Two Big, Hard, Exciting Things Jesus Wants to Help Us Do

I’ve mentioned that there are two things that God’s been leading me to think about as the year comes to close.

The first is our public sphere. After the most fear-driven, divisive, and utterly insane election season most of us ever remember, we’re both exhausted and compelled by our public sphere – what’s happening in the world we share, beyond our own personal day-to-day affairs.

This year’s public sphere – not just the presidential election, but all kinds of things out there in the big world – has for me renewed my commitment to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. If that sounds sort of familiar or at least a bit more poetic than you’d expect from me, it’s because it’s a (translated) line of poetry from the Bible.

The prophet Micah, somewhere late in the 7th century B.C., was inspired to say that this is what God wants out of people: for us to do justice, to love mercy and to talk humbly with God. He said this to people who were beleaguered and confused and troubled in ways that would feel familiar to you and me in its essence, if not in in detail.

This is probably the closest thing I have to a “life verse”, a single line in the Bible that motivates and inspires me to live as I hope to live.

Who’d argue that our public world couldn’t use more mercy and justice and walking with God that is both devout and humble. I could say a lot about each of these phrases, but for now, I’ll just state that all three of these qualities seem patently in too short supply – in our churches, out politics, our leaders, our followers, our business people, our educators, and, well, everyone and all our institutions. Mercy, justice, and walking humbly with God are frankly often enough lacking in my own heart and actions.

But to be those and to advocate those is where God’s leading me.

The second thing is to be engaged in community building.

We continue to discover just how divided and fractured the United States is, let alone just how divided we are from the rest of the world we alternatively sell things to, and give things to, and bomb, and bless, and ignore.

The rest of the world aside, though, our country is more racist, less hospitable, more judgmental, less united, and angrier than may of us thought it was. From all corners, really.

On this second work of community building, I expect I’ll do some more blogging in the days ahead on insights from the powerful, insightful book Disunity in Christ, by the social psychologist and Christian leader Christena Cleveland. It’s really an extraordinary book that you’ll want to read, but I’ll at least share a few of its insights and applications with you.

 

Mercy, justice, and a humble walk with God.

Diverse community building of empathy and love.

Both of these things seem counter-evolutionary to me, contrary to our nature. We evolved to be tribal people, to protect our own. Our tendencies to hive off are shared with most of the animal kingdom and serve well to protect us against external threats.

But they’re contrary to the thing that Jesus seems to long to do in human story – to break down dividing walls with love and forgiveness; to establish societies of justice and mercy; to teach us to walk humbly with God; to restore all things.

This is purely speculative, of course, but I can picture God looking at our pale blue dot of a planet, seeing the human society that he created through physical and chemical and evolutionary processes set into motion billions of years ago, and thinking it’s too bad about the underbelly of all that worked out.

The story of my faith tradition, though, is that in Jesus, God has entered into human history to redeem the sin of the world and to reunite humanity to God.

I’ve got to think some of the fruit of this is a maturation of human society toward justice and peace and mercy, and the creation of communities of unity and love. Much of the New Testament of the Bible is a testament to the spiritual power Jesus has to move cooperating people and community toward these ends.

That’s what I’m leading in toward Jesus for as well.

It’s what I invite you to as well in this Christmas season.

When people lean in toward mercy and justice and a humble walk with God, and when people – as individuals and with the institutions we are part of – when people love as God loves, Jesus is there.

Resources for Engaging in Action in a Broken World

Last week, I spoke on our value for action. Here’s the phrase again that guides us.

  • Action: Love for Jesus compels us to act—to seek justice, show compassion, work for reconciliation, and hope for transformation in joyful engagement with the world.

We also shared some information on ways that individuals and community groups can be engaged in action this fall. Here they are:

ACTION IN THE RESERVOIR CHURCH COMMUNITY, FALL 2016

Reservoir in the City

Assist a local public school through weekly tutoring, or helping run a monthly subsidized market for our local school and community. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)
Attend or help host Ladies’ nights at the Fresh Pond Apartments. Celebrate femininity with henna, threading, food, and music. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)
Attend or help host Soccer Sundays. Build athletic skill and sportsmanship while playing soccer with young people in North Cambridge. (Contact: Cate Nelson – cate@reservoirchurch.org)

Help Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) get out the vote for Boston’s Community Preservation Act (CPA), setting aside more municipal funding for affordable housing, green space expansion and reservation, and historic preservation. To learn more about CPA or to offer help contacting voters living in Boston, go to https://www.sites.google.com/site/gbiocpacampaign/home, talk to Sue Rosenkranz after service today, or email Sarah Outterson-Murphy at soutterson@gmail.com.

Join Tory in attending GBIO’s three-day (11/11-11/13) training on community organizing. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)

Other Reservoir-Related Ventures

Give to a scholarship fund for a displaced college-bound teen our community has been supporting. Over the coming year, we will be looking for further ways to support less privileged college-going youth in our community. (Contact: Dorothy Hanna – dorothy@reservoirchurch.org)

Give to Reservoir Church. Ten percent of tithes and offerings go to local and global partnerships with people and organizations we admire who are pursuing justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. These are highlighted every Sunday your Events and Happenings. Much more of our budget supports our local outreach and efforts at community engagement and transformation.http://www.reservoirchurch.org/about/giving/

Community Resources, Actions of our Members

Peruse the A.R.T.’s list of Boston-area groups working in the areas of education, youth, criminal justice, or racial and economic justice, and offer your time and support. http://americanrepertorytheater.org/page/notes-field-get-involved

Participate in a day trip to get out the vote in NH on Saturday, November 5th. Training will be provided on site, pizza and beer afterwards.  (Contact: Val Snekvik – val.snekvik@gmail.com)

In your own workplace or field of work, look for ways you can pursue justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. Big impacts often take significant and long efforts over many years. Start with what’s in front of you, and see what you and partners can accomplish in fifteen or twenty years.

Buy granola from our friends at The Providence Granola Project, who employ and train refugees in producing a healthy, tasty product for you. http://www.providencegranola.com/

Ask your friends and community group members at Reservoir what they are doing to pursue justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. See if you can participate.

When Bad News Hits

Last week was a doozy, wasn’t it? Sunday, just as I was wrapping up our second service at church, I heard the news of the late night mass shooting in Orlando. Of the 49 killed, there was an accountant, a star athlete, a bouncer, a bartender, a restaurant manager, a young man described as a “cool dude” and “an angel” for his extraordinary kindness. They were sons, daughters, friends, fellow humans. The great majority were LGBTQ persons and persons of color, as well. They were targeted by another young man who claimed to be inspired by radical Islamic funamentalism, including ISIS, and may or may not have been a closeted gay man himself, certainly a relevant topic for consideration if that proves to be true.

But I’m not in a position to analyze. I’m no expert on the events, and it’s likely too soon, certainly for an outsider and amateur like me. I just know that every time I checked the news or even looked at my facebook feed, I saw and heard more, and was paralyzed by a low level grief. On top of that, despite this being a pretty awesome week in my own life in many, many ways, I had the news from a dear friend of a potentially deeply worrisome health diagnosis. So that was on my mind as well.

Thursday, I found myself unable to get much done. Until I noticed that, did a few things, and then went on my way with a fair measure of joy and peace. Nothing I did was all that original, but in case it helps, I’ll share with you all.

I took a walk. The picture for this post, in fact, is the gorgeous and enormous old oak tree in a park I like to walk through and pray in now and then. Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, presents a 2 by 2 chart that outlines the various ways humanity flourishes or doesn’t. The polar opposite of flourishing in his chart is withdrawal, when we have or exercise no capacity for meaningful action, and we open ourselves up to low or no risk or vulnerability.

strong_and_weak_chart_300_280

For folks living in safety and security, we easily hide from the scariness of the big world by retreating into safe and meaningless withdrawal. For me, this looks like endless and mind-numbing facebook scrolling, for instance. Crouch says that one of our simplest paths out of withdrawal is just this.

“Turn off your devices and go for a walk or a run, not just on days when the weather is pleasant but on days when the wind is fierce, the rain is falling or the humidity is high. Shiver or sweat, feel fatigue in your limbs, hear the sounds of the city or the country side unfiltered by headphones. Choose to go to places – the ocean, the mountains, or a broad, wide field – where you will feel small rather than grand.” (90)

My walk did just this – connected me with the big, wondrous world and gave me a moment of perspective taking.

As I walked, I started to pray. I prayed for the victims of the Oralndo shooting and for their families. I prayed for the shooter, and for his family. I prayed for our nation and our attachment to guns and our addiction to violence. I lamented the outrageous state of things in our world, on so many fronts. I prayed for my worried friend and his family.

And in a little prayer book I’ve been using to lead and inspire me, I came across this prayer: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace each of us may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ…” And that felt timely to pray and guided me toward the kind of spirit and action I want to embrace.

Then I did a couple of things that were in my power. On the advice of one activist I follow on facebook, I checked in on a few LGBTQ friends of mine, asked how they were doing, told them they had my prayers and love and support. I signed a petition related to gun violence. I made a note to myself to say something and lead out in prayer the next Sunday in church.

And then I got away from my newsfeed, and I looked to love the people in my path and to live with purpose and joy, as best I could. I find that when any kind of big news hits, certainly when tragedy strikes, it’s easy to go numb watching video after video, reading article after article, taking in outraged social media post after post. I first experienced this in the aftermath of 9/11, when all of us – myself included – couldn’t stop watching those planes crash into those buildings.

But I’ve learned that this ceaseless feeding of my brain with images and outrage only paralyzes me. It doesn’t increase compassion or lead me to any kind of productive action. So I shut it off and checked in on my kids, wrote a couple of notes to friends, and kept an eye out for my next chance to connect or to serve or to be useful. I continue to think about this, almost each day.

This path may not be yours, but it’s been the best I’ve known how to do. And it’s helped keep me awake and alive, even in what sometimes feel like dark days.