Faith Nonetheless

by Kenneth McIntosh

It would seem that in recent news there’s something happening to make almost everyone afraid. Gun violence in general, the Pulse nightclub massacre, and killings connected with racism, are all viscerally upsetting. Political stakes have never seemed higher, with voters on the left and the right portraying the upcoming presidential race as near-apocalyptic in its possible outcome. Even before these recent events, Time Magazine, at the start of this year, published an article titled “Why Americans are More Afraid Than They Used to Be.” It included terrorism as a cause, along with “the politics of fear” (the trend for politicians to invoke fear as motivation for their causes). They add that the widespread loss of trust in government (on all sides) leads to the perception that citizens must handle threats increasingly by themselves — adding to the sense of anxiety.

Christians in mainline denominations have a well-established and laudable reaction to fear; we redouble efforts for justice. This certainly reflects Jesus’ priority to “seek first the Reign of God, and God’s justice.” There’s a risk, however, in passionate involvement even for thoroughly good causes—activists can fall prey to the same fears and anxieties that afflict persons who are not involved in justice work—and when that happens, people of faith lose their distinctive witness.

In uncertain times, belief in the Living God can counterbalance the temptation to fear and its attendant maladies (such as anger, desperation, withdrawal and poor judgement). Marcus Borg, in his book The Heart of Christianity, wrote about how his wife would teach adult classes the meaning of faith by asking them “How many of you have taught a child to swim?” Borg then notes that “Faith … is trusting in the buoyancy of God. Faith is trusting in the sea of being in which we live and move and have our being.” He goes on to explain “The opposite of trust is not doubt or disbelief…its opposite is ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry.” He concludes “Growth in faith as trust casts out anxiety.”

More recently, John Cobb, the famous process theologian, released his book Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed. Cobb laments that misunderstandings of God’s nature have led many liberal Christians to eschew robust faith in the Deity that Jesus followed. The unfortunate result is that such a religion “rarely challenges its members to devote themselves to God.” Cobb understands the problems that have led believers to eschew God-talk. The list of these problems includes: claims of God’s absolute omnipotence, lack of compassion, scientific unreasonableness, and exclusivity. But these problems—he says—are not attributes of Jesus’s Abba God. We need to relate to God with the same manner of faith we see in Jesus, because The pressing issues of our world require actions that will be “hard to achieve without the belief in the One who is, or relates to, the whole and is felt worthy of our total devotion.”

In Luke 18:1, “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (NRSV). This seems a timely word for our situation today. We need to keep our focus on the reality of God, who is present in the rough-and-tumble physicality of our world and is constantly working to create openings for grace and redemption. Accompanying such a focus, we need to remain steadfast in time-honored practices of prayer and contemplation that keep us “tuned in” to God. The stories of faith in our Scriptures include the presence of great evil, of intolerance, and of dire injustice. We should not be surprised to see the same powers and principalities at work in our world today; and by the same token we should expect to see Abba God powerfully at work in our midst. When fear and discouragement knock at our door we can reply “we have faith in God, nonetheless.”

The One Who Gives Us Room

by Talitha Arnold

“You gave me room when I was in distress.” – Psalm 4

“When my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” a friend shared recently, “one of the greatest gifts was the nurse in the oncologist’s office.”

“She had a great sense of humor, and she could make a cold, sterile examining room a place of warmth and even laughter,” my friend said. But even more than that, he continued, “she knew how to hold my mother’s anxiety.”

As the cancer progressed, he explained, “My mother got more and more scared—understandably. She kept asking the same questions over and over again. I knew it was the fear talking, but I was worn out. I’d reached the end of my own rope. I loved my mother deeply, but I couldn’t deal with one more question.”

But that nurse, he continued, “could listen to my mother ask the same thing a million times.” It was like she had a big bowl, he said as he stretched out his arms to demonstrate, “in which she could hold my mother’s fear—and my impatience.”

If I experienced God in that hard time, my friend concluded, “it was that nurse’s deep well of patience and grace. I thanked God every day for her. I still do.”

“You gave me room when I was in distress,” the ancient Psalmist writes. “You have put gladness in my heart . . . . I will lie down and sleep in peace.”

Maybe the Psalmist knew someone like that oncology nurse. Perhaps we do, too.

Prayer

God of infinite patience and bottomless love, thank you for the people who have made room for us in our distress. They have put your gladness in our hearts, even in hard times. Amen.

Be a Good Parent. Be Selfish.

by Karen Richter

Parent friends, can we talk? It’s rough out there, right? Parents get a lot of conflicting messages about how to be the best we can for our kids. Tough but compassionate. Attachment and yet independence. Respecting their agency but retaining authority. Let them make choices… but not too many. Say no and mean it, but stay positive. Be available for your children, but take care of your primary partnership.

And yet we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’m convinced that parenting is a fantastic spiritual discipline. When I was a kid, I daydreamed about being a nun. Since I was born and raised in the South and never met a single Catholic person until college, this was never a likely scenario… But I think it had something to do with selflessness and dedication – the idea of spending your life doing something worth doing. And maybe it was a juvenile fantasy about Maria from The Sound of Music – that’s a possibility too. But what is parenting, if not dedicating your life’s energy, and sometimes the last cinnamon bagel, to something worth your best efforts?

Be a good parent. Be selfish. by Karen Richter - Southwest Conference blog
Good for babies…and my most faithful prayer discipline ever!

We parent to make our children good human beings and along the way, we become pretty good too.

At the same time, I see a lot of parenting anxiety. I see parents putting their children’s wants and needs ahead of their own – not out of dedication but out of fear. It starts as soon as the stick turns pink, with nutrition and playing music and avoiding stress. About the time my first child was born, new brain development research began to be available to popular audiences. The importance of second language acquisition, “windows” of prime learning, speech development, and stimulating learning environments for babies… I was convinced that any moment that wasn’t full of stimulation was a waste!

Now I see it more with afterschool activities, music lessons, tutoring, drama, and sports. Our families are stressed out. And it’s hard: hard to say no to the opportunity to play with a competitive traveling volleyball team; hard to step away from the pressure to perform; hard to insist on time for your child to just BE.

Be a good parent. Be selfish. by Karen Richter - Southwest Conference blog
Does this look familiar at all?

So start with you. Be selfish. Be a role model for selfishness. Take care of your own spiritual self. Find something that feeds your own soul.

I see families… good loving wonderful families… who are involved in a faith community for their children’s sake. Goodness knows, that’s not a bad thing, but those parents need to hear this loving and gentle instruction: you too are a child of God. Find something spiritual for you.

You.

You are unique and unrepeatable.

You – the universe becoming self-aware.

You, sent by the Spirit to the world to learn and grow all your life long.

You are a gift to the world, so take care of that good gift!

And Merry Christmas to all.

Why I Need You to Survive

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Last week was awkward and hard. It really was. It was one of the weeks where nothing seemed to synch up for me. From attempting to greet an acquaintance with a hug, but instead elbowing them in the nose to forgetting about a meeting I was supposed to be at while I was just chilling at home as though I hadn’t a care in the world. I set my alarm for 6pm instead of 6am not once, but twice. I woke up with this pit in my stomach and sense of dread, but it wasn’t connected to any thought. It just constantly felt like something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I wasn’t the only one feeling this way last week. I have two friends that I talk to every single day over text regardless of rain or shine. Sometimes it is lengthy, sometimes it’s short, but we always connect. As I texted my, sometimes humorous, often complaining texts to them last week, I received very similar responses. Each of us said at some point, “What the heck is going on? Is something in the air?” Nothing was synching up.

I was avoiding things that week. I was eating less, not much of an appetite. I was walking under a plume of strangeness without knowing why. I caught myself walking very quickly through my living room as I came home, a sense of urgency to get into another room. I noticed it and wondered what the heck was wrong with me. Why am I feeling compelled to avoid so much? I walked back into my living room and realized the source of anxiety was the TV. It was the news anchor. It was the images. It was the terror in the world.

And I cried.

This thick pall that I was in the midst of was the sense of helplessness in the face of unimaginable suffering. I felt shame for the human race. I felt absolute rage for the vulnerability that is exploited and crushed. I was avoiding the pain of living in this world. There isn’t even a starting place that makes sense to me to begin to hold what is happening in the world around me. So I check out entirely. And when I do, I step out of the flow of life. My fears increase, my reasoning decreases. I am ill-tempered and checked out. I am withdrawn. All of this leads to me living out of synch.

My pastor, Rev. Delle McCormick, said something incredibly profound the Sunday after the attacks in Beirut and in Paris. She used the phrase “unsettled ache” repeatedly in her sermon and that resonated very strongly with me. The reality is I am impacted by all of this pain and violence in the world. The reality is you are too. Even if we are avoiding knowledge of it or attempting to distract, it is the thing that greets us when there is a quiet moment. It’s just on the edge of our awareness more often than not and it impacts the way we interact with the world around us.

My starting point to engage in the world again was the awareness of this very simple point: you impact me and I impact you. We do not exist in a vacuum. We do not live the individual lives that we are constantly trying to tell ourselves we are living. This is a global community.

We say something to each other at Rincon Congregational UCC that I have never said to anyone before. Often after service, during the benediction, we are encouraged to look at one another and say, “I need you to survive”. Regardless of what word you put the emphasis on in that statement, it is true and powerful. I need for you, my dear one, to survive. I also need you, my dear one, for my own survival. We are connected. It is unsettling. It is life.

image credit: Roy DeLeon