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Spiritual Formation at the Conference Level or – “What’s up with Lay Academy?”

by Karen Richter  

A small but tenacious group has continued thinking and dreaming and talking about lay theological education in the Southwest Conference. Julie McCurdy from the Prescott congregation and I attended the Regional Theological Education Consortium gathering in Oberlin, Ohio last fall. We had an opportunity to see what other groups are doing regarding lay education, preparation for authorization, alternatives to traditional seminaries, and support for formation in local congregations.

Since November, conversations have continued and lots LOTS of questions have come about…

  • What formation experiences are best kept in the context of the local congregation?
  • What’s the purpose (mission, goals, etc.) of lay formation at the conference level?
  • What are other organizations doing and how can we participate in those efforts in a mutually beneficial way?
  • How can the conference best support “everyday” formation of laity in our congregations?
  • What are the various needs for discernment resources and skills in different settings?
  • What are we hearing about what people need? What do people need that maybe they’re not yet aware of?

As I’ve thought and daydreamed, I have found it helpful to make some little piles – metaphorically tossing ideas and concepts into where-does-this-happen groups.

In the “Local Church” pile, I’ve put

  • Discipleship
  • Navigating culture as a person of faith and conscience
  • Discernment and calling (“what work in the world is mine to do?”)
  • Interpersonal and family support networks
  • Values clarification

In the “Southwest Conference / Middle Judicatory” pile, I’ve put

  • Navigating culture as a congregation/institution/denomination
  • New church forms and ways of being church together, sometimes called Church 3.0
  • Discernment around authorization (“in what way am I called to authorized ministry?”)
  • Boundary training
  • Leadership development for congregation and the conference
  • Available resources for staff and volunteers managing formation at local churches

What’s left that doesn’t have an easily defined pile?

  • Nonviolent direct action training and mentoring
  • Church history
  • Mid-level theology (that broad territory between Sunday School and seminary)
  • Meditation and spiritual practices beyond the basics
  • Interfaith, ecumenical, and multiple religious belonging conversations

What have I left out? Where do you see your own needs reflected in these piles, if anywhere? Where is energy around spiritual formation and lay education bubbling up around the conference (hat tip to Barb Doerrer-Peacock for this evocative language)?

Share your thoughts (karen@shadowrockucc.org or bdoerrerpeacock@uccswc.org) Conversations continue – stay tuned! In the meantime, please hold in prayer those called to work on lay formation in our congregations and throughout the United Church of Christ.

Do You Feel Out of Sorts Lately?

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those days where you just feel out of sorts? There is nothing happening in your life to cause it, yet you feel like that commercial where the little blue cloud is following you everywhere? If that has been happening lately, you are not alone.

One of the side effects of living a Deep Listening life will be days where –for no reason at all– the little blue cloud will show up. It makes sense if one believes we are all connected, and there are tragedies happening in large proportions, that one would feel the pain of others. When there is a lot of sadness in the world, that sadness touches others.

What do you do with these blue cloud days? I could make a list of ways to move through these days, yet I really believe each of you have your own wisdom. I’d love to hear what you do when these days of communal sadness show up.

For myself, the blue cloud days mean reaching out to community, increasing self care and meditation, and balancing the sadness with inspiration. In the midst of all the sad stories there are so many of how people have reached out and loved each other. These seasons are times for me to ask questions like “Is this sadness moving me in a new direction?”

Let’s take a moment and inspire each other with our stories of blue cloud days and how they call us to a deeper and richer life. If that sounds impossible, I encourage you to reach out to one of our community to assist you in finding your way through blue cloud days. In the meantime, may your week be filled grace as we interact with ourselves, others and God/Divine.

Reflection

by MK LeFevour

I never liked poetry. I believed if you had something to say, just say it – don’t couch it in fancy words or with metaphors that nobody understands. Then along came a well-meaning friend who loaned me a book of Mary Oliver poems. It sat on my nightstand filling me with guilt each night that I didn’t open it. After a month, my friend asked how I was enjoying the book and I lied, “Oh, I’m loving it!” But not being a fan of lying and knowing my friend would eventually ask which poem was my favorite, I broke down, opened the book to a random page and read Oliver’s most loved poem, The Summer Day. My life was changed by that one act of opening myself up to this woman’s understanding of loss, sorrow and hope.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her poetry. But what brought her to winning such prestigious awards was growing up in an abusive house where her only escape was to wander the woods near her home. In nature she found her true home and healing for a broken heart.

What we have in common with Ms. Oliver and each other, is that we live in a remarkable place of nature that others might experience as inhospitable. But what we know is that despite living with the constant danger of getting poked by plant life that doesn’t want to be touched is that we are blessed to live in a desert where we are surrounded by daily wonders – the magic and power of a monsoon storm, the collared lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, the roadrunner stopping on a dime and changing directions as she spies us coming down the wash, the hummingbird taking on all comers to protect his feeder , the coyote sauntering across the road and then turning to give us a smug look before he bounds away into the brush and javalinas who, if you sing to them, will stop and lay down to listen until you’re done with the song.

Mary Oliver’s poems bring me comfort. But why are they comforting? I believe it’s because she continually reminds me to pay attention to the world around me – from the grasshopper to the stars. And when I bring my attention out from the hamster wheel of dark thoughts in my head to the beauty of our desert, I am brought into awe and wonder and that brings me healing.

Ms. Oliver gave these instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. My wish for you is that you find your Mary Oliver who can speak your pain and bring you words of guidance and comfort.

Let me leave you with words from another poet, Rumi, that I’ve come to love (yes, open your heart to one poet and others will push their way in).

Grief can be the garden of compassion if you keep your heart open through everything. Your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.

 

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

A Glimpse of Justice

by Abigail Conley

There is a story in the Bible about a woman who goes to a judge many times, asking for justice. Each time, she is sent away. According to Luke, the judge did not fear God nor respect people. In the end, he gave her justice because he couldn’t get rid of her otherwise.

Preachers tend to skip over preaching this text. Like, “Ask and it shall be given,” this story can crossover into a place pastors like to avoid: annoy God enough and you’ll get what you want.

Not surprisingly, that take on this story is one of privilege. If you don’t know people who have been denied what was rightfully theirs, you tend to miss the point. If you see people as bad when they keep pushing instead of seeing their justified anger, you tend to miss the point. I’m not the most woke person ever; it took a while to see. It’s no surprise that Luke tells this tale, though. His Gospel is one of a world turned upside down, inside out, and every other way imaginable. In Luke’s telling of the Gospel, the unfavorable are by far the most favored by God.

I think of the persistent widow often these days. Almost two years ago, my church had a little extra money and a desire to do justice in our immediate community. We started down the road of offering small dollar, no interest loans as an alternative to title loans. In Arizona, payday loans are banned. Title loans quickly took their place.

Two years later, we’re almost there. Just past the two-year mark, we should be offering the first round of loans. We’re ironing out details. Right now, it looks like we’ll start at $500 and we need to figure out how we handle the minimal interest. Even if we charged the full amount, it’s 6% annual interest. Title loans are capped at 204% annual interest, typically advertised as 17% monthly.

The math is terrifying.1  At 6%, in a year, the total interest on $500 is under $31. That’s without figuring in the regular payments. That number only gets lower with regular payments. Contrastingly, with title loans, fees vary widely by vendor, from minimal to several hundred dollars. Most people who take out one loan take out another immediately to repay what they can’t pay back. This cycle repeats for around 9 months—at least that’s the average. A $500 loan easily ends up costing the borrower over $1,000 on the low end of things.

The predatory lending industry, made up primarily of payday loans and title loans, is a strong market anywhere it is allowed. Some states choose to ban their presence entirely. Nationwide, around 75% of people who use this type of loan are repeat customers. They use the loans to keep up with monthly bills. As we enter into this venture, we know that we’re hoping to offer something else for the other people, the 25% of the customers who had an unexpected expense that they can’t cover.

Solutions for the remaining 75% aren’t yet within our reach. However, this venture could well take us down a road that leads to solutions for some of those people. Jesus knew, “The poor you will always have with you,” but keeping on kicking them surely isn’t the answer.

I could, indeed, talk about all the ins and outs of this program. We’re definitely not doing it on our own. A credit union has agreed to partner with us as well as a social service agency for client referral. Part of the solution has to be credit repair or establishing credit for people. The title loan industry proudly shares that they don’t report to credit bureaus; we know that good credit is key to everything from lower deposits on utilities to landing a job.

There are many interpretations for the parable of the persistent widow, but here is the one I settle on most often: those who have the power to do good are compelled to do good. Here’s hoping that we do good $500 at a time.

Over these two years, we’ve read research from a variety of sources. Three reports inform this article. I highly recommend each of them. They are: Auto Title Loans: Market practices and borrowers’ experiences from The Pew Charitable Trusts, March 2015; Single-Payment Vehicle Title Lending from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 2016; Wrong Way: Wrecked by Debt from the Consumer Federation of America and the Southwest Center for Economic Integrity, January 2016.

S-h-h-h

by Karen MacDonald

So much sound and fury….

Harvey,

     Irma,

          Jose,

               Katia,

                    Maria.

Earthquakes.
Nuclear saber-rattling.
Refugee migrations and suffering around the world….and so much more….

How to respond, what to do?
Be quiet, pay attention to spirit.

Fast from the whirlwind of words and images around and within.
     Step away from the demands of schedules and tasks.
          Withdraw from the anxiety of so much to resist and to assist.

Be pilgrims on a journey to purify our hearts, rather than to speak our piece. (1)
Tend the fire of the Spirit in us, so that we have warmth to offer those in need. (2)
Be in solitude
     be still
          be.

Only then, speak
     with the power of “a word that comes out of silence.” (3)

Only then, act
     with the strength of a deed that comes out for serving.
Then will beauty and life shine in and through us.

S-h-h-h….

     not in a great and mighty wind,
     not in an earthquake,
     not in a wildfire—
          rather, in a “soft, murmuring sound” (4)
          did Elijah meet G-d.

“Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way.  Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.” (5)

(1) based on Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
(2) Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
(3) Ibid.
(4) I Kings 19:12, The Jewish Study Bible
(5) Arundhati Roy, “Come September”, in The Impossible Will Take a Little While (Paul Rogat Loeb, editor)

The “Music” of Our Whole Lives ~ some reflections after the OWL All-Levels Training of Trainers

by Karen Richter

I was really excited to be able to attend the Our Whole Lives Training of Trainers last week in Hawaii. While the Southwest Conference has several churches who offer Our Whole Lives programming, we didn’t have an approved local trainer. I’m especially grateful to the OWL staff person at the national setting, Amy Johnson, Commissioned Minister for Sexuality Education and to the Unitarian Universalist Association who made this training happen and provided a wonderful experience for 22 trainers-in-training.

One really wonderful discussion during the training was about the “music” of the OWL curriculum. This is a rich metaphor, acknowledging that a person who participates in an Our Whole Lives program at any level might not remember any specific information they learned. As time passes, the content (anatomy, active listening checklist, contraception failure rates…) may simply slip away. In this metaphor, the participant might forget the “lyrics” they previously knew… but it’s our hope that they remember the tune.

What’s the TUNE of Our Whole Lives? What is the spirit or culture or tone of the program that becomes the music children, teens, adults, and facilitators come away from OWL humming under their breath?

karen richter OWL booksIt’s VALUES. All of Our Whole Lives curricula is grounded in specific values. For elementary programming, these are Respect, Relationships, and Responsibility. For high school and adult programming, the values are Self-Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility, and Justice & Inclusivity. Every workshop, every resource, every activity reflects and reinforces these values. Being absolutely clear about the centrality of these values makes Our Whole Lives a gift to families and communities. Building a shared language of values makes awkward (or sometimes just plain funny) conversations a little easier.

It’s a CELEBRATION OF LIVED EXPERIENCE.karen richter open door Besides the values, Our Whole Lives is based on some assumptions, including the natural goodness of our sexual feelings, identities, and behaviors… while acknowledging the real damage done to sexuality by violence and exploitation. All persons are sexual, and exploring this everyday commonality is a formative experience at any age.

It’s a recognition of the CONNECTIONS BETWEEN SEXUALITY AND SPIRITUALITY. Can you think of words that describe healthy sexuality? Can those same words also describe healthy spirituality? The Sexuality and Our Faith resources helps facilitators and participants deepen those connections and develop a sense of gratitude for the gift of sexuality from a loving Creator.

There’s a significant weight of responsibility on OWL facilitators – keeping all these pieces of “music” in your head, being engaging and approachable, planning and executing 90 minutes of instruction and activities. If your congregation has Our Whole Lives programming, hug these wonderful people. They are engaged in life giving, life saving ministry.

If your congregation doesn’t currently offer Our Whole Lives, let’s talk!

Hooked

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

It was simple really.
We were looking for nourishment.
We were looking for food
We thought we found it.
We were eager, driven by hunger.
We chomped down and we knew
Right away
We were tricked.
There wasn’t any nourishment
There was only a hook and we are on it.

It hurts.
It really hurts.
It pierces and mars.
It harms us.
It injures us

We flail and thrash.
We have to get away.
And in our best effort of pulling away,
the hook sinks in deeper.

I know a thing or two about hooks.
And the line
And the sinker
Got some scars to prove it.

Here are some things I have learned.
We never respond to people or events.
We never do.
Never.
Ever.

We respond to our own perception of people and events.
We respond to our own feelings from the perceptions we have of people and events.
This means most of what we tell ourselves is a way to frame and understand the world.
The stories help us figure things out, but the stories themselves are not true.
The stories are within us, written in such a way that we can face forward and keep going.
We are making choices based on what we think is happening, many times making choices out of fear.
We can enhance our capacity to make loving choices if we can understand the narratives are myth.

Fear is powerful. We try to respond with as much power we can muster by thrashing and pulling and fighting. The thrashing makes sense to the panic within us in times of fear and pain. Thrashing feels like a choice. It feels like we are doing something to help ease the hurt. We are not. We often confuse the expelling of energy as progress when really it often just makes us exhausted.

Frenzied thrashing does not work for sustaining life. It is fear based and reactive. It is dangerous if this is our main way of being.

The perceptions of our life is what hooks us. The lies and stories we tell ourselves, the justifications, the rationalizations, the ruminations all merge into a single, solitary hook that now hurts. We fall for it a lot and the thrashing begins.

But then…
after the thrashing
in the silence,
in the exhaustion ,
in the darkness,
we see some inklings of light, hope and peace.
If we can open our hearts to it, we will feel the know the true power of acceptance.

Many misunderstand acceptance.
Some see it as weak.
Others see it as surrender.
Still others see it as saying we are ok with the awful thing that just happened. That we endorse it in some way.
Not true.

Acceptance is not dismissing the pain. It’s acknowledging that the pain exists.
Acceptance is not surrendering to the harm. It is simply acknowledging that the harm happened.

This is hard stuff.
That hook changes things and makes us weary.
Getting off that hook is never poetic while it is happening.
A soundtrack of peace, love and ease does not accompany the process.
It is marring and bloody.
It is scary and painful.

In this process of thrashing and accepting, flailing and yielding the difficulty fades into the background as we foster a nurturing, loving heart.
It comes complete with its very own set of self-compassion and graciousness.
In that grace comes the realization that we are off the hook.

Finally.
Completely.
Fully.
Free.

Make Peace Inevitable: Reflections on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 2017

guest post by John Leung, preached on August 6, 2017
at First Congregational Church, Flagstaff

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Prayer:
O God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you. If our words and our thoughts offend anyone, Dear God, may there be mutual forgiveness between the speaker and the listener, and may you, our refuge and our redeemer, grant us reconciliation.

Seventy-two years ago today, at 8:15 a.m., Tokyo time, the American warplane Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb into the heart of the city of Hiroshima. A little over 72 hours thereafter, on August 9, a plutonium bomb was dropped into Nagasaki, a port on the other side of Japan. In Hiroshima, roughly 70,000 Japanese citizens were killed, literally in a flash, by the blast and by the firestorm on the same day of the bombing. Approximately another 70,000 would die in the following two to four months from burns, other injuries, radiation sickness and collateral illnesses. In Nagasaki, the numbers were roughly 40,000 and 50,000 respectively. Instantaneously AND in time, those two atomic bombs would claim the lives of roughly a quarter of a million people, and generations of Japanese people would bear the physical, mental, psychological and cultural scars of those bombings. At Noon on August 15, 1945, on radio to a nation reeling from the devastation and mourning for the dead and dying multitudes, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito broadcast his message of surrender.

We are probably familiar with the story, and perhaps even with the statistics. Over the last seventy years, there have been numerous debates, in the media, in scholarly and non-scholarly publications, in and outside academia, about these historical events, mostly centered on the question of whether the use of these atomic weapons was justified, and if so, how? As a professor of history, I have participated in many such debates, and moderated quite a few. Arguments run a broad gamut. Here, in summary and composite, are some of the more common ones I have read and heard.  

“The only way to end a war is by overwhelming force. The Japanese deserved it; war is war, and THEY started it. The atom bombs are just payback for Pearl Harbor.”

“The question of tactical or even strategic justification in 1945 is shortsighted. These atomic bombings did not just end WWII; they were also the beginning of the threat of nuclear war, and the world has had to live with that ever since. We also have to live with the fact that the United States is the ONLY nation to have actually employed nuclear weapons in war. This has cast a shadow over nuclear politics ever since, and many of today’s international problems have their roots in this reality.”

For most Americans, looking for a silver lining behind the mushroom cloud, so to speak, a “centrist” perspective is the most appealing, and it goes something like this: “Well, the atomic bombs were necessary to induce Japan to surrender and thus end the war swiftly; more people — certainly many more Americans — would have died if the war had dragged on any longer.”

Some years ago, this “centrist” American position seemed to receive corroboration, from a rather unexpected source. In 2007, Kyuma Fumio, Japan’s Defense Minister at the time, scandalized his constituents of Nagasaki by remarks he made in a commencement address: “I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy.” Kyuma’s words translated here as “it could not be helped” were translated and broadcast in the English-language Japanese and international press as “NECESSARY AND INEVITABLE.” Many American observers immediately seized on these words, spoken by a prominent Japanese politician, as validation that, however terrifying the results, the use of the atomic bombs was necessary, and a historical inevitability. On the other hand, however, the Japanese people were shocked by those words. As a consequence of his remarks Kyuma was compelled to resign his cabinet post four days later. This also played a significant role in the ruling party’s defeat in Japan’s upper-house elections that September.

My purpose today is NOT to litigate or adjudicate any of these arguments. I do believe, however, that in these commemorative days each year, we have the opportunity to learn once again from these intertwined awesome and devastating historical events and the world’s memories of them. Some years we may merely repeat the lessons we had already learned from years past; other years we may learn something fresh. What, and how, do we learn this year? And how do the lessons we may learn come from, and in turn, affect our faith, and our faithfulness to God?

The Kyuma episode provokes fresh thinking about attitudes we hold about the “total war” use of atomic weapons at the end of the Second World War and about war itself, AND ABOUT THE ANTITHESIS OF WAR – PEACE. What is “inevitable?” What does “inevitable” mean? With their time-lines and historical interpretations, historians tend to come up with explanations of how wars became “inevitable,” and then such notions of war’s inevitability come to be etched in our collective psyches.  

But what if we flipped our perspectives? What case can we make for the INEVITABILITY OF PEACE?

This brings me to the scripture passage that we read earlier. A familiar biblical story – we all probably learned it since we were young. Oddly, however, I step away from the larger narrative picture of this well-known miracle. What struck me more deeply is this:

When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said: This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them: “They NEED NOT go away.”

How often do we come to see things from the perspective of OUR DIRE NECESSITY? We have a problem. Something drastic – and often drastically bad – HAS TO HAPPEN. We have to build a wall! We have to scrap health care for millions of people! We have to deport people! We have to turn people away at the airports! Really?

NO! Jesus said: “THEY NEED NOT GO AWAY.”  We say: “War is inevitable! The atom bombs could not be helped!” Jesus said: “No! Peace is inevitable!”  Perhaps if we can break down that sense of necessity, of inevitability, of war and conflict, of competition in scarcity, we can begin to take steps down the path of MAKING PEACE INEVITABLE, and the miracle of peace can really happen.

How do we make peace inevitable? Let me begin to offer a modest proposal, inspired by our faith and the words that God Still Speaks to us today.

Number 1. We need to have a revolutionary change of heart. A paradigm shift. Let us start with understanding that WAR IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD. For far too long humankind has projected our wars onto God’s will. Today we decry the word and the idea of Jihad – a perversion of Islam’s concept of struggle, and we denounce the idea of Holy War, which we think is peculiar to Muslims, or some convenient OTHER. However, if we looked back honestly into history, we would find that the idea was, at least just as much, of our own making. The slogan for our version of Holy War, “Deus vult” (God wills it) emerged as the people’s response to Pope Urban’s call for the first crusade in 1095. Can we honestly say that we do not carry a single trace of that mentality in the wars we wage today?

We MUST start with embracing the principle that WAR IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD.

On July 19, 2006, when a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians  expanded into massive bombing of cities in Lebanon, the Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, wrote a prayer accompanying the UCC’s call for peace. This prayer speaks to the point I make today. Please allow me to read it in part to you:    

You did not make us, O God, to die in bomb craters or to huddle through the night in basement shelters.  You made us to play under olive trees and cedars and to sleep soundly with animal toys and gentle lovers.  Lord, have mercy.

You did not make us, O God, to hold hostages for barter or to rain deadly fury on innocent children and beautiful coast lands.  You made us, O God, to welcome strangers and to cherish all creation.  Christ, have mercy.

You did not make us, O God, to oppress in the name of security or to kill in the name of justice.  You made us, O God, to find security in justice and to risk life in the name of peace.  Lord, have mercy.

… Save us from self-justifying histories and from moral equations that excuse our folly.  Search our hearts for our own complicity.  Spare us from pious prayers that neglect the prophet’s angry cry.  Let us speak a resounding “no” to this warring madness and thus unmake our ways of death, so that we may be made more and more into your image.  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.

Included in this change of heart must also be a transformation in our calculus of war and peace. Remember, a few weeks ago, Rev. Margaret Gramley encouraged us to adopt a new way of understanding God’s moral economy – to think of God as a prodigal sower – one who flings the seeds of grace with wild abandon? Then let us think of God commanding that the seeds of peace also be sown with equally wild abandon and fullness and “care-lessness.” Unfortunately that is not so with our usual mathematics of war and peace, often characterized by a “tit for tat” frame of mind. Even in our democratic societies, our politics, our military configurations, and our foreign relations tend to be loaded with dangerous logarithms that make war, not peace, inevitable. We more often demand unconditional surrender than we make peace unconditionally. We forget the words of Christ who said, “I do not give to you peace AS THE WORLD GIVES.” We fail to grasp Paul’s meaning when he described “the peace of God” as a peace “that surpasses all understanding.” Peace will not be made inevitable as long as we remain within our “normal” ways of making peace. We have to think of the peace that we seek to make as the peace of God, a peace that we cannot comprehend normally. When we reach out to others with THAT peace that defies norms, peace will then become a necessity of history, an inevitability.

Secondly, making peace is an ACTIVITY. Peace may be God’s will, but it also will not fall into our laps. We have to DO something to make peace. In describing God’s mandate for peace, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” If peace is to become inevitable, we need to actively disarm, and we need to UNLEARN war. This may not be an easy thing, but think about it this way: As a species, we have spent thousands of years “learning war.” Can we not devote a few decades to unlearning war and learning peace instead? Can we not – should we not — have, at every university and college and school, at least as many students majoring in peace studies as we have in, say, in ROTC and military sciences? We learn a lot of things from the things of our “popular culture” – our literatures, the things we watch, the games we play, the technologies we employ. Why, then, are these things so inundated in the images and ideas of conflict and combat? Can we not devote even a small portion of the technological genius that we deploy in creating such things as films, videos, images on the Internet, and videogames in order to create at least a sector of our “popular culture” that would extol peace, and not valorize war?

One of the things that we must DO to make peace inevitable is to take care of people’s wellbeing and needs. In the next breath, after he proclaimed that the people “need not go away,” Jesus said: “YOU give them something to eat.” He made it clear that simply not turning people away is not enough; we must also bear responsibility for meeting people’s needs. It is so, too, for the peacemaker. War and poverty and scarcity go hand in hand, and it is often difficult to tell which is the cause and which is the effect. It is estimated that about one tenth of the people who died in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts did so from causes and conditions complicated by dehydration and starvation. To say that we are giving people peace without addressing their needs makes the promise of peace a hollow one, and such peace cannot endure, much less be inevitable.

We must not fear, nor be discouraged, when our work to make peace inevitable happens on a small scale. That is one lesson I took away from Jody’s sermon last week. The peace that we sow may be the smallest and seemingly the most insignificant of seeds. Let us remember: The horrific bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguably the most enormous weapons ever used, wreaking the greatest destruction, came from SPLITTING THE ATOM, the smallest thing imaginable. Why then should we not learn to sow, instead, the atoms of peace?

Finally, I submit that to make peace inevitable, we must also learn how to live a new life, or, to live Life anew, not only as individuals and families, or even as nations, but as the world, as humankind, as God’s entire creation. Many of us are aware, I am sure, that the famous Godzilla stories and films originated in a post-war Japan in reaction to the atomic holocausts suffered by its people. In the decades since 1945, we have seen the proliferation of films depicting how people learn and struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic global landscape. That survival is not only grim and bleak, but it is also one that is most often filled with the same conflicts that begat the cataclysm in the first place. The question that stares us in the face is: Why do we wait to learn to live anew AFTER the whole world and all Life have been devastated by our weapons? Why can we not start right now to learn to live anew? What on earth are we waiting for?

The lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are lessons for the future and not just for comprehending how the past may be “justified.”  They are not merely lessons explaining how such a vast number of people died, but lessons for how the whole world must live.

In March 1988, Japanese author Kurihara Sadako, herself a hibakusha, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, wrote the following poem, teaching us this very lesson:

“In the rubble a single wildflower
Sent out small white blossoms.
From the burned soil filled with the bones
Of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relatives,
From the now-silent ruins
Where every living thing burned to death:
A small life that taught us to live.
Hiroshima, carrying on from that day –
A flower blooming in the midst of destruction.”

If “inevitability” is not a matter of fore-ordained fate or of strategic expediency or even tactical necessity, but a matter of building up the conditions for a process that points in a particular direction, then it is indeed within the power of every one of us to make peace, not war, inevitable; to make life, not death, inevitable. It would mean that each and every thing we do can, potentially, be a building block for that process, however large or small. It would mean that we, like all the generations of our forebears, are constantly at the crossroads of choice. What is inevitable is of our own making, and of our own choosing.

I used to, sometimes on my way to work at NAU, drive past the Quaker meeting house on Beaver Street and see these inspiring words: “There is no way to peace; Peace is the way.” For people of faith, making peace inevitable must begin with our completely identifying with God’s will for peace and with our own responsibility in the process. It is a painstaking process, one that might not be completed in our own lifetime, but is the most precious legacy and gift we can ever hope to pass on. We can, and we must, build peace in our lives, in our church, in our society, and in the world, piece by piece, peace by peace.

Each year at 8:15 a.m. (Tokyo time) on August 6, Japanese throngs gather at the cenotaph in Hiroshima in remembrance of the horrifying event and those who died in the atomic bombing with a long silence. Representatives of many faiths offer prayers. Then bells are rung to complete the commemoration. Perhaps this year, and for years to come, those bells could ring out not only in Hiroshima but all over the world and most of all in our own hearts, to echo our commitment to make peace inevitable.

Let us pray:
To you, O Christ, who taught us that to be estranged from another human being is to be estranged from God, and that to be reconciled to a brother or a sister or to a “stranger” is to be reconciled to you, to you we pray:

Let a small flower of hope blossom from the rubble of death and destruction, from the ruins of our times, some silent and some still raging with the voices of the dying and the dead;

Come, small life, living, crucified, dead, and resurrected, and teach us how to live. Amen.

Standing on Holy Ground

by Talitha Arnold

The place on which you are standing is holy ground. – Exodus 3:5

Moses must have laughed out loud when the voice from the burning bush told him he was standing on “holy ground.” How could a desert wilderness be “holy ground”?

The same way a hospital room or a graveside can be sacred ground. When filled with prayer and the awareness of God’s presence, even the lonely and scary places of our lives can become holy and sacred.

Nest Sunday, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also a National Day of Prayer for ‘Faith, Hope & Life,” sponsored by the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Across the nation, people of all faiths are invited to join in prayer for persons struggling with mental illnesses and suicide, and for those who love and care for them. As part of the Action Alliance Executive Committee and co-lead for the Faith Communities Task Force, I hope you and your church will also join in.

Depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, or other mental illnesses can make someone  feel cut off from others, including God. That isolation increases exponentially if one’s faith community is silent about such concerns. When a church offers no prayers for persons struggling with mental illness (as we do for those with physical illnesses), it’s hard to find the holy ground.

We can break that silence next Sunday.  On this National Day of Prayer, let us pray for persons living with mental illness or whose lives have been touched by suicide—and for their families, colleagues, therapists, pastors, and all who seek to help. (prayers, videos and other resources at www.faith-hope-life.org.) Let’s help create holy ground for others.

Prayer

God, as you came to Moses in the wilderness of his life, so you do the same for us. May our prayers remind others they are not alone and that you make all things holy.

Spiritual Direction and a Rejection of the Nashville Statement

by Teresa Blythe

Evangelical Christian leaders who refuse to accept LBGTQIA+ persons as they are recently released their treatise on sexuality and gender, called The Nashville Statement (and did so during the worst hurricane in the nation’s history for who-knows-what reason). I’m not linking to this hurtful document—if you want to read it you can google it—and I have a few points to make about why I believe spiritual direction should always be a place of radical welcome to gender and sexual minorities (GSM).

Some spiritual directors shy away from taking a stand on controversial issues that divide left-wing from right-wing Christians. They contend it’s a political subject and they want to stay non-partisan.

I choose, however, to stand with all GSM people and offer my thoughts on why a statement such as this Nashville manifesto is worth countering.

As a Christian spiritual director, I take my cues from Jesus and one of his teachings that has always guided how I treat others—whether they are like me or different from me—is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How would I like to be treated? Then that’s at the very least how I will treat others and I believe it would be Christ-like to go even farther and treat people as they would like to be treated.

I would never want to be referred to in the angry, hurtful, heterosexist language used in the Nashville Statement. In fact, in one way, I was mentioned and I felt the burn. This statement links marriage primarily to procreation. I have no children, so I guess I’m in need of repentance in their eyes.

It also speaks of male and female as the only genders around. What does this mean for people who are Intersex and born with both male and female characteristics?

But mostly the statement employs the usual anti-gay rhetoric that has been driving the gay community away from church for the past 50 or so years.

OK, so I’ve made my point. I reject the Nashville Statement wholeheartedly. As an ally of the GSM community and as a spiritual director who loves working with a diverse and wonderfully created clientele, I stand with Jesus in loving neighbors as I want to be loved and accepted.

And I’m asking all spiritual directors to be open and affirming of gender and sexual minorities. In fact, I would say that if you only want to work with cisgender (look it up) and heterosexual people, you should really not be a spiritual director. If you fall in that category, I would encourage you to get to know some people who are different from you. Many progressive churches (UCC, some UMC, PCUSA, Episcopal, ELCA and others) are open and affirming and in those churches you will come to know people who are GSM and their loved ones. I think you will find that to know them is to love them.

Arguments about homosexuality and church teachings used to seem so complicated. But after doing spiritual direction for over 20 years now, there is no argument for me.

It’s all about the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule.

reprinted with permission from the author from Spiritual Direction 101 on Patheos