This is the second in a two part series responding to a question a Strafford neighbor has asked about evil. Jesus said that “evil things come from within,” so last week we focused on evil and the struggle against evil in the human heart. This week we will pick up there and move outward to consider how we can respond as individuals and as a church to the evil we find around us.
The worldwide lectionary for this Sunday happens to include a passage from the prophet Jeremiah about evil shepherds who lead the people astray and neglect their needs and destroy them and their habitat. In response, God says, “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.” (Jeremiah 23:1-6)
We will read the 23rd Psalm King James Version and also hear how Jesus had compassion for the people of his day because they were like sheep without a good shepherd. (Mark 6:30-34)
We are the body of Christ, Paul says. We are the followers Jesus calls to do his work and even greater works than his. We are the good shepherds God is raising up for our time and place to confront the evil that is attacking the human flock and the earth and to do all we can to establish the green pastures and still waters and paths of righteousness of God’s realm of compassion, justice and peace.
The urgency of this time in history demands that we decide how we will respond. We will consider where the scriptures and our spiritual tradition are leading us, and how we can discern our specific role.
We will sing hymns and songs of other urgent times that can give us hope and inspiration for our own. The congregation will sing three Freedom Songs and the choir will sing three, and they will be from three different continents–an Argentinian folk song, four South African freedom songs and a song from the American Civil Rights movement. (“The Song of Hope,” “Siyahamba,” “We Shall Not Give Up the Fight,” “Thuma Mina,” “Freedom Is Coming” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”)
Annemieke McLane will direct the choir and play piano pieces by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninov.
Here is a video that shows how many church elders are rising up to be shepherds and calling on us to do the same.
You can read the powerful statement that 23 national church leaders have made at http://reclaimingjesus.org/.
Today I want to share a story about two magical synchronistic events, a spiritual revolution and a poem by Mary Oliver.
The first part of this story begins October 2017. I am a regular reader of the Strafford list serve and found myself looking forward to the writings of Tom Kinder and his reflections on our community and its connection to spirituality
On Monday October 30, he wrote:
“We can feel hope and joy at this, if we love Strafford for its traditional rural agricultural ways and for the beauty of its working land. We can be grateful that a new generation is working hard to make the Strafford of the future, a place where we still have the land and the people and the knowhow to feed ourselves, as our world becomes more worrisome. We can give thanks that we have a strong culture of taking care of one another in times of need.
We can show our gratitude by participating. …
Please extend your compassion and lovingkindness to those around you who are struggling in this hard time.”
That morning I reached out to Christa , I copied and pasted Tom’s message. “Hi there, This was posted in today’s list serve. I like what he said and how he said it. Not this Sunday but one soon, I’d like to check out his service. “
That very morning, Christa copied and pasted that same passage with the same message. We moved independently of one another, yet that meaningful coincidence was the beginning, an unfolding of a relationship with a larger community, an awareness that I was ready for more, and I think that we, as a family, were ready for more.
And here we’ve stayed, building our network of strength through connection and purposeful, thoughtful engagement
Fast forward to the second synchronistic events
Friday June 8, I was listening to the morning news on the way to work about the children of refugees that were separated from their families at the border and were then being confined in NY State, 2,000 miles away from their parents. I was horrified and overwhelmed with emotions. In tears, I sent Christa a text , “we have to do something”.
June 9, the very next day, Christa received an email asking if she knew anyone that would be interested in adopting a local child in need.
Prior to this exchange, to these events, Christa and I had talked about fostering or adopting. I was the hold out, afraid that I wouldn’t like myself if I took in another child. I worried that I would be resentful of time and attention and that I had not enough love to share.
On that morning in June, however, something shifted, and cracked to let the light it (as Gretchen Hannon would say)
I had , I think, a spiritual awaking. A revolution that love, my love, was not a finite resource – that I had the ability to care for and nourish others, that it was not something that I needed to hoard and dole out in measured amounts as a diminishing resource.
This child was not from Honduras, she was not a refugee caught up in the maelstrom of our presidential politics, but she was a child separated from her family
C was in need of love, care, nourishment, laughter and safety.
We had that to offer; we have that in spades.
And that concern that I wouldn’t be enough, or there wouldn’t be enough has been refuted.
I see our family growing in new ways, the joy of watching Emmett interact as a big brother, a care taker , sometimes as an instigator has been such a gift.
We three are now four, and we while don’t know the timeline or what comes next, we (are working to) accept it as part of the process, part of our wild and precious adventure.
Our family, this community, has and is developing “a strong culture of taking care of one another in times of need”.
Maggie then read The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. You can see the text by clicking here, and you can hear Mary Oliver read it below.
Recently a Strafford neighbor emailed me a question: “When does mental illness, such as narcissism and all its horrible attributes become evil? When does mental illness excuse evil?” The questioner suggested that true evil may require that perpetrators know they are doing wrong. If someone (the questioner had a public office holder in mind) with mental illness does something horrific believing that there is nothing wrong with it, can we call it true evil?
This Sunday the lectionary gospel passage is Mark 6:14-29, the story of King Herod executing John the Baptist. It offers the opportunity to reflect on evil and mental illness, especially in rulers and leaders and government actions, but also in our individual lives.
The Bible is full of writings by people who were struggling through evil times or responding to evil actions. It offers a wide variety of portrayals and ways of thinking about and reacting to evil. We also have many recent voices of wisdom born of suffering through terrible oppression and genocide.
The amazingly good news is that while fear, rage, grief and paralyzing despair are natural stages of our response to evil, the spiritual teachings all show a path to positivity and empowerment and transformation. Perhaps the most important thing we can say to any question about evil is to keep moving on that path to a response that can overcome evil’s effects and change the world for the better. Read More
Below are photographs of the Future Directions Statements with their final tally of dots on the Parish Hall Wall. (The online responses were given dots as well.) Underneath the photographs you can find the text of all 22 Statements.
Green dots meant that people agreed that the statements reflected the spirit of the congregation as they understood it, red dots meant that the statements did not. Blue dots said that this area of our church life was important or a high priority, whereas yellow dots said that it was not.
Future Directions Study Group
Summary Statements of Appreciations and Dreams
from the Questionnaire and Small Groups, Fall 2017
Welcoming and Inclusive:
We appreciate this being a church whose doors, hearts and minds are always open, a sanctuary that feels safe and welcoming, accepting of us as we are with room for doubt, for different religious backgrounds and for different views.
We dream that we will be known as a welcoming and accepting place to which anyone in our community who needs spiritual, personal or material support will turn. We dream of accepting differences and imperfections, embracing other cultures and traditions, and maintaining freedom to choose what we think and believe as individuals while living up to the name United Church.
Mission and Social Action:
We appreciate that our congregation reaches out within the community and world to help those in need and to effect positive social change. We appreciate the church’s central presence in Strafford and the role it strives to play as an agent of Christ-like love, with townspeople knowing they can count on the church to be here for them. We appreciate this congregation as a sanctuary in the midst of a complex world where we can come to be renewed so we can go out and serve again.
We dream that our congregation will have vital involvement in everyday life in the community, visible and central to people’s lives. We dream of being a force, not just a presence, trying to make a difference in the world, responding to social wrongs, threats and destructive forces, connecting religion to social issues and social issues to religion including issues of peace, justice and the environment. We want to put our love and faith into practice and our contemplation into action. We hope to have more hands-on opportunities to work side by side with people in need.