.
The other memory is of a story my mentor told me my first year of seminary. She observed that it's tempting to try to tackle all the problems that we perceive in a desperate effort to save the world. "Pick one thing," she said. Pick one issue that you can really dedicate yourself to stick with it, learning and contributing over time. She talked about her father's lifelong commitment to pacifism and how scorned he'd been during World War II, and then how many people turned to him for help and organizing during the Vietnam War.
As many of you know by now, I have a commitment to helping unhoused people find housing. It's very possible that this is my "one thing." And I'm excited to look around me at this community and see that "one thing" played out in different ways by different people: fighting for justice in Palestine, bringing music to shut-ins, working to build interfaith dialogue, nurturing youth at the local high school, starting a Buddhist sangha, loving and sheltering a drug-addicted woman, working tirelessly to protect our environment, helping to establish the interfaith housing council and I don't even know the half of it!
I began this message as a sort of pep talk to myself and it was very effective! Just looking around at this community and its riches is a sign that the Beloved Community is alive and well. Let's keep bolstering each other, playing and exploring and receiving new energy from the open hand of God as we go along. The world is a complicated and vexed place, no doubt, but I get glimmers of a vision in which everything and everyone are exactly as they are meant to be. In the days ahead, I very much hope to learn more and more about your lives as we work together.
God's grace is upon us every moment.
When I was a child and got sick with a fever, I had a recurring dream:
in the dream, I was in a tranquil, spacious room. This was the part of the dream that I liked. After a while, the room would contract briefly,
squeezing me and causing disorder. Then it would relax and the room would once more resolve into peace and quiet. This cycle continued, but with more and more interruptions of greater intensity until I was so
uncomfortable that I felt I was being squeezed right out of the room. At this point, I invariably woke up!
As an adult, I was relating this to a friend and he said, "You were obviously experiencing some deep memory of being born." Aha, I thought, of course! That memory came to me as I sat down to write
this. Our daily habits make the world seem stable and recognizable, but if we really scrutinize each day, transitions-big and small-are as much a part of our rhythm as habits: the detour by construction,
unexpected surgery, vacation travel, graduation, even patting a new plant into the soil. Some of this resolves into the initial peace and tranquility of my dream, but I am mindful of the ways that transition is disruptive and untidy.
Thank you, then, for the ways that you have made my "birth" into community with OCC such a pleasure. My experience of your kindness, generosity, and assistance has been so moving and
revealing. I am very glad to be here, and I anticipate further conversation, collaboration, and adventures in faith with you And in the coming of summer, here's an invitation to hold close God's
proclamation and promise, "Behold, I make all things new." Keep in mind that this promise emerges from all the tumult of Revelations. So where there is change or disruption, may it our blessing to claim new birth. After all, there is no more capable or gentle midwife then our God.
Peace and grace to all of you,