A poem/prayer for the descendants of Cain

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My heart is heavy with grief this morning. So much fear and hatred. So much violence. From this grief I wrote this poem/prayer:

A poem and prayer for the descendants of Cain:

I watched the video.
Saw his dark face streaked with tears
Of the same color and saltiness as mine.
We are human, he cried. I am a man.

That’s all he was saying. I am. I am.

Perhaps we clutch the cold steel of our weapons so tightly
because we have forgotten
the “I am” within our own souls-
That spaciousness that is God
in us.

We forget,
so we pray and wait passively, helplessly,
for help from above.
When right here right now
Hope is already in the heart that says,

I see you.
And I am, too.

World Refugee Day: Imagining a New Way

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Photograph by Daniel Etter.

There are few who haven’t been moved by the visible anguish of Laith Majid as he and his family finally landed safely on the shores of a Greek island. Clutching his little ones, he arrived drenched and freezing in a rubber dinghy barely afloat, with an entire nation’s pain written on his face. His bravery and suffering awakened my heart like a stinging slap of icy salt water.

I wept for him. I tried to imagine what it was like to be him.

  • I have never been so very desperate as to dare to bring my family and others across a huge sea in a rubber dinghy meant for three.
  •  I have never had to leave absolutely everything behind, showing up in a new land as a pauper with children in tow, fully dependent on the good will of others.
  •  I have never had to test the courage it takes to simply choose to live.

It’s easy to go throughout my busy week and forget that millions of people live on this planet with refugee status. The UN says that there are “currently some 43 million uprooted victims of conflict and persecution worldwide. More than 15 million of them are refugees who have fled their countries, while another 27 million are people who remain displaced by conflict inside their own homelands — so-called ‘internally displaced people’.” The sheer numbers of desperate people are overwhelming. They are people who love and are loved, people who have hopes and dreams. And for the many who are housed in refugee camps, generations will pass before anything really changes for them.

I don’t believe we forget because we don’t care. A good many of us are simply trying to love God and our families, do our jobs, pay our bills, and surf the ups and downs of our lives. It’s not lost on us that in America we have it pretty good.

But here are desperate human beings asking the world for help.

This brings up lots of legitimate questions and concerns. How many refugees can a local economy take at once? How do we designate resources for all the people in need? Is there enough to go around? Is there enough for us? And what if they have terrorist leanings? Are we inviting the horrific cruelty of ISIL into our midst? We all know that the political struggle over the issues has been divisive and brutal.

I’m tired of arguing a “side”. I can only dare myself to gaze at Mr. Majid’s face and encounter his need. It scares me.

I am grateful that we have our stories, our sacred narratives that can speak to the humbling truth that I have no idea what to do. The refugee situation is a worldwide crisis. The battle of the Left and Right keeps us stuck. But I have been reading some of the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann who brings us to the stories that deal with overwhelming pain and stuckness.

[Note: These next paragraphs are my attempt to synthesize and summarize Dr. Brueggemann’s brilliant words and work from The Prophetic Imagination. The first edition of this book was written in 1978 but I find it uncannily fitting for today. Any and all brilliance in the following paragraphs is purely his.]

The story of the Exodus is a powerful point of identity for Israel. They had been were slaves in Egypt. They had become accustomed to life under Pharaoh. It was the only social reality that could be imagined. Even the religion of the Hebrew people was subverted to work for the Pharaoh’s purposes to keep the machinations of his kingdom moving. Life was hard but at least there was work and food. But Israel cried out under their bondage. And God heard.

In the stories that follow, we see that the claims of Pharaohs’ empire are ended by the disclosure of the freedom of God, that is, that God is not beholden to maintain the purposes of the dominant culture. God is not captive to anyone’s social perception or purposes. The God of Moses subverts the comfortable reality of Pharaoh and sides with the oppressed and the marginalized. The God of Moses dismantled the politics of oppression and exploitation by countering it with the politics of justice and compassion. The Hebrews found themselves being formed into a new way of being, to match the vision of God’s freedom.

The revolution of Moses was sustained for generations (with some significant ups and downs) until under King Solomon, Israel itself became “empire”. The kingdom of Solomon was one of incredible affluence. Whereas the alternative consciousness of Moses arose in a time of scarcity, there were enough consumer goods in Israel under Solomon to remove much of their anxiety about survival. The alternative consciousness brought by Moses began to lose ground. It is difficult to maintain a revolution of justice and freedom when there is satiation. In our own economy for example, says Brueggemann, it is hard to maintain passion for civil rights when we are so overly fed.

However, he continues, the great Solomonic achievement was achieved by oppressive social policy. The affluence was hierarchal and unevenly distributed. Brueggemann also suggests that the religion of the Hebrews once again became a static religion in which the freedom of God was subverted into servicing the purposes of the King. He calls this a “religion of immanence” which means that the prevailing idea was that God was at the disposal of the King. When religion becomes static in order to maintain the purposes of empire, the people are conditioned to become afraid of anything that might change the status quo. The passion for real freedom and justice has been co-opted for lesser things. Those in power know that all it takes to counter an alternative consciousness is satiation.

Brueggemann describes the effects of the empire’s numbing satiation of the people: In the royal program of achievable satiation there is a religion of optimism in which God has no business other than to maintain our standard of living. There are no mysteries to honor but only problems to be solved using the cost accounting of management mentality. The value of a soul is calculated by statistics and financial speculations. This numbing satiation also requires the annulment of neighbor as life giver. It imagines we can “live outside history as self-made men and women.”

America, in all her splendor, is not unlike the empire of Solomon and Pharaoh. We boast unprecedented affluence and yet, the distribution of such affluence is extremely inequitable. As with Solomon and Pharaoh, the working class supports the upper echelon. American Christianity has in large part become conflated with the American dream, the religion of optimism. Being self-made and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps has become a religious value. American Christianity has become static in that we cannot see beyond our infighting to imagine a different reality this side of heaven. In our sleepy satiation, pockmarked with bouts of fear, we only can see to preserve ourselves.

But just as it was with Israel, it seems we have come to a time when God has tired of indifferent affluence. Like the prophets of old, the sopping, traumatized travelers that are washing up on the earth’s shores serve as a means of startling our hearts awake beyond our fears, our politics, and our comforts. The reality of human suffering – all of our suffering- can awaken us to seek a better vision that matches the freedom of God.

Even as empire lives by numbness and controlled perceptions, Jesus penetrates numbness and enters into the hurt of desperate people, and eventually comes to embody it. He reveals a very different value system than empire, where the outcast and the loser are the valued ones, where he calls into question even all moral distinction on which the society was based, and where he transforms through his own vulnerable solidarity with poor, empty and grieving.

The answers we seek lie in the awakening of our consciousness. Our future is not bound by this present. It cannot be assured or guaranteed by the values of empire. However, Jesus shows us the way to this alternative consciousness, this new mind. It is the way that empire can never imagine. It is the way of self-emptying. Jesus does not numb himself to the pain of the hurting; he joins it. He is mercy.

Brueggemann says that the future is an unqualified yes from God. Every great teacher of mine agrees! God is free from the mechanistic ways of our best systems, our “what if’s”, and our fears around fairness and deservingness. If we believe this is true, we are also free to imagine a reality different from the one we have created. We are free to risk and to enter into the pain of the refugee. We are free to awaken the passion of mercy.

Brueggemann reflects:

“Passion is the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel is the enemy of imperial reality. Imperial economy is designed to keep people satiated so that they do not notice. Its politics tend to block out the cries of the denied ones. Its religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns misery alive in the heart of God.”

The misery of Mr. Majid and countless others like him, is the misery of God. As we awaken again to the freedom of God, we may just find a way to join Mr. Majid there in God’s aching heart. We may awaken enough to dare to imagine God’s alternative reality, and we may just heal the world.

 

 

Dear Straight Christians, Can we talk?

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Dear Straight Christians,

We are all reeling from the fact that fifty precious children of God were gunned down in the wee hours of last Sunday morning. Fifty families are grieving the loss of their children. Fifty-three more families sit with their wounded loved ones in Florida hospitals.

Make no mistake, these souls were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientations. My gay family members and friends who I love dearly are devastated, broken hearted and traumatized. Our nation is once again aching from the raw, open wound of senseless, violent loss.

Loving them well now is going to ask a lot of us. Because, it isn’t about us.

Let’s be honest. The gay community already knows what too many Christians believe about their orientations. They know how they have been judged in character. They have heard, “You’re rebellious, you offend God, you are a mess, disgusting, disobedient. We don’t affirm you or support you. We don’t seek need to seek to understand you.” Then they have heard, “love the sinner, hate the sin” as a posture that attempts to justify the things we’ve said. But what that phrase actually communicates is, “We can judge what is acceptable in you and what is not. You are tainted. You must hide part of your soul away.” These things can never communicate love.

Can we have the courage to be even more honest here? Words and beliefs such as these help to create a climate of mistrust and otherness that can pave the way for hurtful actions. I am not assigning blame. I am saying we need to be aware of the ramifications of our ideologies. We affect the whole, for good or for not, and creating so much otherness fans the flames of those who need a target. After an event like this, we shouldn’t be surprised if the gay community has difficulty trusting our tears and love now.

The human ego cannot face its own shadow. We each keep our lesser-than, insecure, unloved parts hidden away, believing that if all I show to others is what will give others the best impression of me, then that impression is who I am. And it’s who I want to believe I am. However, Jesus was never fooled by the “clean cups” of the Pharisees that were gleaming on the outside, but filthy on the inside. When we hate, disdain or feel threatened by something in others, we are actually projecting the hated and rejected parts of ourselves out onto them. It’s a way of feeling purged and feeling acceptable by comparison as we reject, diminish or set them apart in some way. We even dare to believe that our rejection of the unacceptable other (or their parts) pleases God. This way of thinking sets up an atmosphere of fear and mistrust that opens the doorway to justify hurting the excluded ones. This pattern is as old as Cain and Abel. It’s been in our own sacred narratives from the very beginning.

The gay community have long been our scapegoats. And now that they are hurting and afraid, we have the opportunity to change for the sake of love. We have opportunity to be a part of the healing of the world that we so long for. It’s an opportunity to recall and reflect that the heart of God is not either/or. The heart of God is Mercy.

Jesus always beckons us into deeper and deeper depths of love. His way is always the path of kenosis, the emptying out of ourselves and our egos. Just as a swimmer cannot enter the depths of any waters weighted down with baggage, so must we leave our shoulds and oughts and dogmas and statements of beliefs on the riverbank, emptying ourselves of everything, so we may dive in too.

And so, may we stun the world with what the love of God really looks like:

  • Love comes to us as we are.
  • Love does not come with caveats.
  • Love doesn’t draw lines, make demands, or ultimatums.
  • Love seeks to know what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes.
  • Love doesn’t look down upon anyone.
  • Love never says, “us and them.” Love creates “we.”

And, may we graciously stand in the way of those who could do harm during this time of grief:

  • It is not time to expect the gay community to be grateful for our sorrow. But they sure could use genuine advocates for their safety and basic human rights. Even simply asking one another to watch how we speak can help.
  • There are a lot of competing voices clamoring for attention today in the aftermath, rendering the pain of the gay community invisible. Honor the grieving by not allowing yourself to get sidetracked in arguing other issues.
  • There’s lots of scapegoating and blame, which is always driven by fear, not love. Be the voice that says, the wounded and fallen ones did not deserve this.
  • Remember, it’s not about our caveats, and making sure people know where you stand. That’s ultimately only self-serving because it creates “us and them” again. It’s all about unfettered, unbounded love.

We have been down this road so many times. Late night host and person of faith Stephen Colbert said, “What do you say in the face of this horror? I don’t know what to say…But sadly, you know what to say because it has been said too many times before… It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. By accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing, except for the loved ones of the victims and families for whom nothing will ever be the same. It’s easy to…despair and say, that is the way the world is now. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script.” Preach, brother.

Love can even move an obstacle as heavy and stubborn as the human ego. Love moves us beyond despair to open up the courageous humility that transformation requires. Love awakens us to its powerful movement throughout all of creation that will ultimately knit us all together as one.

The love of Christ says, you are not other than me.

May all of these children rest in peace with God.

Love,
a fellow sojourner

 

August 2012 Synchroblog and Provoketive Magazine: Follow Me

This month the Synchroblog is partnering with Provoketive Magazine once again. We will each explore the implications of Jesus’ words: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

“Take up your cross and follow me.” ~Jesus

As I reflect on the severely polarized and politicized struggles within American Christianity it is evident how little these struggles really have to do with Jesus. Both sides are more interested in isolating an ideology and then vilifying those who hold a different view. And of course, we are all convinced that our ideology is more “biblical” than any other. In all honesty, I think we hold on for dear life to our stances and beliefs so that we may convince ourselves that this is what Jesus really wants from us. It’s like a collective thought disorder. But it’s much easier than following him.

Because truthfully, who really wants to follow him?

He did the very thing that our American worldview does not allow. We are all about being upwardly mobile, successful, safe and prosperous and so we have co-opted God into that belief. We believe that God is all about blessing our efforts and that our success proves God’s favor. Our Christianity has become a prop for middle to upper class comfort and security. That ideal is found nowhere in the gospels. Jesus’ movement was decidedly downward. He moved right into the neighborhood of powerlessness and need.

I think what is most difficult for us is that Jesus, though already fairly poor, chose to become homeless. He claimed all humanity as his family and moved away from his nuclear family, which in his culture was a shameful act. (He obviously needs a tutorial in family values.) But in addition to that, while most good Jewish men of his age would have married and started having children, his singleness aligned him with the “non-procreators”, like the eunuchs, who were considered unclean and inferior. There were no categories of gay or straight in Jesus’ day; people were either procreative or non-procreative. Those who did not or could not produce children for any reason were suspect, or outcast. (See Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:11-12.) He chose solidarity with the most despised.

We know he treated women as full and competent disciples, he welcomed the stranger and the sick, touched the dead, and healed the children of the enemy. In his presence the tight miserly hands that held onto precious silver and gold opened wide. He undermined every structure of religion and empire and really, really ticked off those with power. Let’s just be honest. It’s far, far easier and safer to convince ourselves that being pro-life and justifying the harsh realities of the lives of those with less (money, resources, opportunity), or feeling superior for being more tolerant than thou, is somehow at all like the path Jesus walked.  Instead, Jesus asks us to pick up the instrument of our death and to follow where he goes. Any sane person would count the cost. Any sane person would struggle with it, because to follow Jesus means that we no longer get to co-opt the faith to make our own lives work.

Many of those whom I know that consider themselves to be “biblical” Christians feel that the “dying” that is asked of them means they reject the “world” and its values (hence the dogged political views). However, I wonder if how we have come to understand “the world” has become quite distorted. Blogger and Wild Goose Founder Mike Morrell says, “Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.”

And there it is. What will “kill” us is following Jesus’ movement into the God-blessed and God-beloved world, and receiving those for whom Christ died as we would Christ Himself. That means making a home with them all, in the here and now. That means looking beyond political and doctrinal divisions into the eyes of all humanity, not to minister to them or over them, but to join them and work alongside them. Jesus asks us to do the very thing our religious and political hearts find abhorrent. But by making space within ourselves to receive the other, we are changed by them and ego dies. We begin to become less defined by our certainties and stances, and more defined by love, by becoming “we”. And Kingdom comes. That was Jesus’ prayer for us before he died, and his prayer for us as he continues to live.

It’s much easier to convince ourselves that we are following Jesus by choosing to eat or not to eat at a certain chicken restaurant. It’s much harder to share your table with those whom you have decided don’t belong. It’s even harder to admit that there is only One Table. However, we are going to need each other because let’s face it, Jesus’ path is more than a little crazy. It will cost us our lives.

Links to the Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in.:)

Carol Kuniholm Which “Way” Am I Called to Follow?

Glenn Hager Strange Places

A question about the art of Thomas Kinkade

“Art is forever,” Thomas Kinkade said. “It goes front and center on your wall, where everyday the rest of your life you see that image. And it is shaping your children, it’s shaping your life.”

And what shape does it give? To be honest, the artwork of Thomas Kinkade has always caused my heart to sink. This doesn’t come as a surprise to my artist friends, all of whom dislike his work for expert art reasons that I don’t fully understand. But I have plenty of friends who love his work. They look at me with Spock eyebrows. That is not logical, they say. After all, it’s pretty and serene and dappled with light.

The simplest way I can describe what I feel is that Kinkade’s art simply does not tell the truth. It’s too perfect, too sweet. There’s no flaws, no imperfections, no hint of struggle. It’s like the world has fallen asleep under a pretty spell, peaceful and frozen. There’s no redemption happening because there’s nothing that hurts. There’s no hope necessary because there’s nothing that has broken the heart. There’s no real joy because nothing has ever been sad. None of us can really live there.

It reminds me of how much of American Christianity wants to see the world within the enclaves that they have created for themselves. In soft yellow light there’s no need to see the hundreds of thousands of children who starved to death last night. There’s no need to see the impoverished women and children in neighborhoods right across the tracks. There’s no need to see the effects of our wars. There’s no need to see the immoral acts done by financiers that impact an entire global economy. There’s no need to follow Jesus to the cross because in Kinkade’s art, we skip to Easter.

I’m not sure that Kinkade’s work tells us much about heaven either. As far as I can tell, heaven will be filled with scarred and imperfect people. There’s not any other kind. Our wounds will be redeemed and healed but I can’t help but believe that our shiny white scars will remain in their place because they will testify to the work of love that has been done for us and with us here in this reality. Perhaps, our scars will be the art of our worship for all eternity, gleaming like the pearl that is formed because of a wound to an oyster. Even Jesus’ scars remain, as shown to us when the disciple Thomas pressed his fingers into the ragged punctures in his hands.

I guess I see truthful art as a window, an icon into our lives. It reflects upon life as it is, not as we want it to be. It doesn’t screen out what is gross and hurtful, but it does find the struggling leaf that pushes up towards the sun through the rocks. It tells us that scars and imperfections are welcome, even beautiful. It tells us about healing.

I mean no disrespect to the memory of Mr. Kinkade or his family or to my friends who enjoy his work. Apparently he was a wounded heart too. The first news stories following his death reported that he died of excessive drinking (not the final report). Maybe it was just too painful for him to look at his own wounds. Maybe, he covered his own broken heart with layers of pretty paint. But I imagine that Jesus is showing his scars to this Thomas now, and encouraging him that it is ok to see.

[February 2012 Synchroblog] Economic Inequality: Coming Back to Our Senses

Our Synchroblog this month explores the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor in our country and others. Reports show that this gap is has reached its highest level in 30 years. One only needs to look at history to see that money equals power in this world. And when so much power is in the hands of a few, the many are disadvantaged. The extremely poor are even more at a disadvantage. Dr. Cornel West says, “Poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.”

I didn’t want to be part of this blog. It gives me a pain in the gut to think about these things. I have seen few issues create more anger and divisiveness than this one. I have seen it turn seemingly civil and kind people into raging, snarling foes. Even for those who can contain their anger, there remains a certain unwillingness to see the plight of others who are impacted by their views. And I have no solutions. I do believe that re-regulating Wall St.* and insisting that the very rich and the big corporations pay their fair share in taxes is the right thing to do. That’s just common sense. But I don’t know how to change our love for this beast that ensnares our lives. We need to try. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that reference the poor. That’s a significant clue that this is supposed to matter.

In all honesty, all I know to do is call out to the church, for we are the embodiment of Jesus now. Jesus turns power upside-down. He is the one who takes an axe to the roots of systems that exploit and oppress. Like Jesus, we are the persistent little stream of water that gradually softens the rock hard foundations of the structures of power. I don’t know so much about what to do, but I do think we can explore who we are meant to be.

I have come to believe that money stands in opposition to the Kingdom. There is nothing else about which Jesus gave such an explicit warning. He made it very plain in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt. 6:24) Jesus is rarely so dualistic in his thinking. But here He is very plain. It’s either/or.

Money seems to break down the very essence of who we are meant to be as human beings. It disembodies our faith. It quickly divides us into the haves and have-nots, distancing us from the realities of each others’ lives. The money/power thing exposes how one of the saddest questions in the scripture has played out throughout time: “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” With the heart of Cain, our answer is a loud and definitive, no. We do write out our checks to a local charity or dish out food at a homeless shelter. But truthfully, we are the jealous workers in the vineyard, so afraid that someone will get something they don’t deserve, especially when we’ve worked so hard.

We have forgotten that the source of the goods we produce buy and sell were never ours to begin with. We are divorced from the acts of others in our communities that make it possible for us to work at all, to manufacture, create, transport materials, or buy and sell anything. The further away we have moved from tilling the earth to forth food in order to survive, the more disembodied our lives and services have become. Trading stocks and making decisions that affect the lives of millions have become an a-moral acts, truly distanced and disconnected from the men, women and children who are affected. Finally, we have dared to believe that what we have earned is our own. We have hidden ourselves away from any reminder that in truth we all are needy, dependent people because our very ability to think and create and work comes from God from the start.

Christianity involves coming back to ourselves as a whole. Jesus is not just a ticket to heaven, but the means of reconciliation and restoration to a communal life of Shalom, which is a community of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight**. Even the Our Father prayer invokes community. Together we say, “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” This Jesus thing is all about being intimately connected with the needs and realities of the other.

In small ways and within small groups, some things are beginning to change. Churches are connecting with those who create community gardens for themselves and others in need. This allows for the dignity of taking part in working for all, as well. Interest is growing in establishing more local, sustainable food supplies. There is a renewed interest in handmade goods and skills. People are simplifying their lives and getting rid of stuff. With less to protect, perhaps we’ll have more to share. With less to protect, we may recover faith in a new way. We might actually remember what it means to trust for our daily bread, trusting God by trusting each other. Maybe we’ll also remember what is means to be grateful.

In light of all this, I celebrate a woman with a level of faith I don’t know yet: Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

[*Seriously, how did de-regulation happen? Was everyone asleep? That de-regulation happened was a clear example of the power wielded by those with extreme wealth.]
[** The word shalom is described in “Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin”, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.]

LInks to the other Synchrobloggers will be added as they come in:

Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …

Kathy Escobar – Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up

Carol Kuniholm – Wondering About Wealth

Glenn Hager – Shrinking The Gap

Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution

Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses 

K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice

Abbie Watters – My Confession

Steve Hayes – Obscenity

Hope is Held Between Us [Provoketive Magazine]

[This month our Synchroblog partnered with Provoketive Magazine. See below for links to other Synchrobloggers.]

Sometimes, ok, perhaps it’s often, I weary of the discipline it takes to stay faithful to the routines of tending life. I begin to skimp on the practices that nurture body, mind, soul and community. Fortunately, every now and then something wonderful comes along to enliven my efforts.

My husband and I met with friends for dinner a couple of nights ago. They are the type of friends with whom you always wish you could spend much more time. We enjoyed delicious food, wine, conversation, and heaping platefuls of hope. Interestingly, we had decided beforehand that we would discuss the end of the world. We were only half-joking. This idea was instigated by the distress of another mutual friend, a very wealthy man, over his fear of an impending world-wide economic collapse. He was ready to liquidate all his assets, pack up and move to South America. (I am not sure why South America would be better if the whole world was in trouble but there you have it.) One of our dinner mates is also in the financial world and well acquainted with the inner workings of the struggling economy. We looked forward to hearing what she might have to say.

We agreed that the mutual-friend-turned-conversation-starter is very bright and very rational man. This reaction seemed very out of character for him. But this sort of thinking is entrenched in our collective psyches and probably has been since the beginning of time. We are all afraid of what we cannot control. We are all afraid of loss. This fear is amplified through the lens of round the clock disaster movies and documentaries, and the Mayan, Nostradamus and Left Behind theories that all seek to interpret many world events in catastrophic terms. In response, there are survivalist websites selling packaged food and gear. Self-protective instincts run deep.

Our conversation moved to what if? Specifically, if major calamity does strike, how do people of faith respond? How do we create safe space for ourselves and how do we care for our neighbors? How do we share meager supplies with those who have run out? How do we offer the hospitality of God?

And, what would it be like? Would desperation finally push us to the faith that we have not grown into yet? You know, the kind of faith that feeds 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes, the faith that heals sickness and that finds the coins we need in the mouths of fish? We had no answers. These probably weren’t our real questions anyway. We have not been asked to live this way, not yet.

It was in this context that one friend brought up the idea of spiritual eldering. Spiritual elders are the folks who have been around a while. They have seen suffering and they have seen great beauty. They have seen heart-breaking betrayals, and they have seen love and sacrifice like that of Christ himself. They have seen faith fail and they have seen grace overflow. These are the ones who have “set their faces towards Jerusalem”, that is, they have set out finally on the journey that is Christ’s. They have seen Kingdom and can do nothing else but live in a way that brings it forth. They have let go of what brings only fleeting hope here on earth. They have learned what is truly important.

And there we were, the four of us, each moving into our sixth decade on earth. We recognized that we are entering the elder stage. And of course, none of us felt ready or adequate. My friend then asked, “So, when will we be old enough to give it all away?” It became apparent that while we are not old enough yet, our shared conviction was to move in that direction together as community. This is never a journey that we need walk alone. In that realization, we felt the growing potential, desire, and joy of the possibilities held between us.

Therein lies the hope. We were sitting in communion with friends who hope for Kingdom. Their hearts were for the left behind, the people in need. They were not thinking about preparing for disasters as much as much as learning to be good shepherds. They were concerned about growing into the people we would each need to become in order to bring forth the equities and the sweet, inclusive shalom of Kingdom life, no matter what happens. We all felt caught up in a quiet thrill at the thought of this communal dream. And just for once, the cost didn’t seem to obscure the prize.

None of this stuff would be surprising to my dear mentor nun, Sr. Marilyn. She is a spiritual elder in the truest sense of those words and she is helping to grow us up. She once told me a story of a priest whose South American monastery faced apocalypse when it was invaded by gunmen. The humble priest greeted them with open arms. They shot him. “It was the practices,” said Sister, “that prepared his heart to meet them that way.” Indeed, it was the practices that prepared him for anything.

Richard Rohr notes that in our younger days, we typically use the type of prayer posture that we feel will help to build our careers, fill our coffers, and create a life. As we move towards eldering, we need the kind of prayer practices that help us to let it all go. We need what will bring us to the place where being emptied enough to truly open ourselves to the reality and need of the other, becomes as compelling a desire as any other we have known here. Then, instead of grasping and protecting what is ours, we can begin to walk this earth with arms held open wide.

How do we get there? “Do the practices,” says Sr. Marilyn. “The practices will get you ready.” And the hope birthed by good friends does, too.

[The practices she refers to include regular engagement with faith community, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, the daily Examen and others.]

Synchrobloggers at Provoketive Magazine :

The Trouble With Hope: John Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x Imagination: Wayne Rumsby

Little Reminders: Mike Victorino

Where Is My Hope: Jonathan Brink

Hope for Hypocrites: Jeremy Myers

Now These Three Remain: Sonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still Hopeful: Carol Kuniholm

A Hope that Lives: Amy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations Go: Adam Gonnerman

Demystifying Hope: Glenn Hager

God in the Dark: On Hope: Renee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope Alive: Maurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?: Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and Fear: Laura Droege

Adopting Hope: Travis Klassen

Hope is Held Between Us: Ellen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively Maladjusted: Mihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and Revival: City Safari

Good Theology Saves: Reverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will Be: Kathy Escobar

Better Than Hope: Liz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the Future: Wendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on Hope: KW Leslie

Content to Hope: Alise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!: Deanna Ogle