Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to lots of food, the Macy's parade, and two dinners with family and friends. This week and last week, I've been reflecting often on what it looks like to be thankful in the world in which I live.

Last week's post about the Occupy movement got me thinking about so many in America, and in my own community, who struggle to pay for groceries with food stamps, have been unemployed for a long time, or whose homes were foreclosed. The Occupy protesters are standing up for these people. I wonder what their Thanksgivings will be like. Will they go to soup kitchens? Will they be getting help to have a dinner? Do they have a kitchen in which to cook? Harvard-Epworth UMC collects "turkey baskets" for the Salvation Army each year. We gather all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner, place them in a baking pan for the turkey, and deliver them to the Salvation Army. They say demand is up again this year. Last year, our Young Adult group made three turkey baskets. I hope folks in other places can get turkey baskets or something similar.

this luscious turkey pic is from

Even though our budget is tight, we were still able to afford Thanksgiving on our own. I know we should be thankful for that, but penny-pinching is never fun. It can be hard to be thankful when one worries about money. I have realized that thankfulness is a spiritual discipline. Even though I don't feel thankful sometimes, I am called to be thankful. One way we can be thankful is to be in solidarity with those in need. We can do this by praying for them, helping them on Thanksgiving if we can, and showing that we care when we volunteer among them.

These moments of remembrance echo the remembrance of Jesus in which we engage during the Eucharist. We are all called to live that remembrance of Jesus every day-"what you do unto the least of these, you do unto me." When we love others as Jesus did, we become more like Jesus each day.

How do you become a more thankful person in your faith journey?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Sanctuary

This week Jim Wallis over at Sojourners reflected in his blog on the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park. He suggests that if/ when there comes a time when the protesters have nowhere to go, local churches should step in. He suggests that this would promote intergenerational understanding and give protesters a rest from protesters' conflict with municipal authorities- and it would be an expression of the mission of the Church:

"Jesus is a popular guy among the thousands of Occupy sites around the world, and faith is a lively topic — even if religion is suspect as an institution of an unjust society. So as the young protesters are made to feel unwelcome by the municipal authorities in cities around the country, let us make them feel very genuinely welcomed in our faith communities. This could be a great opportunity for hospitality, for ministry, for solidarity, for faith conversation and, yes, for prophetic witness as churches and people of faith speak up for the economic justice that is at the heart of biblical faith and is an integral part of the gospel."
I think this is a bit of a tall order, but the mission of Jesus Christ is definitely a tall order! Going to Occupy Boston has really stretched me and required me to be more accepting of people who are very different than me. Most of them think differently than I do. But when I take the time to listen, I can usually find something in common with them. Local churches often show trepidation at taking in folks who are very different, even if it is just temporary, like the mobile homeless shelter in Ashland. While it can be uncomfortable at first, it is rewarding. Historically, the Church has been a place of rest and shelter, and that is a tradition we can proudly uphold, even if we are challenged. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus intended for us to be challenged when he called us to love our neighbors.

In a sense, we all need a rest from the injustices in our society. There are even those among us who are displaced, perhaps not in the sense of being refugees, but displaced in other ways by home foreclosure, job loss/ underemployment, or overwhelming debt. We need to care for one another and remember the heart of our faith, even if we live in areas far from any Occupies. I wonder what we can do to make our faith community a place of rest and shelter for all — for us and for those who are not (yet) part of our community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Whistle Down the Wind

This past weekend, I was back in Ashland for my annual meeting with
the Mid-Ohio District Committee on Ordained Ministry. Serendipitously,
AU was staging a revival of Whistle Down the Wind at the same time.  
Whistle was my very first musical; I was part of the '97 cast. There was
a reunion for both casts on Saturday, which I very much enjoyed. It was
wonderful to hear the music again, most of which I still remember! :o)  
Whistle is about children who are discovering faith in Jesus, and taking part in it was part of my formation as a person of faith.

Hearing the songs all over again 15 years later really gave me a new perspective on the show. For example, in "Funny, It Doesn't Feel Strange" and "Spider," Cathy and Nan sing about how they "just know" that the man in their barn is Jesus. Cathy compares having faith to knowing that the sky is blue without knowing why, or that fish swim without knowing how. I was a little surprised at this characterization of having faith. My perspective is very different. Living in Cambridge, MA surrounded by MIT and Harvard-types, I have learned firsthand how scientific inquiry can help us to better understand the world God made, and thus, understand more about who God is. Whistle uses the cynical, overprotective attitudes of the adult characters to show how a lack of open-mindedness can prevent us from seeing Jesus for who he is, but still, I think Whistle leans a bit too heavily on that theme. One must be open minded to learn, however, faith is neither blindly trusting without really thinking nor disbelieving unless the evidence fits into our narrow definition of "fact." In fact, blindly trusting in either "religion" or "fact" without critically thinking isn't really faith at all in my opinion. It's just a belief. I think there is a difference between holding a belief and truly having faith.

The other thing that really struck me about Whistle was how it dealt with theodicy, that is, the existence of evil in a world made by a loving God. In one scene, the girls' brother, Charles, leaves his kitten, Spider, with The Man/ Jesus and Spider winds up dead. The Man/ Jesus didn't realize he was supposed to take care of Spider. Charles asks him why he let the kitten die. In a sense, in this scene, humanity is asking God why God allows our loved ones to suffer and die. Is God being negligent, as if God doesn't notice that our loved ones are in distress? Or does God not care? Charles genuinely asks that question. Unfortunately, Cathy's answer about the color of the sky and the fish doesn't answer his question at all. It is really too bad that this question of the ages- a serious theological question! - is glossed over this way in Whistle. There are many ways that theologians have answered this doozy of a question throughout the ages. I wish Whistle could have engaged at least one of them rather than avoiding the hard questions.

One of the main things I learned about faith in college was that faith is about engaging these difficult questions, even when it is painful to confront them. If we ignore them, give pithy answers, and don't fully engage them, those persistent people in our lives who need to think it through will be turned off by the Christian faith. Critical thinking and biblical reflection aren't just for professional theologians in ivory towers; they're tools for all of us to make meaning in our lives. We owe it to ourselves to "go there," even if it is sometimes painful, because when we do, the waters of our faith will be deep and wide.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hope for the Church at Occupy Boston

This past weekend, my best friend, Joy, came to see me! It was a wonderful visit. :o) We played Just Dance 2 on our Wii, talked, cooked, ate, and went to Occupy Boston. On Saturday, a Nor'easter came to visit as well, for which I was not too pleased. Joy brought her car, so we loaded several things we had collected to donate into the car and made our way downtown. She is not a Boston driver, so the mayhem of downtown and multiple construction sites on the way made the trip a bit hectic.But once we had arrived and made our donations, we went to visit the Religion and Spirituality tent and met a new friend. 

Khepe-Ra is a community organizer and consultant who lives at OB four days per week. She was hosting in the tent when we arrived and struck up a conversation with us by asking us why we came. We explained that Jesus' command to love our neighbor and God's concern for those who are poor and suffering led us to participate. Khepe-Ra shared that she had done a lot of faith-based community organizing, and she felt frustrated with the Church. She was disappointed that church folk tend to only want to get involved when everyone in the movement believes the same things they do. She contrasted them with the folks she meets at OB, whom she says are genuinely trying to live out the kind of community they want America to be- even if they all hold different beliefs and come from different walks of life. Khepe-Ra said that OB is struggling with how to deal with the homeless members of the movement. They lived in Dewey Square first, so OB wants to include them and feed them, but they struggle with addictions, mental illness, and theft, which is hard on OB participants. We shared our experiences in the Church with her, and then we had a mini-Bible study and prayer time. By the time my alarm told me our meter had run out and it was time to go, Khepe-Ra declared that she had regained hope for the Church from our visit.

 the altar at the Faith and Spirituality Tent - image from the OB Wiki

As we dashed through the freezing rain to the car, I thought about what Khepe-Ra had said. Why is it that church folk are reticent to become involved in work in the community when the effort is interdenominational or interfaith? What is it about our mindset that fosters the need to have everyone agree with us? Shoot, half the time, United Methodists don't even agree with one another! Perhaps what holds us back is the notion that working with people who are different from us is an obstacle, and we perceive those who believe differently than we do as people who are different from us.

In the end, though, we're not so different from people of other denominations and faith traditions. We have the same needs. We all love our families. We all care deeply about our religion, and we try hard to follow it and so be made more holy. Despite our differences, we share similar values. Perhaps we need to move away from making sure everyone believes the same way to finding a core value or values that we share. That might help us collaborate with people in other denominations, in other faiths, and even in other parts of the United Methodist connection. I know, it's easier said than done. But I think it is worth a try. If OB can find a way to live with chronically homeless, addicted persons, I think we can find a way to live with one another.

Joy and I returned to my apartment, slipped into warm, dry clothes, and heated up some spiced apple cider. As I curled up under a blanket on the couch, I thought about all those who were Occupying through the cold rain and snow. While I enjoyed my comfortable home, they gave up their homes so that they can live out the kind of community they want America to become. How can I show the same dedication to my fellow Americans, even if I can't sleep in a tent or feed the homeless? How can we as the Church support our communities, even as our communities are different from us?