Prayers for Annual Meeting

by Karen Richter

Good day, SWC friends! It’s Annual Meeting time! Like many of you, I am full-up with travel plans, budgets and resolutions, to-do lists, and tiny bottles of hair products. Instead of the “usual” blog article for this first Monday of May, I’d like to share with you my prayers for our gathering in Albuquerque.

Spirit of Life; Spirit of Love – we ask that you cover our Annual Meeting with good gifts:

  • That a spirit of prayer mark all parts of our time together.
  • That volunteers for the hosting congregations have a good experience and feel appreciated.
  • That delegates and guests are welcomed with hospitality.
  • That all persons speaking in the plenary sessions and workshops feel heard and valued.
  • That relationships with one another and with You are renewed, deepened or begun afresh.
  • That we might more fully cherish our covenants with one another.
  • That each person present listens gracefully to the voices around them, especially when there’s disagreement.
  • That we grasp opportunities for celebration and connection.
  • That our inaugural anti-racism training goes smoothly and that lay and clergy participants and participant/facilitators are energized and inspired to further reflection and to work in counter-oppression movements.
  • That travel is a safe and enriching time for those who are coming to Albuquerque by car or plane.
  • That each person attending leaves with a sense of renewal and centeredness around their calling in the United Church of Christ’s setting in the Southwest Conference.
  • That we each travel home safely with energy to work alongside God and our brothers and sisters to further our mission and vision in the world!

Spirit whose name is mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

Christ on the Cushion

by Joe Nutini

When I was a child, my parents sent me to Catholic schools. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I received a wonderful, college preparatory education that did indeed prepare me to go to college. I loved college.  I also loved Christ. Like seriously. I was in love with Christ. From the time, I was quite young, I felt the energy of Christ deep within my heart. It was instantaneous. It didn’t require any understanding of doctrine, bible etc. It was just there.

I became a social worker. My education and the love that was in my heart because of knowing the energy of Christ (and perhaps even angels and other “heavenly” beings) led me to that path. Buddhism increased my awareness of Christ. It brought me back to Christ’s energy and love. It also brought me back to myself, to my own heart and to forgiveness.

That’s where I am right now. To get there, though, was quite the journey. The curse of being in the Catholic school, was that as I got older, conservative and literalist doctrine began to enter my soul as a poison. I will add this caveat before I continue. I understand that for some people, conservative and literalist doctrine and biblical interpretation is what “Saves” them. That wasn’t my experience. Though I respect that it is for some.

When I was quite young, I also remembered feeling like I should have been born a boy. I literally thought that my body would look like my fathers and not my mothers. Somewhere in early childhood, I also learned not to say that I felt like a boy. I just knew it was a “Sin” per the powers that be. Just like I knew that two men kissing was supposed to be “sinful”. I kept it to myself. A secret. Mom and Dad told me I was a girl, so I decided to be one.

As time went on, I became a pro at religion class. I always had an A in that class. I was fascinated by it because I had intrinsically known spirit since the time I was young. I wanted people to explain things to me. I wanted to try to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would argue or debate with the teacher. I didn’t believe all the stories. I didn’t believe that Adam and Eve were the only humans and they populated the earth. I didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus had to die on a cross. It just didn’t really fit for me. And so, I wanted to learn more. To see what I was missing.

I received confirmation when I “came of age” as a teenager. I believed in Christ and what I felt was a certain spirituality to the universe. I also didn’t want to go to hell, if I’m being honest. Back then I wasn’t sure if there was a hell or not but the adults kept saying there was. I wanted to do the right thing by this energy that was with me through all the troubles that I felt. I wanted to make Christ happy. I did what the church told me to do. It was a beautiful ceremony and we had a party.

At this time, I also became aware of my queer (at that time we said bisexual) feelings. I had been in puberty early and it felt like torture. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying my spirit and mind. I kept it to myself. I prayed for these feelings to go away. It was a sin. The more I did this, the further and further away Christ felt. That energy, that love, that guiding force in my life started to slip away. In hindsight, I realized I had been betraying myself. When I was 13-14, I didn’t know better.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I wrote a feature edition of our school paper on LGBTQ youth. The religion teachers let us give a survey out on sexuality and gender identity. Right before we were going to print, I was called to the “brothers’” offices. They basically said that, “this issue doesn’t exist here.” They meant that there were no LGBTQ people. I told them that wasn’t true. That I was bisexual. IT just fell out of my mouth. It was the most freeing thing in the world. I felt my heart fill with that energy and love again, for a moment. I was told that I was confused, wrong and that if I engaged in “homosexual acts” I could be excommunicated from the church.

It felt like poison. Every fiber of my being rejected their words. I decided to no longer be Catholic.

In college, I began reading about every religion and spiritual belief that I could find. That included new age spirituality and Buddhism. I wanted to find out what was going on. I couldn’t believe that the God they taught me about in school was the same God who created me. Absolutely not. I figured that maybe I was wrong. That there was no Christ energy or holy spirit. So, I studied, I attended various religious and spiritual services and I began meditation.

During those years, I was a mess until I began transitioning. Even after coming out as queer, I still felt so distant from that love I had known as a child and young teen. It felt miles away. Something that was unattainable. When I came out, it felt slightly closer. When I transitioned, my life changed. I meditated and chanted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I attended healing arts school where this was solidified. I was invited into some native American spaces to learn their teachings.

Yet something was still missing. I could feel that I was in touch with the love of the universe again. And yet, that Christ energy was missing. It felt like an emptiness. So, I began exploring Christianity once more. I spoke with literalists who debated with me, stating that I didn’t understand the scripture or bible. So, I studied it with them, pointing out linguistic differences from my studies in college, debating meaning and syntax. I hung out with Unity and Unitarian Universalists who helped me understand and heal from some of my experiences. I met people from the United Church of Christ who explained their understanding of Christ. I met liberation theologians who, like the UUs and UCC folks, made the most sense to me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

And then I found Shambhala Buddhism. I read the book, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa, the person who brought this form of Buddhism to the US. He was literally saying everything that I had thought and felt for many years. I viewed a talk about “Jesus as Bodhisattva”, a concept that I had read about before but didn’t quite understand as well before.

So, I decided to take Shambhala classes. I distinctly remember sitting in the first class. We meditated for hours. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was I who had been blocking myself from fully feeling the world. I had internalized these poisonous messages that I had heard for a good portion of my life.

I breathed in, when I breathed out, I found Christ again. It was a distinct feeling, so hard to describe. Like putting the last piece into a puzzle and being on fire at the same time. The intensity of it lasted for a moment then dissipated. A chunk of the poison left me and in its place, was this gentle love. A love that came from both within me and outside of me.

Today, I continue to work on undoing these teachings that kept me so far away from this Universal love, the love of Christ, and the love or Buddha nature within. I personally believe these are also complexly intertwined and simultaneously always available to me. I still learning, debating, meditating, praying and learning. I often wonder if these things happened for a reason…a journey to build empathy, love and relationship with others.

Skateboarding As Prayer, Meditation

by Greg Gonzales

My skateboard started to wobble, the axles twitching right and left on a whim all their own. I was still rolling forward at speed downhill, but the board got so squirrely I had to jump off and land in a run to catch my fall — and failed, miserably. As my right foot hit the ground, the force and speed shot the foot backward and sent my shoe flying off behind me. Then I tried to catch myself with my left foot, with identical results. I managed to plant my feet two more times, sock-bare, in a half-second period before I fell to my hands and knees, sliding five or so feet across the asphalt. At least, the locations and lengths of dangling flesh would have suggested so.

Because of experiences like that, skateboarding has become my favorite way to pray, to learn and connect. As a pantheist, I believe God and the universe are one in the same, and that by being alive in the universe, we’re part of God, experiencing itself, suffering and pain included. So my prayer is one of participation, of celebration as a participant of the divine whole. Plus, skateboarding comes with a lot of harsh-learned lessons I won’t soon forget.

Zen Master Dogen pointed out in his metaphysics that all things are Buddha-nature, or impermanent. The living and inanimate are all expressions of this nature, one of impermanence and change. Mountains and bodies of water transform over time, eroding and flooding and widening or shrinking with the earth and weather. The wood shavings and dust that grind off the tail of my board when I pop it, and it drags briefly across grains of rough concrete, are a testament to Buddha-nature in my daily life. Though it retains a familiar feel under my feet, my skateboard is never the same from one second to the next. The scars and scabs on my body speak the same truth. All things change, and my skateboard reminds me I can’t escape that. We have to let go.

Part of skateboarding is letting go and pushing forward through chaos. Falling hurts like hell, but no one masters 4-foot airs and McTwists their first try. A single trick might take six hours to land the first time, or several sessions of six hours over the course of several months. To get a new trick, I have to figure out each individual mechanic, each moving part, and put them together in physical harmony, while working through exhaustion, frustration, bruises, and soreness. At the same time, I have to learn how to fall efficiently so I can get up faster and hurt myself less. I let go of my safety and of my usual conscious mind to focus on a single moment, and that’s where the prayer is.

A skateboard trick and a Buddhist meditation have more in common than someone might think, certainly in terms of focus. Walking meditation in Buddhism is a meditation of action, one in which the method involves observing the world directly, in the midst of bustling daily life. The meditator feels how the foot gives in to the shape of a stone below it, the motion of the leg as it swings, how the arch of the foot grips the stone from heel to toe, and how the bones and tendons move together to transfer weight to propel the body forward. The meditator becomes aware of each movement, each tendon pull, how each moment gives in to the next without skipping a beat. Now imagine the mechanics of an ollie: The skater is crouched, body curled up like a spring, waiting to release its energy; one foot has toes pressed on the edge of the tail, and the other foot sits near the middle of the board, weight also on the toes. Once the trick begins, the skater transfers force from the hip, through tendons in the thigh to those in the calf and ankle, then the foot and toes — at the same time lifting the opposite foot up, to push the tail into the ground and pop the nose of the board into the air. The raised foot then slides across the griptape on top of the board to meet the nose, while the leg of the lower foot is brought upward; as the front foot meets the nose and the back foot jumps from the ground, the entire board is brought to level in mid-air, along with the skater’s body. This simple jump-see-saw motion gives me a chance to watch myself fly, to break mental boundaries, to observe my body in alien motion, to connect with the physical beyond basic experience. Both the walking meditation and ollie tell us about the infinite complexity contained in each and every moment, so long as we pay attention, and this paragraph hardly touches the long list of details to notice.

Skateboarding turns pure-function and visual environments into artistic ones by repurposing objects. Where most people see a curb painted red and thinks not to park there, a skateboarder sees a red curb and thinks about the slickness of that particular paint, and how easy it is to grind across it. Some people might see a tree trunk that’s split and grown into separate trunks, forking off, and give it a quick half-thought before their knowledge of the tree fades. Skateboarders see that tree, and then wonder if they can jump between the trunks; they check to see if there’s enough room behind the tree to get speed, enough space to land on the other side, and if there’s a good angle nearby for a filmer to capture the trick. In skateboarding, a “nice-looking” corporate plaza or a wash behind Fry’s becomes a place to jump, stomp, flip, scoop, and generally dance — on ledges, rails, steps and stairs, embankments, hubbas, gaps, planters… skateboarding adds to these dead objects a layer of life, a second layer of meaning and possibility in mundane, cold, boring places.

The latest discoveries in quantum theory suggest particles behave differently when we observe them. If that’s true, then each and every particle within every object interacts with us on fundamental levels. Even though I’m not quite sure what that entails, exactly — I’m no physicist — it seems to make for good evidence that all things are inextricably connected. As we interact with our environment, our environment interacts with us, and we get to participate as individual parts of it.

With that in mind, we could say just about any activity can be prayer, so long as it’s an intentional attempt to communicate with a divine realm or power or being or presence — our prayer just depends on what or who or where we think the divine is. If it’s right in front of us, then interacting with our immediate world in any way could be effective. Skateboarding is my way, or my dance, to celebrate that interaction. Some people bow their heads and utter a thank you, some chant, some offer animal sacrifice. I skate.

Minor Course Corrections

by Karen Richter

Good morning and happy new year, Southwest Conference friends. Here’s your obligatory New Year blog post. ☺

If you’re passionate (as I am) about the liturgical year, that’s your cue to say, “But wait! The new liturgical year started several weeks ago with the first week of Advent!” Yes, yes it did. I’m not interested in a tired tirade about prioritizing the liturgical year over the secular year. Instead I’m thinking: isn’t it wonderful how our post-modern lives give us so many opportunities for pause and reflection? There’s January, of course. There’s Advent, with its beginning in hopeful anticipation. There’s (for academic types and parents of school-aged children) the school year, with its flurry of supply purchases and new schedules.

And there’s the new beginning of weekly Sabbath and the new beginning of each sunrise. Finally, there’s the new beginning of forgiveness and reconciliation always available to us.

I need every single one of these prompts to begin anew.

So it’s not a bad thing, in this first week of January 2017, when the world is starting fresh along with us, to anticipate and resolve some changes or minor course corrections.

Not diet and exercise. Not writing a book. Not saving money. Not even going to church more often. Again, not interested. We don’t need to squander this beautiful opportunity for newness by simply striving and grasping at becoming better, shinier versions of ourselves. So just cut that out. You are enough. You are loved just as you are.

So I offer here my minor course corrections, not as a stick with which to beat myself up when I fall short, but as a shared guidepost of encouragement:

  1. Do more hard things.
    I was just reading this morning about how pushing our limits can protect against the ravages of mental aging. Not just devilishly difficult Sudoku, but really taking on something that is difficult enough to be mentally tiring. Do something that excites you but isn’t easy.  Do something at which you might fail spectacularly and publicly.

    I’m not sure what this will be for me: more writing perhaps or a new skill.
  2. Rest and celebrate.
    Doesn’t it seem strange that we have to remind ourselves to rest? BUT WE DO. Especially perhaps in these trying times of division, global violence, and increasing inequality, it’s hard to pause to rest. Our culture encourages overwork and busy-ness with prevalent figures of speech like ‘putting everything out on the field.’

    Two thoughts on this: First, I think our willingness to rest is related to our satisfaction with our work. Hence, ‘rest and celebrate’ is tied to ‘do more hard things.’ Second, our reluctance to stop is a symptom of our collective egos out of control. Our work does not keep the world spinning. I had lunch this week with a friend, a Franciscan friar. He reminded me, “We are not called to save the world. The world already has a Savior in Christ. Instead we are called to work.” We can rest and renew more fully (and thereby work more fruitfully) when we see our work with God’s eyes.
  3. Get real and vulnerable with myself and with trusted companions.
    This wouldn’t be a churchy blog worth the name if I didn’t tell you to pray more in 2017 (oops – these are supposed to be MY 2017 course corrections… so I am going to pray more in 2017). Find anything that works for you. I’m a big fan of silence in the car during my commute: no radio, no Sirius, no audiobooks. Walking the dog. Mindful breathing. Journaling. Make any of these into your prayer practice.

    We’re not meant to journey alone. I couldn’t have a New Year blog without also suggesting that you find spiritual companionship. Whether it’s a traditional spiritual director, a small group, or an accountability partner, articulating to another person where you are and what’s going on in your spirit will bring you greater insight and tremendous comfort.  Check Teresa Blythe’s Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101 or poke around on Spiritual Directors International.

Whatever you do or don’t do in 2017, know that you are loved.  Through God’s grace, may we move together more fully into holiness and wholeness.

Speechless

by Karen MacDonald

I don’t know what to say today.

So in the midst of being heartbroken, I step outside this early morning and breathe in life. The waxing super-moon is veiled in thin clouds, throwing soft tree-shadows on the yard. The Big Dipper has wheeled around into the north sky. The wispy clouds on the horizon begin to show tinges of deep pink sunlight……Breathe…..Breathe….

The sun is still burning and the Earth is still turning—and we’re amazingly being given another day.

In the midst of being appalled, I seek the company of those also hurting and seeking hope. Together we pray and tell stories and cry and sing and hold silence and reach for the Spirit of Life.

In the midst of being angry, I re-visit what I wrote in June after the shooting in Orlando: “And we have to do this [pray and act] with an open heart and a spirit of love for all.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’”  

Somehow, someday, maybe beginning today in the midst of deep emotions, may we all find a way to shalom, to peace, to well-being for all beings on this beautiful Earth.

Cherish

by Karen MacDonald

One of my spiritual practices (the one I manage to engage in regularly) is to take a moment five times a day, stop what I’m doing, and breathe a prayer aligned with the time of day, opening my attention to Spirit.  So in the morning when I get out of bed, I stop the indoor morning chores that I usually step right into (Tucker the cat’s insistent yammering for food, sometimes at 4:30 a.m., is hard to ignore), and step outside.  Whatever my wake-up mood (if it is indeed 4:30 a.m. by Tucker’s alarm clock, the mood is likely surly), being outside in the waking day lightens my heart.  The sky shows hints of dawn, a curve-billed thrasher whistles a loud good-morning, the air is fresh.

This morning during my patio prayer, I realized anew….I’m in love with Earth and All My Relations.  The sky, the sprawling mesquite tree in our front yard, the Santa Catalina Mountains in our north view, the hummingbirds that sip from our feeder by day and the bats that make a sugary mess of our feeder by night, the amazing ants that doggedly build their colonies, the coyotes that occasionally skirt my path during morning neighborhood runs—everything is beautiful, a living show of Life.  All of these are my relations in this web of life.  (Well, mosquitoes are perhaps my least favorite cousins in this Life family.)

Everything and Earth itself are living beings, and we’re all related by virtue of the Spirit of Life that permeates all.  (As well as by virtue of the elements formed in and shared by stars of which we’re formed—we are indeed made of stardust)  All of it is beautiful and vibrant, and I love it.  Creation fills my soul, moves my heart, inspires my mind, embraces my body.  The word that comes up most often in my morning prayer as I greet the morning outside is

Cherish. 

A way we can cherish creation is by “Standing with Saguaros.”   A creative collaboration between Borderlands Theater and Saguaro National Park in Tucson, its purpose is to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this year.  Act 1 of the project invited people to find out: “If you stood with a saguaro cactus for an hour, what would you discover?”  Some discoveries of saguaro-standers: “It gives you a whole feeling.”  “I felt gratitude.”  “I kept thinking of [the cactus] as my friend.”

(The other two acts of Standing with Saguaros:

Act 2—“The Saguaro Minute” podcast on KXCI Community Radio @ 91.3 FM, kxci.org;

Act 3—Dance/theater performances in Saguaro National Park, November 2016)

If we paid rapt attention to all the beings around us—cacti, ants, sky, birds, mountains, coyotes, people—

What would we discover?

How would our spirits be touched?

Where might the Spirit of Life be revealed?

What would we do differently?

How might we be moved to respect, to protect,

to cherish?

Detangling

by Amanda Petersen

Recently we have been asking people to leave their cellphones in a basket while events are happening at Pathways of Grace. One of the side effects I had not anticipated has been the realization that when I am not thinking about activity on my phone I become aware of the all the other “attachments” I have. It seems the phone is the first layer, yet there is a deeper layer under that.

The phone connects me to family, friends, work and schedules. With each text, email, and pull to social media, I easily connected to all of it. Yet when I leave my phone at home or in a basket at work, I notice those connections don’t end. My mind is spending a lot of time thinking about family, friends, work, and schedules without the phone. The only difference is that I don’t unconsciously and frequently connect and in so doing not really know how connected and powerful some of those connections are.  Without the phone, I notice that maybe I am spending too much time thinking about certain things and taking on more than I should. I also find that  rather than immediately connect, I can instead trust the person or situation to God and offer a prayer. In addition to all of that, I get to make a choice – to create some space between my thoughts and all the aspects of life. In doing this I engage the Divine on where my thoughts are being invited to go in a way that brings light and love.

Who knew that leaving a cell phone behind would be a type of contemplative meditative practice? I am very excited about some of the new opportunities happening at Pathways of Grace to take a breath and listen deeply to life. I invite you to have some phone unplug time and use it as a spiritual practice. Let me know what surprises you.

Blessed Stillness

by Amos Smith

The writer Kathleen Norris tried to get some kids in a classroom to sit in silence. When asked to sit silently a second time one fifth grader retorted, “I don’t want to!” He continued, “It’s like we’re waiting for something, it’s scary.” 1 Silent prayer is not only scary. It’s exceedingly difficult. On the surface, it seems simple, yet anyone who’s tried it will attest to its difficulty. It’s perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. Yet, it’s also the most rewarding.

The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible than training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training.

Because training the mind seems insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable results, the Western mind usually dismisses it as “navel gazing” or “self-hypnosis.” “Don’t you have something better to do?” Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant—as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet, mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and the key to freedom.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers retreated from all worldly affairs. They sojourned into the desert to behold blessed stillness. And Quakers through the ages have written that deep listening to God requires stillness and silence. We can’t pray unless we pause and listen for the “still small voice of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:12b, NKJV).

1 Norris, Amazing Grace, p.17.

image credit: Rich Lewis

Hungry for God’s Word

by Talitha Arnold

What are you hungry for? Chocolate? Ice cream? A big juicy steak? Grilled veggies?

Long ago, the Prophet Amos proclaimed a different kind of hunger, one for the word of God. He said his people were in the midst of a famine in their land. “Not a famine of bread or a thirst for water,” he said, but a famine of the hearing of the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:4-6, 11-12)

Amos could have been talking about our time, our land, and our world. Perhaps like you, after the last two weeks of news from Turkey and France, Dallas and Baton Rouge, and all the other violence-racked places of our world, I am hungry for God’s word–

God’s word of peace that this world seems incapable of offering.
God’s word of love that can overcome all the hate and fear.
God’s word of hope that pushes back the despair.
God’s word of courage to trust that peace, hope, and even love are still possible.

How do we hear that word? Turning off the news, at least for a while, is one way. The world and its news will still be there when you turn it back on.

Joining with others in worship to give thanks and raise our voices in song is another way. So is taking time for prayer, on Sunday mornings and throughout the other days of the week as well.

But how to pray in such a time? Here’s a prayer from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship to get started:

Jesus said, “You ought always to pray and not faint.”
God of heaven and earth, help us not to pray for easy lives;
But pray to be stronger women and men.
Help us not to pray for tasks equal to our powers,
But for power equal to our tasks and your work.
So that the doing of your work in our world will be no miracle—
But our openness to you and your power will be the miracle.
And every day we will wonder at ourselves and the richness of life
That has come to us by the grace of God. Amen.

Another one:

Dear Lord,
We pray for all the children entrusted to our care
and those throughout the world. Be good to them.

The sea is so big,
and their boat is so small.
Amen.

When we don’t have the words to pray, when we can’t will ourselves not to worry, when we are famished for God’s word, the prayers of others can feed our deep hungers. I hope you’re hungry enough to join in worship and prayer tomorrow. And if you can’t be there, I hope you will take time to offer these or other prayers for our time. Lord knows this hungry world needs them.

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.”