Faith in a Fearful Time

Our Governor just signed yet another executive order, setting further parameters for what people can and can’t do.  The purpose is to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 which is replicating at a dramatic rate here in Massachusetts and throughout the nation and world.

Only essential services are open such as hospitals, gas stations, grocery stores and liquor stores.  The liquor stores in particular are doing a booming business as people try to cope.

Which of course raises the question, apart from self medicating, how best to manage the stress that we all feel?  Allow me to remind us of an ancient antidote to fear and uncertainty: Faith.

Faith is often taken for granted.  Some see Faith as a crutch, something to lean on, when you can’t make it on your own.  Others may see Faith as wishful thinking, what one cold war leader in the 20th century called ‘the opiate of the masses’.   Some suggest that Faith is a lazy substitute for scientific thought and reason.

Yet, for all these tropes, Faith remains.  Particularly during times of crisis.

Why?

For me, Faith is as real as the air I breathe.  When the illusion of control is taken away (such as now with COVID-19), what remains is Faith.  Friends in the recovery movement know this to be true.  They understand that their sobriety is based on the need for community and reliance on a Higher Power, according to each person’s understanding.

Faith is a choice. A stance.  A way of leaning into the uncertainty and fear of any given moment.  Rather than making one helpless, it empowers us to be engaged, to be involved.  At its best, Faith calls us to work for the common good.

The theologian William Sloan Coffin, put it this way:

I love the recklessness of faith, first you leap and then you grow wings.

Faith reminds us that we journey not alone, but in the company of that which is greater than oneself.  That which is greater, goes by many names: Wisdom/God/Spirit/Creator.

Cultivating Faith is simple and profound. Faith invites us to ‘take a leap’, to open oneself to an eternal  source of wisdom To let go of the illusion that we are in control and rather, that there is presence, a Source that wants us to be well.

To believe this, is of course, a choice.  Yet, if we say ‘yes’, when we open ourselves up, then all things become possible.  Hope and healing become real.  Just ask a friend or family member in recovery, they know this to be true.

This time in life, with COVID-19,  is a time full of uncertainty and questions. Yet, we journey not alone.  We journey in the company of one another and with that eternal Spirit, the source of all that is good lasting and true.

I believe that God knows us by name.  In my Christian tradition, I take to heart the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable among us, you do unto me.” Matthew 25: 31 – 46.

This is where I hang my spiritual hat.  These words give me hope and purpose.

What about you?  What do you believe?  Where do you turn for wisdom?

These are challenging times.  May you find a Faith that sustains you and offers hope.

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

Having Faith in a COVID-19 World

Each day, seemingly each hour, we receive news of escalating efforts by government leaders, both national and state, to contain and mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis. We worry about our health, livelihoods, savings and the well- being of loved ones and our community.

How does faith speak into the context of such a time?  Each of the world religions offer wisdom and sustenance for the challenges of real life, in real time.

Within my Christian tradition, I draw upon these words from John 20:19

On the evening of Easter, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of being arrested, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!’

Jesus entered into their fear and spoke a word of peace…a word of hope…a word of blessing.   So it is for us today. We too, caught up in our own worry, anxiousness, fear, are invited to open our hearts, minds and imagination to the infinite ways in which faith sustains, even as we seek to offer healing and hope to one another.

‘Peace be with you’.

Here’s few ideas for cultivating a faith life, regardless of which faith tradition you call home:

  • Find a prayer partner. Ask someone you are comfortable with, a person from your faith tradition , to keep you in their prayers. And, offer to do the same for that person. Be specific as to what you’d like them to keep in prayer. Once a week, via email, text or phone, let each other know how you’re doing. Allow your prayer life to evolve and grow.

  • Read a Scripture passage each day. Consider reading a Psalm a day or a chapter or two from the Gospel of Mark, or from a source of wisdom that resonates for you.

  • Lectio Divina (meditating on Scripture),  For Christians I suggest starting with 1 John 4: 7 – 21 (this also works with any sacred text and or, poetry). Once per day, select 3 or so verses. Read the same passage three times, interspersed with 5 minutes of silence. Focus on the gentle rhythm of your breath to help you relax into the silence. With each reading ask one question: 1) What word or phrase intrigues you; 2) what insight/wisdom do you hear; 3) what wisdom will you carry with you?

  • Take a mindful walk (in the woods, garden, neighborhood, beach). Walk in silence. Notice what interests you on your walk, notice what thoughts and feelings come to mind. Don’t judge, simply notice and give all this up to that great Source we call God/Creator/Spirit.

Each of these practices invites us to sense/hear/to drink from a deep reservoir of ancient spiritual wisdom, reminding us that we are not alone…that we are known, remembered, cherished.  A reminder that the uncertainty of any given moment, need not be the final word.

Do you believe this to be true?

“Peace be with you”.

May it be so.

 

 

 

The Patriotic Act of Dissent.

We live in unsettled times.  Our current political climate in the United States accentuates our differences.  President Trump’s attacks on four first term lawmakers of color (who have been critics of his Administration), has reopened a debate on the nature of patriotism and dissent.

A few days ago at a re-election rally in  North Carolina, Mr. Trump disparaged Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Muslim, born in Somalia and a naturalized citizen.  The crowd chanted, “Send her back!”  In his remarks, President Trump told the crowd: “You know what, if they don’t love it tell ’em to leave it.”

These comments brought me back to a popular phrase during the Nixon era: ‘America, love it or leave it’.

Much like today, the political climate then, accentuated differences.  Those who were with the President and his handling of the War in Vietnam and those who were against it.   There was no room for nuance.  You were ‘with us’ or ‘against us’.

It is a simple formula.  Agree with me or become the enemy.

Our Third President, Thomas Jefferson had a different view point. He not only made room for dissenting points of view, he saw it as essential for a functioning democracy.  He said:

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

History is full of those who confuse blind obedience with patriotism.  Despots world wide, use this formula to gin up fear and push alternative viewpoints into the shadows.

Thomas Jefferson would remind us, that dissent is not only our right but also our responsibility as citizens.

 

How then do we disagree during an emotional and divisive time?  How can we speak our understanding of truth and yet, as citizens, remain in relationship.  Is it even possible?

For an example, I return to the time of President Nixon, the Vietnam War and two friends, Norman and Fred.

Norman (my Dad) was a veteran of WW II.   He was a strong supporter of President Nixon and his policies in Vietnam.  Fred, was twenty years younger.  He served in the Navy during Vietnam and returned as a vocal opponent of that war and a critic of the president.

After the military, Fred graduated from Seminary and became Norman’s pastor.  Despite their differences, they became friends.  While recognizing their differences, they chose to also focus on what united them.

They found common ground in a shared faith, love of the Red Sox, passion for body surfing at the beach and digging for clams.  They were both loving Dads and each in their own way, great role models to their children.

Today, I think we need ‘less Donald’ and ‘more Norman and Fred’.

We can and must debate our differences. To do so, said Thomas Jefferson, is our patriotic duty.  Yet, we can do so, while remaining in relationship with one another.  It is not only possible but essential, to the well being of our nation.

A few questions to consider: Is there someone with a differing point of view that you can reach out to?  Is it possible to recognize differences and still find common ground?

I wish you well, as you seek to navigate the creative tension, that comes with being a citizen of this beautiful and diverse land.  A place we each call, home.

 

 

 

This 4th of July, Please, Don’t Look Away

Flags fly in my neighborhood.  Plans are being made for parades, cook outs and fire work displays.  I love it.  But this year, I’m conflicted.

I love my Country.  I love her ideals and aspirations: ‘Liberty and justice for all’.  I honor those who serve and have served, to defend the Constitution and the ideals and values for which we stand.  But this year, I’m conflicted.  

I love the iconic Statue of Liberty.  With this poem inscribed on her pedestal:

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

In this iconic poem, written by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish immigrant, she calls Lady Liberty, ‘Mother of Exiles’.  Each 4th of July, this line humbles and inspires me.  But this year, I’m conflicted.

I’m conflicted because our ideals and values are under siege.  Our President has imposed a policy that is anti immigrant, anti refugee.  Who makes applying for asylum (a right inscribed in our Constitution) as difficult as possible.

I’m conflicted because of undocumented immigrants housed in inhumane detention centers along our southern border. Housed in our name, by our government.  https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKCN1TW3J2

I’m conflicted because I can’t stop seeing or thinking about the photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month old daughter, Valeria, dead on the shores of the Rio Grande.   Father and daughter clutching one another.

They were refugees from El Salvador, hoping to apply legally, for asylum in the United States.  The international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico was closed.  They were told by authorities to wait several days (with hundreds already in the cue).   An intentional strategy by our government, to make applying for asylum as onerous as possible.

But America, and the promise it symbolizes seemed so close. Just across the Rio Grande.  So, they swam. They swam for their lives.  They swam in desperation.  They swam to their death.

Perhaps, like me, you’re also conflicted this 4th.  What then can we who love the United States do?

We can choose to not look away.

We can say ‘this is not ok, this is not who we are as Americans’.   We can find ways to ensure our voice is heard.  We can gather with a wide variety of organizations that advocate for the well being of our immigrant neighbors.  We can vote. We can march for justice.  We can advocate for a humane immigration policy.

This 4th of July, I’ll fly the flag.  And, with my fellow citizens, I’ll recommit to the timeless ideals and values which truly make America great.

May it be so.

 

The Unthinkable

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Contributing to the urgency, is Global Warming, and the resistance of the Trump Administration to accept its reality and causes.   As a result, policies in place to slow down and mitigate the impact of Global Warming, are being intentionally cut or ignored.https://youtu.be/B9K8jgUcZ00

The unthinkable has become our reality.   Short term economic advantage has trumped a responsibility for the well being of generations not yet born.

What are people of conscience to do?

First, it is important to support good science.  The overwhelming scientific community affirms that the  science is incontrovertible.   Global Warming is a reality and primarily caused by human actions.

Second, to collaborate with like minded organizations, local and global, that advocate for progressive governmental policies that limit carbon emissions and protect natural resources.  For example, on a local basis I’m a member of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, http://www.ipswichriver.org which protects the watershed I call home.  On a local and global level I support https://350.org founded by Bill McKibben to limit and ultimately begin to draw down the amount of carbon being emitted.

Third, vote for local and national politicians who will work to protect our environment.

Fourth, don’t give in to despair. Take the long view.  Advocating for the well being of our planet is a marathon, not a sprint.

Fifth, spend time in nature and with children.  Nature restores and inspires.  Spend time every week in the outdoors.  Savoring and soaking up the beauty and wonder of our natural world.  And, hang out with kids.  We are protecting the earth for the well being of children and generations of children to come.

Sixth, draw strength from a philosophical/spiritual foundation that fuels your passion.  John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and a mystic at heart said:

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
John Muir

Seven, hold on to a righteous anger.  We must on behalf of creation, challenge and confront the selfish impulses of political and economic forces.   We are to offer positive, sustainable alternatives to the selfish ambitions of the few who seek to gain the most, in the short term.

Eight, draw wisdom from your spiritual tradition.  As a person who draws from the well of the Judeo-Christian tradition,  I believe that the willful destruction of the natural world is a deep and profound expression of Sin. I believe these words to be true: ‘If you love the Creator, then take care of creation.’  To turn our back on this truth, is to turn our back on the Creator.

God saw all that was made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.  ~ Genesis 1: 31

What is your conscience calling you to do?  May we choose wisely. For the sake of generations to come.

 

The Road to Managua and Emmaus

I’ve been travelling to Managua for 30 years. That’s two pant sizes and a full head of hair ago. I continue to return, because Managua is a place of meeting for me.

In that poor, scattered city, I continually meet remarkable people.  Such as  Guillermo, who meets me at the airport with a warm smile and friendly banter; Dr. Woo who goes about her work as a physician, in a calm, caring manner; Juan Carlos, quietly ensuring that the cement is poured and projects completed.  I think too of Marissa from the States, who is volunteering for a year and has fallen in love with the people and culture of this beautiful and sometimes, tragic land.

For thirty years, as a pastor, I’ve been travelling to Nicaragua to support public health initiatives, most recently through AMOS: Health and Hope.  AMOS http://amoshealth.org is a faith based, community health care model, which empowers local communities, to leverage their wisdom and resources, for the purpose of improving their overall health.

Mother and children in the village of Apantillo

AMOS accompanies 70,000 of our most vulnerable neighbors, in 22 underserved rural communities and one urban clinic.  We train  local health care workers and committees, to immunize their children, provide clean water and monitor the health of those pregnant and with infants.

In these vulnerable communities, in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it is beautiful to see communities empowered to grow in health and hope. The good news, arises from the talent and commitment of neighbors watching out for one another.

In truth, I receive much more than anything I give.  The people of Nicaragua, remind me of two truths:  That we need Faith and we need each other.  That together, there is no challenge we can’t overcome.

In the Gospel of Luke 24, a story is told of the afternoon of Easter.  Two travelers are walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus.  They are talking about events of the day.  Rumors circulate that Jesus’ broken body had been stolen. They are distraught, hopeless.

As they walk, a stranger joins them and opens their eyes and hearts to a new possibility, that all is not lost. That hope remains.

That evening, they invite their new companion to join them for supper.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him (as Jesus); and he vanished from their sight.

People of faith, like me, tell this story 2000 years later, because it has legs.  It offers a timeless story of God’s initiative into the common place moments of life …  sharing a conversation and meal.

The road to Managua and Emmaus, remind me of a profound and simple truth.  That companions enter our lives, sometimes but for a moment.  To remind us that we do not walk alone.   To bless us and be on their way.

I’m just days back from my most recent visit to Nicaragua.  As before, I’ve met remarkable people.  People who open my eyes and expand my heart.  I’m nothing, if not grateful to my fellow travelers.

Worship in the Woods

As children, we know this to be true:  Nature inspires, fascinates and heals.   As adults, we can forget.  But the ‘child within us’, brings us back to this timeless truth.

I remember being with my daughter at age two and seeing her fascination, as she saw a  ‘wooly bear’ caterpillar for the first time.  She got down on all fours, close to the earth and watched amazed, as this fuzzy, black and orange striped caterpillar, inched ever so slowly, across our path.

Do you remember the last time you were as fully present, to what was right in front of you?  Do you remember the last time you allowed yourself to experience awe, wonder and such absolute delight?

This past Sunday, a group from the church I serve, travelled to Church of the Woods in Canterbury, NH.  This little church, offers a profound and compelling witness to the wider community. https://kairosearth.org/church-of-the-woods

Rooted in the Christian tradition, this congregation has no building.  Their Sanctuary, is an 112 acre forest, clear-cut several times over, and slowly being restored to a healthy forest.

Their pastor, is Steve Blackmer, a professional forester, who in mid-life became an Episcopal priest.  The vision for Church of the Woods, arose from Steve and kindred spirits, who believe that we connect more deeply to the Creator, as we immerse ourselves in the beauty and wisdom of creation.

The altar around which we gatherd, is a stump of an old growth tree, cut down years before.  Upon the altar is placed a chalice and plate, to hold the Eucharist, reminding us of the body and life-force of God’s own child, Jesus.

 

 

 

Now gathered at your table, remembering that we are one with our Creator and with all creation, we offer to you from your own Earth these gifts of the land, this bread and wine, and our own bodies – our own living sacrifice.

Fill us with your Breath, O God, opening our eyes and renewing us in your love.  Send our Spirit over this land and over the whole earth, making everything a new creation.

 

After the liturgy, we are invited to quietly walk the paths of the forest.  With open eyes and hearts we seek to awaken to what nature has to say.  Martin Luther, centuries ago, said: “The call of a bird, the sound of a brook, the wind against one’s face, is but a ‘little word’ to us, from the Creator.”

 

Reverent play at Church of the Woods, as the children lead us.

For an hour or so, on a late afternoon, we walk,   ages 5 – 75.   We walk, look and listen, closely, carefully.  We are mindful of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Listen, and your soul will live’.

 

As the sun begins to set, we conclude the liturgy with these words:

 

 

 

‘God of abundance, you have fed us with the bread of life and the cup of love.  You have reunited us with Christ, with the Earth and with one another.  Now, send us forth in the power of the Spirit that we may proclaim your love and continue forever in the risen life of Christ’.

May it be so.