Fear: An Invitation to Risk

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

“Fear is good,” says Peter Bolland. “It keeps us alive. It keeps us from falling off cliffs, touching fire and kissing rattlesnakes.”

“If [humans] were to lose his capacity to fear, he would be deprived of his capacity to grow, invent, and create. So in a sense fear is normal, necessary, and creative. Normal fear protects us; motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare.”

SO why does the Bible consistently encourage us to ‘fear not?’

  • Do not be afraid – 70 times in 67 verses
  • Do not fear – 58 times in 57 verses

Because “there is another kind of fear, abnormal fear,” wrote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Abnormal fear paralyzes us, constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives.”

Fear can be “our greatest liability,” according to Bolland. “It keeps us from taking the risks necessary to develop our unrealized potential. If we let it, fear has the power to keep us from becoming who we really are. Fear is a thief that steals our joy.”

“FEAR is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited,” wrote Howard Thurman. “There is nothing new or recent about fear—it is doubtless as old as the life of man on the planet.

“when the power and the tools of violence are on one side, the fact that there is no available and recognized protection from violence makes the resulting fear deeply terrifying.

“Fear…becomes the safety device with which the oppressed surround themselves in order to give [themselves] some measure of protection…”

Certainly I resonant with Dr. King’s observation, “In these days of catastrophic change and calamitous uncertainty, is there any [one] who does not experience the depression and bewilderment of crippling fear, which, like a nagging hound of hell, pursues our every footstep?”

Dr. King was right when he preached, “Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it.”

But how? Our texts, and scores like them in both Jewish and Christian sacred texts, help us know how.

Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?
I’ve learned your ways, Sovereign One.
I believe that I shall see [your] goodness, Gracious One,
in the land of the living.
Self, be patient. Self, be strong. Self, take courage in the Lord!

“I tell you, my friends,” said Jesus. Friends! “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” Recognize that the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, “for what it is—merely the threat of violence with a death potential.” With that perspective “death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death.”

Verse 5 of our Gospel reading we must hold for another discussion this week because the prospect of hell or God casting someone into it can’t possibly be handled by a sermon in a UCC context. For this morning we are invited to remember that five sparrows were sold for two pennies, yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight!

God counts even the hairs of your head. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your [Heavenly Parent’s] good pleasure to give you her whole realm, his entire dominion!

“In the absence of all hope, ambition dies.” But to know that Creator God, cares for us – cares for me – to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus “renders us unconquerable within and without!”

When the time comes to speak truth to power do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,

When the time comes to speak difficult words to the people of God  And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

When the time comes to do something that you’ve always been taught was contrary to God’s Law, remember how an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

When you’ve poured out your fears to God in prayer, know assuredly that like Haggar and Zechariah God has heard your prayer, and that you are living the fulfillment of the plan of God.

I wish that we had time this morning to consider every one of the 128 times we hear the admonition to lay aside our fears. Aren’t you glad we have a whole week to consider them together?! Know this morning that taken together, those 128 passages invite us to:

  • Learn to live beyond the war of nerves, keeping perspective on our priorities and values as people of faith
  • Live apart from conditions imposed by an oppressor.
  • Find ways to love while under the threat of violence when the power and the tools of violence are all on one side.
  • Create ways to live outside of the artificial limitations that offer the illusion of safety-restricting freedom of movement, of employment, or speech, and of participation in the common life.
  • Ferreting out even the smallest glimmer of hope fanning those embers into the flames of ambition.

Fear is neither good nor evil; it is [an invitation to risk] that must be read with great care. Cultivating the skill to interpret fear accurately is an essential task in the creation of the well-lived and fully-realized life.

  1. If I do this frightening thing, will it bring real quality and beauty into my life?
  2. If I do this frightening thing, will it move me further toward the fullest expression of my innate potentialities?
  3. Am I respecting my health and life, and the health and life of others?
  4. Is this fear really just a misguided attempt to protect my fragile and limiting self-image?
  5. Is this apprehension and anxiety simply the death-throes of my outmoded ways of acting, thinking and being in the world?
  6. If I took these risks and let go of my old ways of acting, thinking and being in the world, would I be closer to my highest good?
  7. Is the larger purpose of my life the realization of my highest good as opposed to being comfortable?

“If the answer to any of these questions is no, your fear is telling you something important. You should probably listen,” writes Peter Bolland. “But if you can answer yes to even one of these questions, then” remember the words of David to his son, Solomon: “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. [God] will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.

An Open Letter to All the Strangers

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

To the strangers who have crossed my path:
I have been racist.
I have been prejudiced.
I have been wrong.

I dismissed you.
I didn’t know your name, but I acted as though you were less than me.
I felt a surge of anger that wasn’t about you yet landed on you because you were nearby.
I stopped listening to you the moment you did not agree with me.
I was judgmental of you before I ever met you.
In my effort to dispel stereotypes, I forced one on you.

I forgot about your humanity because I was afraid to be vulnerable.
I had told myself stories about you and then I believed them as if they were true.
I acted like I knew something that I didn’t because I was threatened by your knowledge.

I slammed doors in your face if you dared to interrupt with a knock and a message.
I decided I mattered more and determined you mattered less.
I lied to get my way and you suffered in the process.

I averted my eyes when you clearly just needed to be seen.
I honored fear more than love.
It took mass destruction and brokenness for me to realize you are human and vulnerable, just like me.

I resented you.
I demonized you.
I even sometimes hated you.

You deserved better from me.
You have been the stranger that I have encountered all through my living.

While I cannot find each one of you to say I wish I had done it different,
I will see you in all the strangers that cross my path.
And I will be open and loving as I should have been with you.

Your Friend,

Dax.

Are You Afraid of Spiders?

by Amanda Petersen

I was recently reading a story by Tosha Silver about a time when she was in India and attended a fire ceremony for Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and wealth. During the ceremony a huge spider crawled on her hand. She was extremely afraid of spiders so she gasped and swatted it away. One of the priests came over and yelled at her asking what she was doing and then saying it was Mahalakshmi herself coming to bless her.   

This really struck me. How often is the Divine presented in one’s fears as a blessing yet the blessing cannot be received because of not wanting to stay in the fear and see it differently? Tosha later tells of a night where a huge spider was on the ceiling and instead of spinning stories of fear she entered a conversation with it. Looking at the spider as a blessing while also letting it know it can have the ceiling while she can have the bed.   

What would it look like in this season of political and circumstantial uncertainty, which can stir up the most basic of fears, to instead of reacting in fear, one tries responding by interacting with what is most frightening. As contemplatives engaging oneself is the step before engaging the circumstance. Facing fears, (or insecurities, resistance, exhaustion) and all the issues within before just swatting at what frightens us. Bringing God in and asking where is the blessing in this?  

I tried this once when I moved into my home, which had been empty for several months and had very large roaches enjoying the empty space. I am not a fan of roaches and they do cause me to want to run and hide. There were so many I could not just run away and hope they also would disappear. So I asked what is the blessing in this roach?  The answers where numerous! I have a home, there has been a lot of rain, my home is surrounded by beautiful plants and trees, I am free to act in many ways, and I am no longer fearful of roaches. Now I need to say I am not so enlightened that I could coexist with the roaches running all over my home. I called an exterminator. Yet the reality of where I live with all the plant life is that bugs are a part of it and when we bump into each other I am now able to see the blessing.

Taking this to larger issues takes more time and practice. I have to say just asking the question  “What is God’s blessing in this?” has helped me to at least stop and look at my fears. Try this week as we enter a political shift and uncertainty. Let me know what you notice.

If you are looking for help in this area, I highly recommend the Rising Strong workshop on Saturday and Quiet Places on Sunday. The book I was reading is called Outrageous Openness and it is our Intentional Reading selection in March.

Finding Security in Tumultuous Times

by Amos Smith

All of us more or less thrive on a predictable world, where things go as planned. When Brexit happened in Britain and when Donald Trump happened in America it was a jolt to our central nervous systems. And the shock waves were felt throughout the world. The establishment has been rocked.

For me, Bernie Sanders was the omen. His popularity, especially with young voters, was unprecedented. Then when Jeb Bush, who I thought was the strongest Republican nominee, departed the campaign, I thought to myself… “This country wants deep change. It does not want another Bush or Clinton. It wants someone who will disrupt business as usual, someone who will shake things up.” The American people want someone on the margins like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

Now I pray that our people, government, and nation will find ways to mend the divisions among people, heal the anger and hatred fueled by the campaigns, create hope where there has been fear and suspicion, and attend to the very real concerns, problems, and needs of people.

We live in tumultuous times. Political storms, storms of climate change, international storms are brewing around us. It is tempting to despair, to feel alone and forsaken. And most of all many feel insecure, like the ground is shaking beneath their feet.

In light of all this I think of the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41)… In the case of the storm at sea, the waves were crashing on and spilling over into the boat. In the midst of all that Jesus said “Be not terrified! There shall not be a hair of your head that perishes.” In other words, “Yes, there are many reasons to feel timid and hopeless. Yet, in the midst of it all, I will calm you. I will help you find your center of gravity. I will deliver you.”

I was comforted by Hillary Clinton’s conciliar speech on the morning of November ninth. She said (my paraphrase) that no matter how hopeless we may feel; we should never give up the fight. And that in the big scheme of things, our acts of service, no matter how small, are never wasted. They are chronicled and used by God to further the kingdom.

A Minister’s Empathy: A Perplexing Tool to Bring to a Combat Theater

guest post by Owen Chandler

[Editor’s note: Rev. Owen Chandler, the Senior Minister of Saguaro Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tucson, was deployed earlier this year from the Army Reserve and serves as Battalion Chaplain of the 336th CCSB in Iraq. He frequently writes letters to his home church, and is graciously open to sharing them here on the SWC Blog. This is his July letter.]

Beloved Saguaro,

My prayers and these words travel to meet you with the speed of God’s love. I miss you so. We are nearing the halfway mark and my affection for you remains unchanged. I am grateful for your continued prayers, letters, and packages. I am thankful you continue to grow stronger in your fulfillment of the vision that God placed on your hearts. That strength is contagious. It helps me when I have days here that leave me questioning the nature of my Call and the power of God’s peace.

The last few weeks were challenging in ways needed, unfortunate, and unwelcome. I spent most of the time traveling to a distant outpost. We have soldiers there that help with the supply and sustainment functions of the war effort. Nestled just behind the front lines of Fallujah, I experienced my first combat landing! This is where the plane does a corkscrew maneuver to land – and to think i was sad because I didn’t think I was going to get to ride any roller coasters this summer!

Amazingly, there in one of the austere environments we operate, I met another DOC [Disciples of Christ] chaplain, CH (MAJ) Fisher. I am biased, but i think the DOC develops some of the best ministers. After a week with CH Fisher, I am further convinced that we produce some of the best chaplains. The week I spent with him was like drinking from the font of military chaplaincy wisdom. The guy is the real deal. The soldiers there knew it, too. I watched him engage with the lowest private to the highest colonel. Each soldier left feeling affirmed by the grace of our Lord. I pray that one day I can operate with such skill.

It was fortunate that CH Fisher was there. I was able to process with him one of my most difficult moments of the deployment. As I stated, this outpost held close proximity to Fallujah, during the last days of the battle to retake the city. Each morning I awoke to the sound of cannons firing on the city. I guess you get used to them after a while, but not after only a week. Each day the sounds of war acted as the soundtrack to life on the post. At night, you could see the outskirts of the city due to the distant flashes of bombs and tracer rounds. Day after day, one would read about the desperation of the civilian population being used as shields by ISIS. I saw the faces of Saguaro in those trapped in Fallujah. They were the normal people without the means and connections to escape. My adrenaline pumped with the rage I felt at the evil of ISIS. How could one group be so depraved?

During my time there, the news stated that the battle was over. ISIS was defeated. One night, I was playing basketball with the Navy Seal team located there. In between games, they indicated the last remnants of the opposition were attempting to flee by a large caravan. The Iraqi Army had blocked their exit and there was this weird stalemate occurring just a few short miles from where I was playing. That night I stood on the flight line trying to talk my way onto a flight back to Taji. I was unsuccessful. There, under a darkened night sky, I looked to my left. Where there were once just stars, the sky illuminated, and the bowels of American military might were dropped onto the stalled ISIS fighters. And just like that, it was over; hundreds of lives gone.

It is a strange mix of emotions watching a scene like that. A minister’s empathy is a perplexing tool to bring to a combat theater. To be sure, I find assurance that those ISIS fighters are gone. I don’t understand the evil that drives them. As I told Emily before leaving for this deployment, I do not want my children to have to fight this battle. The effort to retake Fallujah is one more step closer to that reality. The event left me struggling with two issues. To start, I am uncomfortable with the anger I felt towards our enemy. Christ’s words to love our enemies stand before me like a test that I know I just failed. I guess the other thing that gets me is how complete, effective, and devastating our tools of war are in this world. We have spent so much money, intellectual effort, and time perfecting war. I wonder what would happen if we spent equal amounts of such trying to understand peace. Would our efforts be as complete, effective, and uplifting? These are the questions I spent the next few days discussing with CH Fisher. I am thankful for the honesty of these conversations and questions. I imagine I will be discussing these things within my soul for some time to come.

These may be thoughts born of war, but my news feed tells me that maybe they are questions which we should be entertaining back stateside, too. I wish I had something profound to tell you. I am sure that the wisdom of Bill Robey has been a steadying presence in your times of worship as of late. I only have this prayer I wrote in my journal which is growing out of this war:

[with respect to war, fear, and rage] We don’t accept it. We don’t lose heart. We act in love and love alone. We are created in God’s image and this means something. The resurrection is a shared reality that our hands and feet help recreate each day. That is our job. That is our calling. War may surround us. Death may try to overtake us. Revenge and rage may try to seduce us, but these don’t strengthen our souls. Live and pray with courage. If we don’t do it, then who will?

I apologize for the heaviness of this letter. I am fine. I am safe. I am loved. I’ve attached photos to try to show you that I’m still smiling and bringing smiles to the hearts of others.

Until we meet again,

Owen

taji combat cigar club patch
The Australians welcomed me into their special club. I tell them funny stories about roadrunners and coyotes, and they tell me similar stories about kangaroos and Tasmanian devils.

 

Owen's tiny purple heart
Tall people problems: I ran into an air conditioner. The unit made this for me.

 

fire engine
I got a new coffee pot. Fifteen minutes later I got to meet the fire department. Luckily I have experience with small kitchen fires.

 

Owen Chandler with Jonathan Fisher
I was honored to meet and learn from another DOC chaplain. Our denomination represents maybe 2% of military chaplaincy, yet in OIR we make up about 30%!

 

shrapnel extracted from soldiers
The surgeons of one of our outpost showed me some of the shrapnel he extracted from soldiers over the last month.

 

drone tour
I am being given a tour of the drones (UVA). I tried to get them to let me fly it but they kept droning on about cost and liability.

 

Kat Perkins with Owen Chandler
Kat Perkins (finalist on the Voice) was great. She asked if I knew her. I told her, “Unless you were on Daniel Tiger or some other cartoon, there’s a good chance I have no clue who you are. I have kids!”

 

Finally, here is a link to the story I referenced in my letter. Thought you might be interested.

Inside look at US-led coalition’s deadliest single attack on Islamic State

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 fitting response.

by Kelly Kahlstrom

2006 was a year I’ll never forget.

My mammogram came back abnormal. I needed a biopsy. I was a single mother raising a teenager. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how much to say. Or to whom. I eventually shared this news with a friend who responded “Ah don’t worry about it. That happened to me and it was nothing…statistics are on your side.” Somehow, I was not reassured nor was I comforted. Another friend held me, let me cry, and give voice to the terror of facing cancer. No reassurances. No statistics. Just the validation that they had heard my pain. I have never forgotten that life giving moment; it was a fitting response.

2006 was also the year that my daughter got married. In the certainty of her newly found religion and in the certainty of her youth, it was decided that her family of origin would be excluded from most of the wedding plans and certainly the ceremony itself. No bridal shower. No shopping for a wedding dress. No negotiating. We were however requested to wait outside the Mormon Temple in Mesa to greet the happy couple (and the groom’s parents) as they emerged from the ceremony. The pain of these decisions was unbearable at the time, both personally and theologically. Feeling justifiably hurt and angry, my initial reaction was to boycott the event.

Grace, however, comes in surprising packages.  Shortly after the wedding announcement but before the ceremony I attend a Walter Brueggemann lecture. Embedded in the countercultural read of the Exodus story and Yahweh’s response to the voiced pain of the Hebrew slaves, I found my fitting response. “Hospitality,” Bruegemann said, “will always trump vengeance.” As unhappy as I was with the circumstances, a relationship with my daughter was still more important to me than my certainty in the theological position of inclusiveness and while the day of the wedding was difficult, I have never regretted the decision to show up and greet my daughter after the ceremony. “Hospitality will always trump vengeance.” A pearl of wisdom that is just what is needed in the moment; again a fitting response.

But what exactly is a fitting response? Calvin Schrag suggests that it is an ethical analysis of the questions “What is going on?” and “How should we respond?” It is an openness to create what is needed at the moment to affirm life. It cannot be scripted in advance for as moments and experiences change, so will the fitting response. And, it is not to be undertaken lightly. A fitting response requires three things from us:

  1. A willingness to listen to someone’s voiced pain, analyze what is needed to affirm life, and to take action.
  2. A willingness to be changed by the experience – an agreement to enter into the mutuality of a relationship.
  3. A realization that it is not a one-time deal; there is a constant call to respond with openness and awareness while we negotiate and renegotiate our being together.

Similarly, Martin Copenhaver, in exploring an alternative narrative for the decline in the life of the church and of theological education writes, “To tell the story of our time as one of decline is to walk away from our inheritance as Easter people. God is not dead and neither are God’s promises.” Copenhaver’s questions are “What is God up to in our time?” and “What are we to do in response?” Both speak to the work of “breathing life into dead spaces” and highlight the need to formulate a fitting response to the pain we are privileged to see and hear.

Fast forward to 2016…I have found being on the board of Rebel & Divine challenging as well as exhausting as we arrange and rearrange the structure of the organization in the hopes of soon becoming a covenant church in the Southwest Conference. Longing for order in the midst of chaos, and knowing that reacting usually falls short of the desired result, I set out to look for guidance in how to best respond.  I spent the better part of Easter weekend looking for the UCC version of the Presbyterian Book of Order only to find that it doesn’t exist [smile].  As one who engages the world first through my head I seem to forget (fairly often sadly) that I cannot think my way out of all of life’s challenges especially challenges that present in the vertical dimension.

And so it seems that the United Church of Christ is asking me to take the fitting response seriously. It is far harder than just thinking, or remembering the order of Robert’s Rules. It is to recognize and respond to the beckoning of creation; an invitation to create a place from which listening with a new ear or a different way of seeing can bubble up from the depths of my being and make its way through the crowded thoughts of my mind to make itself known to me. And whilst I cannot create a fitting response (for only the hearer/receiver gets to decide if my utterance or action is fitting), I can signifying my willingness to participate by issuing an invitation to language to play.  

I will be the first to admit I do not always dwell in this place. And I need help occasionally finding it again for it is so easily covered over by a culture that values the head more than the heart. A wise friend framed it this way…in the heat of the moment, take a step back and ask yourself if your response is grounded in love or fear. If fear, what would it look like to participate from love? Choose love.  The good news here is that flip-flopping is welcomed!

As you listen to the voiced pain in your communities, both individually and corporately…what is God calling you to do to “breathe life into dead spaces” and respond in love?

It’s the Fear of New Life

by Talitha Arnold

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear (of the Jews), Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” – John 20:19

According to John, it was fear “of the Jews” that made the disciples huddle behind locked doors.  Not only have such statements spawned Christian anti-Semitism for centuries, but I think John got it wrong as to the root cause of their fear.  They weren’t just afraid of the “other” (aka “the Jews”) nor even of death. I think they feared new life.  I know I do sometimes. Perhaps you do, too.

The truth is, such fear resonates through the Resurrection stories. The women ran from the tomb in fear. The guards trembled with fear, “like dead men.” When the disciples saw the Risen Christ by the Sea of Tiberias, they were afraid to ask who he was because, John states, “they knew it was the Lord.”  If that were true, their lives would never be the same. Now there’s a scary thought.

So perhaps they locked the doors out of fear of the religious leaders or the Romans or anyone else they were afraid would do them harm. But perhaps they also shut the doors because they were afraid of him, the Resurrected One, the one who promised them new life. Because if he lived, they would have to live, too.  Really live.

No wonder they bolted the doors. Of course, if he were strong enough to break the bonds of death, he could make it through their doors—and their fears. He probably could make it through ours as well.

Prayer

Risen Christ, break through our defenses and our doors. Give us the courage to be open to your new life.

Are You Resurrection Brave?

by Amanda Peterson

Easter Sunday is filled with joyful celebration of the resurrection.  Yet what I read in Scripture and what I witness at Pathways of Grace is more complex than that.  To be in the presence of a resurrection moment means the willingness to face fears, be vulnerable and courageous.

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were afraid.  Later we read the disciples were huddled in a room afraid to go out.  Those who walk through the door of Pathways of Grace for the first time are often nervous because they don’t know what to expect.  It isn’t often advertised that facing spiritual growth can be frightening.  Especially when it is new.  Saying yes I want resurrection in my life is a courageous statement not a warm fuzzy teddy bear.  In fact being willing to claim resurrection in one’s own life often means letting go of much of what was once comfortable.  That is very scary.

I have witnessed many who stop on the journey because they run into fear.  They are told of course you can do this it is a happy joyful thing and what they experience is vulnerability, change and challenge and feels like failure in the midst of a celebration only gospel.  I want to let those of you who may have had this experienced and stopped because of fear and change that it is worth the risk to try again.  Not for some mountain top high but because it is in the midst of that experience that one really gets to know God in one’s soul.  (and it may even mean coming up with another word or understanding of God).

The good news in the Scriptures and in life is this journey, though individual, is not done alone.  In the Gospels, the resurrection scenes have Jesus there to encourage and inspire.  In our lives today Jesus appears in the form of a book or spiritual director or a new friend or a workshop or a vision or in some other way.  As we get ready to celebrate Easter that is what we are truly celebrating, the fact that no matter how frightening, challenging, joyful or changing this life may be, if we are willing to go to places beyond our imagination we will find God there.

Please consider the offerings at Pathways of Grace the space of encouragement to allow you to enter this scary, powerful, amazing relationship with God.

 

The Words that Shape Us: From “Hosanna” to “Crucify”

by Talitha Arnold

Palm Sunday, 2016

It was a mob scene that first Palm Sunday. People lined the road into Jerusalem, shouting, waving branches, throwing their cloaks on the ground, reaching out to touch the man on the donkey, everyone chanting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”

And it was a mob scene five days later, when some of those same people squeezed into the courtyard of the Roman garrison to shout “Crucify! Crucify!” Same man. Same crowd. Different words.

Mobs are like that. They can turn on a dime. One day everyone is shouting happy Hosannas and life is great.\ The next thing you know, it’s all cries of “Crucify” and death.

Throughout Lent, we’ve explored “the words that shape us” as Christians. The story of the first Palm Sunday and the week that followed remind us of the power of such. words. So does our own time, 2000 years later. “Christian values,” “Biblical principles,” and the name of Jesus are much in our news these days. Not because it’s Holy Week, but because we’re in a presidential campaign season, and there are a lot religious words bandied about. Indeed, in some political circles, candidates must claim their Christian credentials in order to garner votes.

At the same time and sometimes in the same breath, there’s talk of banning Muslims and building walls, labeling immigrants as rapists and murderers, and encouraging violence against one’s opponents. As a Christian minister, I find such hatred and fear-mongering the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ both preached and practiced. As we who are Christian head into our holiest of weeks, it might be good to remember what he actually did say and do.

For Jesus, his teachings of “turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies” weren’t just feel-good phrases. They shaped his life. Throughout that life, Jesus showed the power of love to overcome fear. He reached out with love to embrace people who were afflicted with leprosy or mental illness who were banished from the community. He crossed the divisions of race and religion, telling stories of Good Samaritans, welcoming people of all backgrounds, and eating with “outcasts.” He respected women, honoring those who wished to learn (Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus) and those called to lead (Mary Magdalene–”Apostle to the Apostles”).

Jesus also knew first-hand how hard it is to choose the way of love and non-violence. There were times when his own anger or exhaustion got the best of him. He got cranky with a woman who wanted him to heal her daughter. The day after Palm Sunday, he zapped a fig tree and overturned the tables of the money-changers. The Gospels record how often Jesus went to a “lonely place” to pray. I think it shows how much he needed, in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., God’s “strength to love.” We do, too.

Overcoming fear with love “is not for the timid or weak,” affirmed Cesar Chavez, leader of the Farmworker Movement. “Non-violence is hard work.” Jesus knew that, all the way to the cross. At the Last Supper, he knelt to wash the feet of all the disciples, including Peter who would deny him and Judas who betrayed him. Later when the religious leaders came with their band of thugs to arrest him, one of the disciples cut off the ear of a servant named Malchus. “No more of this!” Jesus commanded. “Put down your sword.” Then he healed the man who helped arrest him.

At any point that night or through the next day, Jesus could have called his followers to arms. He didn’t. Moreover, as clearly demonstrated in the fate of a fig tree, Jesus had the power to zap Pilate, Herod, and all the legions of Rome if he’d chosen. He didn’t. Instead he chose the power of love. “Father, forgive.”

The journey of this Holy Week that begins with tomorrow with Palm Sunday reminds all who would claim the name of “Christian” that to follow the way of Jesus Christ is to follow the way of the one who chose the way of life and love. To accept the call of “Christian” is trust the power of love to overcome fear and hatred. And it is to commit one’s self and one’s life to that hard work of love.

The story of Holy Week that we begin tomorrow shows us–and our world–how to express real Christian values. Saying “no” to violence and hatred is a good place to start.

It’s where he did.