Messages of Hope

Month: August 2020

‘Unprecedented Hope’

Published / by Sandy

Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in the U.S. She was recently asked to give a talk on ‘Unprecedented Hope’, and what follows below is a mini-sermon from that talk (originally published here on July 27, 2020) in the context of her personal life journey and the events unfolding in the U.S now. Scroll to the end for the video of Nadia presenting this reflection.

First, a reading from Romans: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. -Romans 8

1.   Labor Pains. As a woman who herself has groaned in labor pains, I love – like, I adore this passage from Romans. I was in labor for 44 hours with my first child; a relentless freight train of pain that just got progressively more intense.  I’m not sure “groaning” is a primal enough word for the sounds I made. To be honest, I was scared and overwhelmed …but the one thing that kept me from completely going over the edge was to think about, despite how weird it all felt, how abjectly normal birth actually is. I kept repeating to myself “Every woman. Every woman.” If every woman throughout history who has birthed a child has ridden this freight train then I can too. Somehow I had to reach back to my fore-sisters and grasp on to their fortitude, their strength, their resiliency. Had I been the only one to ever experience childbirth I would have given up, sure I couldn’t possible survive it. 

2.   Ordination. I was 39 years old when I knelt in front of the bishop in the stone chancel of a beautiful old church as I made some promises. Images of the saints, made from tiny pieces of stained glass, looked down as I vowed to pray and study the scriptures, to bear the burdens and keep the confidences of those I served. And eventually I was asked to make my favorite ordination vow: I promised to not offer “illusory hope”.
Then the bishop and the other clergy gathered around and laid their hands on me, as clergy had laid hands on them at their ordinations by they who had had the same done to them at their ordinations and so on. Merging us all with those saints robbed in colored light, into something strong enough to allow me to answer “I will, and I ask God to help and guide me”
I think illusory hope in that moment of my ordination would have been to cheerfully claim, based on my own feelings or my own history or my own virtues  that yes, I could keep these promises myself. But realhope came from the strength of all the women who had fought for that moment but never saw one of their own, real hope came from the martyrs and the suffragettes and the really old prayers spoken by generations of the faithful.
Somehow I had to reach back and grasp on to the succession of the apostles who came before me. Had I been the only one to ever experience ordination I would have given up, sure I couldn’t possible fulfil it.

3.    Pregnancy. Ingrid Rassmusen is the pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis – the church that happens to be directly across the street from the police precinct that was burned down in protest of George Floyd’s murder. The day after it burned Ingrid posted a video (see below) showing us the scene around her church – police in riot gear, smoke rising, helicopters overhead. A few minutes into the video you realize Pastor Ingrid is moving a little slowly because she is 8 months pregnant. Before the video ends she’s in tears, both about her community burnt down around her, but more so about the generational pain and injustice that caused the upheaval – and in a halting voice she reminded us of Harlem the Langston Hughes poem …that what happens to a dream deferred is that it explodes. Her congregation, by the way has been transformed into a massive food bank and community organizing center and is feeding and providing services to their community in profound and needed ways as they rebuild. I think I saw the real thing in that video – like, actual hope. It was a hope of the Christian variety because it was the kind of hope that still stands after being drudged through good Friday first. I’ve thought about her so much recently. Her baby nearly ready to be born as helicopters circled above Minneapolis, Minnesota.

4.   Death. Over 130,000 Americans have died from COVID in the last few months. Maybe one or more of them were people you yourself loved. One of those who passed was Michael Van Myers. Mike served as a minister at my parent’s church of Christ for 47 years including in the mid-eighties when, God bless him, I was in his youth group. That day in the Winter of 2008, when I knelt and promised not to offer people illusory hope, I was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor…. but the church I was raised in doesn’t allow for such things. Women are still not permitted to preach in most of those church, although many have been called. Mike and I still saw each other a few times a year and we shared a deep love and affection for each other. And he would tell me that he was proud of me and my work.  When it was clear that Mike was not going to make it, and was near to death, hundreds of his friends and parishioners gathered in the parking lot circling the hospital, socially distanced and in masks and they sang hymns while he passed from this life to the next. The human eye could not see it, but my friend Mike was already pulled way too deeply into the arms of his loving savior to bother with hope in the form of wishful thinking. When he passed, surrounded by the hymns of his church, Mike reached forward to the great cloud of witnesses in which he now resides.

5.    Unprecedented Hope. So… all of that is to say, I realized this week that my struggle with knowing what to say about unprecedented hope was not about the hope part after all – it was about the unprecedented part. Because for it to be a hope on which I can truly rely, it has to be a hope for which there is indeed a precedent. It has to be a hope that has been worn smooth by the tears and prayers and struggle of our ancestors in faith, through Sarah’s laughter, and Hagar’s steps and Mary’s labor. For it to be a hope in which I can trust, it can’t be unprecedented. It must be already established in those who came before me. By Martin Luther and Fannie Lou Hamer and Marsha P Johnson. Those who have come before us have already lived through pandemics and social upheaval and loss and grief and death and labor pains. Which means we are never alone in our struggles. That has never mattered more to me than it does now. 

By the way, a few days ago Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen had her baby. Due to COVID, she had to do it without her husband present, but she said that she felt surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. They named him Lars. He was born on the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Lutheran church (U.S.). 

So, I guess I just want to say that no matter what our lives look like in this moment, that something stronger, deeper and more beautiful is moving around us, sweeping us and all those who came before us, and all who will follow, up into God’s really big story. 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From our first breath to our last and beyond. Amen.

(Nadia has podcasts under the name of Confessionals. She is the author of three New York Times bestsellers – Shameless, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people, and Pastrix).

Posted by Ingrid C. A. Rasmussen on Friday, 29 May 2020
Rev Ingrid Rassmusen on Facebook Live, walking in the neighbourhood around her church in South Minneapolis in the aftermath of riots after George Floyd’s death

Our pandemic slowdown has been good for the planet

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Our pandemic slowdown has been good for the planet

What if we kept it going?

by O’neil Van Horn

As COVID-19 sweeps disastrously through the United States and elsewhere, some communities have taken action in a way that just a few months ago might have seemed unimaginable: slowing down, doing less. In order to flatten the curve, people with the privilege to do so have stayed home from work, school, and events. They have slowed down, compelled to find new rhythms and different patterns for life.

This has all happened at the very same time that our planetary home is, in Greta Thunberg’s words, on fire.

Anthropogenic—or human-caused—climate change is the result of an economic model that suggests that limitless growth is possible despite the very real ecological limits our planet presents. This perspective encourages accelerating, streamlining, and generally increasing production—all for the sake of profit, and with little concern for the earth.

A globalized economic system means that the ground beneath my feet no longer needs to provide for my needs. I don’t need to grow my food, assuming I even have the space to do so, because that’s already being done elsewhere. It matters not if this ground has been contaminated or rendered infertile by lead poisoning, coal ash pollution, or nuclear radiation, because elsewhere the land is still productive and the environment is pure.

There is a double fallacy here: the delusion that the land here need not be cared for because land will be cared for elsewhere and the misconception that the environment is somehow separate from the human, rather than that with which we are suffused and intimately entangled.

Global capitalism can only function through exploitation, leaving no room for nurture, for care. This is because this system is undergirded by a shared logic, rendering both people and the planet into commodities to be consumed in the forms of labor and natural resources.

Some have suggested that humans themselves are the problem. In fact elitism and exploitation constitute the cause. The wealthiest few are the most responsible. Neither climate change nor the current pandemic happened by chance. Both are the result of denial, of a refusal to believe scientists, of a prioritization of wealth for a few as opposed to wellness for many. And in both cases, the people least responsible—poor folks, communities of color, the unhoused, the incarcerated—bear the brunt of the burden.

This doesn’t mean that you and I are off the hook. It means that we’re tasked with using whatever agency we possess to imagine and cocreate communal structures of radical equity, relentless compassion, and just accountability. If we want the planet to thrive as it once did, different rhythms and patterns are necessary. Some of these rhythms and patterns will need to be both remembered and created. These ways of life will likely need to be slower than the ones we are used to living—at least for those of us in the industrialized Global North.

This pandemic is not a blessing in disguise; it’s a tragedy. Still, I wonder what this moment, which has disturbed our habits and undermined our routines, might have to teach us. What might we learn from this slowing down?

In my work as an educator seeking to combat climate injustice, I’ve encountered all sorts of obstacles. One of the major ones is this: sustainable modes of living, for those with the privilege and resources to enact them, are often not pleasurable.

This raises two important questions: Who has access to these resources? And, for those who do have access, why isn’t sustainable living, in its most common forms, pleasurable? As queer ecologist Catriona Sandilands puts it, “it is not only that abundant pleasure is virtually absent in (most) ecological discourse, but that it is often understood as downright opposed to ecological principles.”

“The problem with this sort of ethical appeal,” adds feminist philosopher Stacy Alaimo, “is that it is hardly appealing.”

Making these changes is hardly appealing because it demands much time and effort—and because it requires us not only to rid ourselves of old pleasures but also to labor to find new ones. For those with access to resources, the quickness of a flight to some alluring destination is, on the surface, far more pleasurable than the slowness of staying close to home. But with this quickness comes great harm: vast emissions, sickening waste, clamorous noise. Slowing down helps us see the injustice that had yet remained unseen.

Many of our ordinary ways of finding pleasure in life have not been available lately. Parks have been closed, concerts canceled, theaters shuttered, friends quarantined. And none of these losses of pleasure even begins to convey the grief and trauma that accompany illness and death. To maintain social distance forces different cadences of life and novel opportunities to endeavor to find pleasure. Indeed, this moment affords—if not imposes—a contemplative pause to re­consider the networks of capitalistic consumption in which we find ourselves and from which we have derived pleasure.

It may yet be the case, paradoxically, that seeking justice in and for this world can be realized as we do less, as we slow down—as we not only refrain from but reject the cycles of consumption so often tied to our quick and ever-quickening lives. Indeed, this crisis may carve space for critical reflection on what had yet gone unnoticed in our lives. Slowing down presents new opportunities to seek pleasure in smaller, simpler ways: mending, baking, writing, storytelling, creating, listening.

Slowing down augments our ca­pacity to notice new ways of living, new connections yet to be made, yet to be regenerated. To notice is to be curious, to abide, to become attentive to, to demonstrate compassion toward. Cultural theorist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing offers the phrase “arts of noticing” to describe this careful process of tending to the precarious, of cultivating life amid the rubble of an uncertain world. Finding new pleasures is predicated on a capacity to notice—the quiet, the slow, the still, the unheard, the silenced. As Tsing writes, “only an appreciation of current precarity as an earthwide condition allows us to notice this—the situation of our world.”

To attend to the precarious, to the vulnerable, carries with it a spiritual depth that resonates deeply with the Christian tradition. What good would the Israelites’ cries have been had the Divine not heard, not noticed? What if Elijah had not listened for that voice that met him at the entrance of the cave? Could the good Samaritan have been good without first noticing a man in anguish alongside the road? Could the faithful woman who reached out for Jesus’ cloak have been healed had he not noticed her touch?

To notice is the first step toward embodying compassion, toward enacting justice. One cannot care for what one has yet to notice; to love is not to trample over but to notice and to tend.

We may yet emerge from our social distance, however soon or late, with reshaped perspectives on meaningful modes of living, on models for justice-seeking community. What might we learn from the strange ways in which slowness may be a resolution to the fast-moving nature of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis? The fullness of these lessons is still unknown, still to come.

But we might begin by noticing: noticing the ways in which our lives intersect with and participate in systems of injustice, noticing the ways in which our communities are caught up in structures that disempower and harm, noticing opportunities to divest from and dismantle these structures. It is our responsibility to craft communal structures that better notice and account for those who’ve slipped through the cracks, who’ve been forced to the margins. And it is our responsibility to do so not as saviors but as coconspirators with those who have been cast aside, those whose cries of “I can’t breathe” echo in the streets.

And to notice requires that we slow down whenever possible. Perhaps this slowing down might just be what’s needed in this moment to create a bit of shalom in our midst.

O’neil Van Horn is a PhD candidate in theological and philosophical studies in religion at Drew University. 

This article was posted on 5 august 2020 at — https://www.christiancentury.org/article/opinion/our-pandemic-slowdown-has-been-good-planet

A version of this article appears in the print edition of ‘The Christian Century’ under the title “Global slowdown.”

Being Peaceful Change

Published / by Sandy
Image: Donald Giannatti, https://unsplash.com/photos/MeMbExzoyF8

First published on Richard Rohr’s daily reflections on 26 July 2020

Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. (Francis of Assisi)

Generations of Christians seem to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven. We hardly believed Jesus could have meant for us to turn the other cheek here and now. It took Gandhi, a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), drawing from Gandhi’s writings and example, brought nonviolence to the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The nonviolence of Gandhi, like that of the civil rights activists, affirmed a unity of peaceful ends and means. Thomas Merton, reflecting on Gandhi’s nonviolence, wrote:
Non-violence was not simply a political tactic which was supremely useful and efficacious in liberating his people from foreign rule . . . the spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. The whole Gandhian concept of non-violent action . . . is incomprehensible if it is thought to be a means of achieving unity rather than as the fruit of inner unity already achieved. [1]

Training in nonviolence helps us admit that our secret inner attitudes are often cruel, attacking, judgmental, and harsh. The ego seems to find its energy precisely by having something to oppose, fix, or change. When the mind can judge something to be inferior, we feel superior. We must recognize our constant tendency toward negating reality, resisting it, opposing it, and attacking it on the level of our mind. This is the universal addiction.

Authentic spirituality is always first about you – about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. It’s about getting your own who right. Who is it that is doing the perceiving? Is it your illusory, separate, false self; or is it your True Self, who you are in God?

If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. . . .  A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world. (Resmaa Menakem)

As Thomas Keating said:
We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not [love as] sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.

This is also marvellously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; that’s what ahimsa [the Hindu principle of nonviolence out of respect for all living things] really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek [Matthew 5:39]. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies [through force and violence], you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded. [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,” introduction to Gandhi on Non-violence: Selected Texts from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Non-violence in Peace and War (New Directions: ©1964, 1965), 6.
[2] Thomas Keating, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer, disc 5 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Loveed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 125-126.
Epigraph: Paraphrase of Francis’ words to the first friars, “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

Prayers for Beirut

Published / by Sandy

On Tuesday 4th of August 2020 an explosion shook Beirut and all of Lebanon. The tremor of the explosion was felt in Cyprus, some 240Km away. Everything within a 10 Km radius was damaged, houses, buildings, shops, cars, etc. The explosion was a chemical one and what followed was a toxic pollution of the air. Churches, mosques, schools, hospitals in addition to homes and shops in the area were all destroyed. The affected area is home to almost 1 million people, in one of the denser population areas in Lebanon. Over 135 people have been killed and over 5,000 people injured. This is not counting the people who have not yet been found.
Up to one in four people living in Lebanon are refugees; people from Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and many other places. In the hours after the massive explosion, Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in and on the outskirts of Beirut leapt into action, offering their homes and their blood to those in need.

Beirut tragedy August 2020
Holy One of mercy and peace,
as you walked across the stormy sea
so long ago, walk in the rubble
of your great city Beirut.
Hold tenderly all who mourn today
loved ones who have died
and those who are waiting
for identifications,
and for those who are missing
to be found.
Be among those who care
for the wounded,
and those who try to cope
with this catastrophe
in the midst of the struggle
ongoing with covid-19.
In the chaos of broken buildings
and the aftermath
of the terrible rain of glass,
give moments of hope,
the welcome kindness of neighbors
and the generosity of the world.
To the re-construction
of the city itself, bring courage
and to the equally long
reconstruction
of the confidence of people
so de-stabilized, bring peace,
for we pray,
in all your holy names. Amen.
(Source: Maren Tirabassi, Gifts in Open Hands)

Prayer for Beirut

God of darkness and light,
Beirut waits in darkness longing for your light.
In the centre of darkness, rekindle hope.
As we pray for families to be reunited,
Let your Spirit be with us.
As we pray for the injured to be healed,
Let your Spirit be with us.
As we pray for those who have lost loved ones,
Let your Spirit be with us.
As we pray for homes to be rebuilt,
Let your Spirit be with us.
God of creation,
You create the Cedars of Lebanon and give them their majesty to withstand all tribulations for your own pleasure. You exalt them to represent eternity, strength, and endurance. Yet we have cut them down and destroyed them for our own personal pleasures. As we remember the Cedars of Lebanon, we also remember the people of Lebanon in their diversity of cultures and faith.
We pray for your healing where there is injury,
We pray for your comfort where there is death,
We pray for your hope where there is despair,
We pray for your light where there is darkness,
We pray for your joy where there is sadness and
We pray for your love where this hatred.
God of Love,
Welcome into your arms the victims of the explosion in Beirut:
Those who have lost their homes, those who have been injured and those who have lost loved ones.
Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.
God of explosions and pollution,
Out of the depths we call to you; in the face of incomprehensible anguish and sorrow, we lift the cries of our distress and implore you to show mercy upon those who are suffering from the destruction of the explosion in Beirut and the ensuing chemical pollution. Give protection and wisdom to emergency service personnel, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and all those who assist in elevating the pain and suffering of those affected. Encourage our generosity to those who suffer loss. In your mercy restore your creation and heal our land.
We pray for those who have been injured in body, mind or spirit and ask you to heal them;
We pray
for those who are left homeless and wandering,
for those who breath the toxic air,
for those who are devastated,
and for families torn asunder and ask you to shelter them,
Strengthen the hands and hearts of those who assist in relief efforts
Grant us all firm resolve to stand with our neighbours who are in need, to love them and to offer our generous support of them in this their time of trouble.
So, guide and bless your people,
that we may enjoy the fruits of the earth
and give you thanks with grateful hearts,
Father, we pray that you will bless us
with the gift of strength when endurance is needed,
for imagination and initiative when action is called for,
for wisdom in times of confusion,
for compassion for those who suffer,
for faith in Christ’s saving action,
for hope when the situation seems desperate
and for charity in all things. Amen.
(Source: Levon Kardashian, Theoblogy)

Lord, you are always with us,
Our shelter in the midst of every tragedy.
In the quiet and the storm you surround us,
Your love stays closer than a friend.
In this time of devastations and disaster be with all who are vulnerable.
Hold them close as they grieve for loved ones lost and fear for those still buried.
Place your arms around each family in their shock and grief.
Guide those that respond and keep them safe.
Be with rescuers and firemen and emergency crews,
Be with medical workers,
Be with all who reach out to neighbours with your love and compassion.
Comfort and protect them in the midst of danger and of strife.
Provide food, and shelter and care for all who have been displaced.
God of all life, you are always close to the brokenhearted,
May all find comfort in the embrace of your wings.
(Source: Christine Sine, GodspaceLight)

A prayer for Beirut 
Merciful and compassionate God,
our hearts break and our prayers rise up
for the people of Beirut and all of Lebanon.
Give comfort, peace, strength, and hope
to all who mourn the dead
and draw near to all those suffering injuries
with healing and hope, skilled care and comforting presence.
Give guidance to public officials,
perseverance to first responders and healthcare personnel,
and compassionate community support among neighbors.
Raise up help and support from global partners
to meet the needs now and in the months to come.
Keep safe all who work in the ruins and destruction.
Uphold reporters and all who tell the stories
in the days and weeks to come
with the patience and care they need for listening,
the curiosity and empathy for perceiving,
and the knowledge and wisdom to ask questions
that reveal the truth that needs to be told.
Hold this place and all its people
in your great and abundant compassion and mercy.
Open our eyes and the eyes of the world
to see your hidden presence revealed
in the rubble of buildings and lives shattered by destruction and death. Hear the cries of the suffering and the laments of the distraught.
Hear us as we pray, Lord in your mercy.
(Source: Robert Franek)

Prayer for the people of Beirut
Light of new hope, God of refuge,
hear our prayer
as we hold the people of Beirut
in our hearts at this time.
Fill us with compassion
and move us to reach out in love.
In your mercy,
bring comfort to those who mourn,
healing to those who are injured,
shelter to those who are homeless
sustenance to those who hunger.
Give strength to those who are working
to rebuild shattered lives,
and protect those who are vulnerable
especially in a time of coronavirus.
Lead us in your ways
so that together we may bring
the light of new hope
wherever there is destruction and despair.
We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.
(Source: Regional Council of Churches, Atlanta)