Risking Everything

Life is full of risk.  This feels particularly true in our uncertain and chaotic time.

The nature of risk is to calculate the best course of action.  Sometimes the path forward is clear.  Other times uncertain.  Sometimes we have good options. Other times not.

We awaken at 3 a.m. working our worry beads as we seek to discern the best path forward, as we struggle to understand (and accept) what we can control and what we can’t.  The concerns we carry are legion: health issues, well-being of loved ones, concern for institutions and causes we hold dear.   We worry over the right path to take.

In the midst of my worry, I came across this poem by David Whyte.  It is a call to ‘risk ourselves for the world…to hazard ourselves for the right thing’.

WE ARE HERE

We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds. And in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy along the way….

From ‘LONGING’ In CONSOLATIONS:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© 2015 David Whyte

The poem ends with this line ‘in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy along the way….’

Uncertainty is a given.  The willingness to risk for a cause we believe in is our choice. So is the choice to be happy in the midst of the uncertainty.

For me as a person of faith my ‘happiness’ is rooted in the belief that God who is the source and author of love is with usWith us when we work our worry beads at 3 a.m..  With us when the path forward is uncertain.   With us when we risk for a  cause we believe in.

There are no guarantees in life.  We know this to be true.

But it is also true that in the midst of life’s uncertainty is the comfort in knowing that we journey not alone.  We look around and  find others to travel with, to work with, to risk alongside.

And for people of faith like me, we find strength in knowing that we journey not alone. A belief that the God who created heaven and earth is with us and goes before us, preparing the ground for that which is life-giving.

The theologian William Sloan Coffin offered this:

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

It takes courage to take a leap of faith.  William Sloan Coffin’s metaphor promises that wings will be provided when we need them the most.  When we feel vulnerable, anxious, uncertain.

None of us knows what the future holds but faith reminds us that we journey not alone.  And this graces us with moments of happiness along the way. Even in times of uncertainty and risk.

That’s good enough for me.

 

 

Radical Availability

For some people believing in God doesn’t work.  One friend, a scientist, requires proof that can be objectively quantified and measured.  Another friend attended a Christian seminary.  For a few years he served as a chaplain on a college campus.  But it didn’t fit for him.  He wasn’t a theist.  The concept of a God that is involved and engages our human condition doesn’t fit for everyone.

But that’s not me.

Since I was a boy I have been graced with a deep-seated belief that God is real.  My belief can’t be measured or quantified.  It is based not so much on doctrinal teachings but an experience of that which my tradition calls Spirit.  While my understanding of God continues to evolve, my awareness of a sacred presence remains with me.

In Judaism (Genesis 1: 1,2) the Spirit of God is reflected in the word ruach which speaks of the breath of the Creator bringing the cosmos into being.  In the Gospels the word for Spirit is pneuma which like ruach reflects the essence of the Divine being breathed into creation, including you and me.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruach_(Kabbalah) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneuma

Why does the Spirit resonate for some of us and not for others?

What I have is my experience and the stories that others share with me.  Experiences that are sometimes subtle and other times ecstatic.  Witnessing to the movement of the Creator’s breath being breathed into ordinary lives.

Theologian Gerrit Scott Brown offers that receiving the gift of  Spirit requires an openness. What he calls ‘radical availability’:

Heeding God’s call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar.  It can demand our accumulated wealth and security or dare us to place our blessings, even our lives, at risk. It can also mean simply living where we are but with an entirely new set of priorities. In every case, our particular vocation in God’s service arises from our response to the basic call to radical availability.

This Sunday in my tradition is Pentecost.  That day when the Holy Spirit entered into a dispirited, fearful group of Jesus’ followers.  The Spirit filled and transformed them.  Transformed from fear to courage, from despair to hope.  (Acts 2: 1 – 13)

The Spirit filled and inspired these ordinary men and women to leave the safety of what they knew, for the promise of being both blessed and a blessing.

For me the Spirit is real.  As familiar as the air I breathe and the sun against my face.

I can’t objectively prove, measure or quantify this ethereal gift called Spirit. Nor do I feel the need to.  All I can do is share my story and say ‘thank you’ for this gift.

Why We Sing

For thirty plus Christmas’ I’ve led groups of carolers.  I can’t carry a tune.  But I understand the importance and value of singing.  Particularly when singing to those among us who are feeling vulnerable.

First Baptist in Beverly, sharing the love.

We sing in nursing homes, memory centers, jails, retirement communities and on street corners.  We sing to folk who have lost a loved one.  We sing to encourage neighbors wrestling with addiction.

We sing to remind people that they are not forgotten.  To remind ourselves and those we sing for,  that as dark as any given moment may seem, that the light will come.  To lift up and celebrate the beauty found in community and mutual care.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear these words:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Matthew quoting words from the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that the embodiment of this light is Jesus.  It is this light come to earth in the story of Jesus, which inspires us to sing, to hope, to persevere.

Christmas is often a difficult time for people.  We have so many expectations of what the season should be…family, gifts, comfort, joy, peace.

Yet the reality for many doesn’t match the expectations.   Many of us are estranged from family, struggle to pay the bills, wrestle with addiction, face health challenges or worry over the future our children and grandchildren will inherit.

There is a lot of darkness in the world.  This is true.

Yet our faith teaches that the light enters into the darkness.   Light which cannot be extinguished  or contained.

Each year the story of Christmas comes to remind us that light has come.  An unlikely light in the form of an infant, born to peasant parents, during a time of military occupation. This child born homeless, wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.

From this humble beginning a life-sustaining light has come.  A light which still burns.  A light that rests upon each woman, man, girl and boy.

This is why we sing.  To remind ourselves and those we sing to, that darkness never has the final word.  The light has come, once again.

Let us raise our voice in song.

 

 

Rise Up in Love

In my tradition Lent begins today. A six week season leading up to Easter.  A time to slow down and listen for the ways in which that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’ is speaking into our lives.  Sometimes the Spirit guides with a nudge, sometimes a slap upside the head.  Even so, we often miss the cues.

Many of us are over stimulated and over scheduled.  Certain politicians foster anxiety and division by telling us whom to fear.  In the wake of such busyness and noise…how do we tune in to the ways in which God speaks?  Is there a way to get in sync with God’s eternal rhythm?

Last week I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Nicaragua.  Our team of ten spent ten days living in Apontillo, a rural, isolated village in the District of Matagalpa.  Our team worked alongside local leaders installing 40 water filters and staffing a health fair where we screened for anemia in children.   We fell in love with the people.

We were hosted by AMOS: Health and Hope  http://www.amoshealth.org/ a faith-based mission that empowers communities to develop best practices to ensure basic health care for all.  Ada Luz serves as AMOS’ Health Promoter for her community. She is the only accessible health provider for her community of 1300.

On Mondays and Fridays she sees up to 40 patients who may walk three hours to see her.  The other days she walks the mountainous terrain to visit those pregnant, newborns or those in poor health.  She’s always on call for an emergency.

It was humbling and inspiring to see how Ada Luz with the support of her community take care of each other.  A sense that ‘we are in this together’.

Such a witness is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: 34 – 40, in response to a question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus responds: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In Apontillo we had fewer distractions…no cell reception, no WiFi, no politicians and  cable news chumming the waters of fear.  Rather, we had time to listen, pray, reflect on Scripture and be inspired by the humble service of people like Ada Luz.

Now back in the ‘real world’,  I want to hold onto what I learned and the neighborly rhythm we experienced in Nicaragua.  I want to spend less time being fearful and more time being generous.  Less time excluding and more time including. To hold onto the eternal truth that what  truly matters is ‘love’.

photo-nica-team-2017
Nicaragua Mission Team with village friends and Ada Luz (in center wearing white).

Maybe like me, you are a follower of Christ.  Maybe not.  But we all need time to slow down.  To look around and know that we’re not really all that different.

For me the Season of Lent reminds us to be mindful, to focus on what truly matters.  To put into practice that which Jesus says is foundational for how to live and be.

Stories from the March: Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us

The Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets.  They marched in Washington D.C and in cities large and small across the nation (and around the world).  They marched with the message that ours is a nation of inclusion and that the moral health of our nation is measured by how we treat one another, particularly those who are most vulnerable. 

Each person who marched has their own story.  Below in two installments is a reflection by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers.  I invite you to read and  get involved.

Installment 1: In Which We Arrive in Washington

 I looked at my suitcase, giving it one last check to make sure I had everything. Full raingear, ski pants, ski jacket, mittens, emergency rain ponchos, first aid kit, extra wool socks, portable phone charger, bandana, shirts with feminist messages on them – all there. Granola bars, water bottle, small bag to carry with me – also there. I looked by the door where things were piled up and ready to go. Large white foamcore board, markers, paints, and paintbrushes were all set. I was headed to the Women’s March on Washington, and I wanted to be prepared for anything.

The next morning, following our 12 hour drive traffic-filled (all marchers!) to Maryland, my friend Elisabeth and I woke to an unseasonably warm day (I didn’t need any of my emergency supplies!) and headed out. We climbed into the hotel’s metro shuttle, already filled with other women of all ages, and it took us to the station, where we hopped on a train headed into D.C. It was filled with women and men of all ages and from all over the country and of all races and with diverse stories – all headed to the March.

The train was crowded, but the atmosphere was warm and celebratory. People looked one another in the eye. They connected. They spoke with warmth. We were there, together, for a shared purpose. We were there to show the new administration that, together, we would stand up and fight for women’s rights, for LGBTQIA rights, for an end to racism and

photo-womens-march-2
Elisabeth and Julie

systemic oppression, for the environment, for our children, for our public schools, and for peace and justice for all people.

 

The metro stopped at Judiciary Square. Elisabeth and I got off, along with thousands of our closest friends. We could not do much more than get off, however – the metro platform outside the train was filled with those headed to the march. In both directions, along the platform and up the stairs toward street level, all we would see were other people, holding signs, linking arms, ready to stand up, ready to show the beautiful and diverse face of this nation to its new leader. We were ready to show the new administration what democracy looks like; ready to show the President that America’s diversity is her strength.

A cheer suddenly rolled along the crowd as we waited to ascend into the light of day. Like a rumble of thunder coming over a plain, it started somewhere in the distance of that metro station and it roared over us, growing steadily as more voices joined in. People clapped. And cheered. We were ready.

I looked ahead of me, and a sign carried by another woman caught my eye. “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” it read.


photo-womens-march-1Now, if you, like me, are a Hamilton fan http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com you will recognize that as a line from the song “The Story of Tonight.” I was struck by the poignant message – and by the promise – of that sign. It spoke of a movement, not just a moment (more Hamilton references!). It spoke of a commitment to stand up, to speak out, to fight for our planet and for its people, for our sisters and brothers, for our children, that would extend far beyond that one Saturday.

“Raise a glass to freedom,” Hamilton and his friends sing in that song. “Something they can never take away no matter what they tell you.” Those words echoed in my head as we climbed the stairs toward the street level, following the woman carrying the sign. I felt tears well in my eyes as I felt the power and poignancy of that moment – that moment when I, along with millions of others all around the nation, were taking to the streets to insist that freedom is, indeed, something that can never be taken away; to insist that we the people are stronger than fear, stronger than hate, stronger than division, stronger than executive orders designed to turn back the clock and strip us of our rights.

“Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” I thought, as we stepped out, blinking, into the daylight.

Installment 2: In Which We March to follow.

 

 

Being a Dad

25 years ago I became a Dad.  Prior to having a child I was somewhat ambivalent about fatherhood.  My own family of origin had left some wounds that I didn’t want to pass on to the next generation.

I knew however that I had married a woman who would be a great mom. I figured she’d compensate for the baggage I’d bring.  In time Tricia became pregnant and we spent those nine months getting ready, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

When our daughter was born I was all in.  Holding her for the first time I was not prepared for the emotional bond that I felt.  This infant with scrunched face and mottled skin was ours.  I offered a silent prayer asking for divine help in being the best dad I could be.

In time we had two daughters.  I was a guy who grew up with a brother. What did I know about raising daughters?

My wife Tricia told me that there were several key things that daughters  need from their Dad: To tell them that they are beautiful, strong, smart and can achieve anything they set their hearts to.  I would add to the list:  to show up, to be available, to be their advocate and to love their mother.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do.

Have I made mistakes?  Many.  Just ask my family.

But I also made many intentional choices to be a healthy Dad.  I’ve tried to pass along positive lessons from my family of origin and intentionally with the help of a therapist sought to leave some baggage behind.

One of the best things I did was to join a Dad Support Group, once when our girls were little and again when they were teenagers.  Each time I relied upon the wisdom of other fathers who were each trying to be the best, most loving dad they could be.  Together we pooled our wisdom, learned from our mistakes, laughed with and prayed for one another. I know I’m a better father because of these men.

My take away from being a dad is to say that each of us as Dads and Moms do the best we can.  None of us is perfect and we need to be gracious with ourselves, our spouse and our kids.

Above all we need to keep showing up and to the best of our ability be the most loving parent we can be.

Now our daughters are 25 and 22.

photo of Harrop Family

I look at the choices they’ve made and the courage they’ve shown and find that they regularly inspire me. All these years later, since I first held them and looked into their scrunched faces, I’m still amazed by the depth of the emotional bond I feel.

 

From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

In the previous blog we explored how our world is governed by the Economy of Scarcity. A scarcity mindset constricts the mind, imagination and heart. Scarcity teaches that there is only so much to go around and we must protect what is yours.

Desperate refugees fleeing civil war and grinding poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and northern Africa are fleeing in record numbers to the gates of Europe. The response of the Hungarian government is a grim example of the scarcity mindset at work. That government has set up razor wire barriers and passed a law criminalizing any refugee who seeks to pass through.

Refugees-Hungarian-border-2015

Is there an alternative to scarcity thinking? Yes. The answer is found in an ancient story. Whether you take the story literally or metaphorically there are lessons to be had.

2000 years ago a healer and prophet named Jesus brought about a miracle. A crowd of 5000 had gathered to hear him. Late in the day his disciples urged Jesus to disperse the crowd so they could forage for food. Instead, Jesus had the crowd break into companies of 50 and 100. Then Jesus took his disciples scarce provisions, 5 loaves and two fish and offered everything he had to the crowd.

At first glance this seems like a hopeless and reckless gesture. How do you feed so many with so little?

Parker Palmer the theologian suggests that this intentional act of vulnerability led to the miracle. Moved by the generosity and selflessness of Jesus and his disciples, the crowd which had hidden away food of their own, began to share with others.

The miracle was that those who had nothing now had enough. Those who had much and a little had enough. And, points out Palmer, by breaking the vast crowd into companies of 50 and 100 it was no longer as easy to ignore or refuse to help. Now the person in need had a name, a story.

This is called the Gospel of Abundance. Translated to today’s refugee crisis, nations of the world have the capacity to solve this crisis. We have the resources to feed and place those who are fleeing war and poverty. We have the resources and capacity to solve the conditions that have led to the wars and poverty.

The Gospel of Abundance tells us that there is an alternative to fear which fuels scarcity thinking. When we act abundantly we make a series of choices: We choose to not give in to fear. We choose to take a risk and share what we have. We choose to open our hearts, minds and imagination to new ways of thinking, new ways of partnering to solve seemingly intractable problems.

Do we see examples of abundance at work? Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Jordan, Turkey have been on the front lines for many months and in some cases for years in housing and rescuing refugees. Germany has committed to receiving and housing up to 800,000 refugees in 2015 at a cost of 6.6 billion dollars.

Welcoming refugees

Such examples of abundance offers an example to the United States. My country has stood largely on the side lines and only recently agreed to receive 10,000 Syrians at an undetermined rate. We are capable of doing so much more.

As a pastor I see local communities of faith being capable of getting involved and making a difference. A committee in the church I serve is researching ways to lobby our elected officials to make our nation more generous. One step is to lobby for ‘The Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act’, now before Congress. We’re also looking into ways to partner and help house refugee families.

Imagine what happens when every church, synagogue, mosque, temple, tribe, city and nation is led by the Gospel of Abundance. 2000 years ago a prophet and healer named Jesus made a choice not to be governed by fear or scarcity. The result was a miracle. That same capacity for the miraculous is found within you and me and the communities we belong to. Don’t you think its time for another miracle?