The founder of Dartmouth’s Religion Department died this week after a long and faithful life. Fred Berthold was a wise and generous-hearted professor, mentor and promoter of social justice.
Fred wrote a book on “the role of anxiety in contemporary thought” in 1959. That certainly was an anxious era. We are in another one now.
New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta wrote this week about interviewing leading young climate activists in seven countries around the world. She said, “They spoke not only about how they viewed the risks to their future but how they saw the effects of climate change already in their communities. As a parent, I was most struck by hearing how terrified they were.”
The church has an antidote to anxiety and fear to offer us as individuals and as a society. We will hear a beautiful summary of it this Sunday in the book of I John: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…. There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear…. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
It is comforting to think that we have this ever-flowing unconditional universal love that we can abide in, that we can immerse in anytime, and it is even more comforting that if we abide in that great comfort then we can and indeed must be streams of God’s all powerful love into the world.
The word must is not a commandment in the book of I John, it is a scientific fact—if we turn our life and will completely to the Spirit, the result will be love. In the Christian contemplative tradition’s ancient formula, kenosis (self-emptying and opening to God) leads to metanoia (a developmental evolution of consciousness moving toward having the heart and mind of Christ) which results in an increase of agape (the love of God and Christ flowing through us into the world).
In other words, what starts as an individual movement toward a higher power for personal comfort and guidance and help living our life in a terrifying time becomes a new way of being in the world that transforms individuals and society around us. It becomes an ethic founded on the principles of universal oneness and love.
The extremely good and exciting news is that we are seeing this ethic emerge from an evolving new consciousness around the world today. We have many leading voices articulating it in detail, including the Earth Charter, the World Parliament of Religions’ Global Ethic, the Charter of Compassion and the “Barmen for Today” contemplative Christian statement. This ethic unites all the disparate groups that are working on separate aspects of social justice and care for the creation because at their core they all are working for a world of oneness and love.
The power of this unified movement really could finally fulfill Jesus’ vision and change the world into the realm of God on earth, a planet living sustainably in harmony with nature with peace, compassion and justice for all.
The worship service this Sunday will celebrate the eternal, ever-flowing force of love and life and light that is our greatest hope and comfort and source of guidance and power in this anxious time. We will read from Psalm 146, I John 4:16b-21 and Luke 16:19-31. The congregation will sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “In Heavenly Love Abiding,” and a new hymn set to the beautiful Jewish hymn tune, LEONI (“The God of Abraham Praise”). The choir will sing a Taizé “Magnificat,” an Amidon arrangement of the contemporary gospel song, “I Still Have Joy,” and “We Are One in the Spirit.” Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces by Schubert and J.S. Bach.
Here is the choir’s anthem for Sunday: