Archive for October 2016
by Diana Butler Bass
I’ve often wondered why progressive Christians don’t typically celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 with more enthusiasm. It is, next to Christmas and Easter, my favorite church holy day–I eagerly await reading the texts of our Christian ancestors and the communal singing, “For All the Saints,” in my Episcopal church.
In 2011, I published a history of Christianity, A People’s History of Christianity, a book focused on “saints” of the liberal and progressive tradition–people like Origen, Perpetua, Abelard and Heloise, Katarina Zell, Lazarus Spengler, Anne Askew, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Maria Stewart, and Samuel Green. The stories told therein are about generosity and justice, about prophetic preaching and speaking truth to power. As a result, I’ve spent the better part of 2009 in mainline churches and with progressive Christian groups talking about history and why history is important to both our spiritual lives and to enacting social justice.
And I’ve listened to many mainline Christians share their reticence about engaging history, thinking about tradition, and the stories of our saints.
Of all Christians, liberal and progressive ones have the most awkward relationship with history and tradition. After all, liberal Christianity developed from “modernism,” a way of looking at the world that privileged new ideas, philosophies, and sciences as part of God’s revelation in human culture. Modernists broke with tradition. They looked to the human past and saw much wanting–superstition, violence, and repression–and willingly abandoned that past, especially the religious past, in favor of reason and enlightenment. In the nineteenth century, many Christians accepted modernism and worked to adapt their faith to the new intellectual climate. At its birth, progressive religion was the offspring of a certain sort of historical ambiguity. In the last two centuries, western Christians willingly shattered memory because the past was too painful, too oppressive, and too morbid for modern sensibilities of tolerance and equality. Better forget than remember.
by Diana Butler Bass on October 27, 2012
~ Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
The one certain dimension of US demographics these days is that the fastest growing segment of the American population is comprised of people above the age of 65. We, and all our institutions, as a result, are a greying breed. At the same time, we are, in fact, the healthiest, longest lived, most educated, most active body of elders the world has ever known. The only real problem with that is that we are doing it in the face of a youth culture left to drive a capitalist economy that thrives on sales.
So, what we sell is either to youth, about youth, or for the sake of affecting youth. But after all the pictures of 60-looking 80 year olds going by on their bikes fade off the screen, the world is left with, at best, a very partial look at what it means to be an elder.
Especially for those who never did like biking much to begin with.
The truth of the matter is that all of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it.
The young give energy and wonder and enthusiasm and heart-breaking effort to becoming an accomplished, respected, recognized adult. And for their efforts they reap achievement and identity and self-determination.
The middle-aged give commitment and leadership, imagination and generativity. They build and rebuild the world from one age to another. And for their efforts they get status, and some kind of power, however slight, and the satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment.
The elderly have different tasks entirely. The elderly come to this stage of life largely finished with a building block mentality. They have built all they want to build. It is their task in life now to evaluate what has become of it, what it did to them, what of good they can leave behind them. They bring to life the wisdom that comes from having failed as often as they succeeded, relinquished as much as they accumulated. And this stage of life comes with its own very clear blessings.
Given the luxury of years, the elders in a society bring a perspective on life that is not possible to the young and of even less interest to the middle aged whose life is consumed with concern for security and achievement. Instead the elders look back on the twists and turns of life with a more measured gaze. Some things, they know now, which they thought had great value at one age, they see little value in later. The elders know that what lasts in life, what counts in life, what remains in life after all the work has been completed are the relationships that sustained us, not the trophies we collected on the way.
The Elders are blessed with insight
For the first time in life, the elderly have time to enjoy the present. The morning air becomes the kind of elixir again that they have not known since childhood. The park has become an observation deck on the world. The library is now the crossroads of the world. The coffee shop becomes the social center of their lives. And small children a new delight and a companion, if not leaders, as they explore their way through life again.
The blessing of this time is appreciation of the moment.
There is a kind of liberation that comes with being an elder. All the old expectations go to mist. The competition and stress that comes with trying to find a place in today’s highly impersonal economy fade away and I can do what I like, wear what I like, say what I like without bartering my very survival for it. For the first time in years it is possible simply to be a person in search of a life rather than an economic pawn in search of a high-toned livelihood. The need to reek of competence and approval gives way to the need to enjoy life.
The awareness of life as liberating rather than burdensome is the most refreshing blessing a soul can have.
The truism prevails that it is the young, that part of the social spectrum who stand on the brink of adulthood who have the opportunity to make the great choices of life: where to go, how to live, what to do with our one precious and fragile life. But if truth were told it is really the elderly who have the option to become new again. With the children on t heir own and the house paid for, with our dues paid to the social system and our identities stripped away from what we do to what we are, we have the world at our feet again. We can do all the things we’ve put aside for years: learn to play the guitar, go back to school, volunteer in areas we have always wanted to do more of like become a tour guide or a museum aid, go backpacking or become a children’s reader at the local library. We can now get up every morning to begin life all over again.
The blessing of life now lies in the realization that life is not over but beginning again in a whole new way.
The elders in a society are its living history, its balladeers who tell the history of a people and the lessons of growth that come with them. The war veteran can talk now about the hell of war that belies its so-called glory. The mothers know what it means to raise children with less money than the process demands. The old couples know that marriage is a process not an event and that what draws people into marriage will not be what keeps them there. These are the ones who raise for the rest of us the beacons of hope that tell us the truth we need, on our own dark days, to hear: If these others could survive the depression, the losses, the breakups and breakdowns of life, we have living proof now, so can we.
The process of past reflection is one of the major blessings an elder can have because it crystallizes the value of one’s own life and blesses the rest of the world with wisdom at the same time.
In the lexicon of elders, all too often and all too late, a new event begins to take front and center where once work and the social whirl had held sway. Elders wake up in the morning aware that the only thing really left in life after all the schedules have disappeared are the people that have been left out of them for far too long: the adult children they haven’t talked to for weeks—no, months—now. They remember the last old friend they met in the market who said “We really have to have coffee together some day” and begin to look around for the phone number. They recall with a pang the grandchildren they promised to take to the zoo and wonder with a pang whether or not the zoo is still open for the season—and whether the children still remember grandpa and the promise. Elders have the luxury of attending to people now rather than to things. And out of that attention comes a new sense of being really important to the world.
One of the great blessings of being elderly is not that it isolates us but that, ironically, it ties us more tightly to the people around us
Finally, it is the elders in a society who distill for the rest of it the real meaning of life—and right before our eyes. The quality of their reflections on life are so different than ours, they must certainly be listened to. The serenity of their souls in the face of total change—both physical and social—give promise that behind all the hurly-burly lies a deep pool of peace. The devotion they bring to the transcendentals of life—to solitude, to prayer, to reading, to the arts, to the simple work of gardening, to the great questions of the age, to their continuing commitment to building a city, a country, a world that will be better for us when they move on, may be the greatest spiritual lesson of life a younger generation may ever get as well as the greatest insight they every have.
Indeed, to find ourselves on the edge of elderhood, is to find ourselves in an entirely new and exciting point in life. It is blessing upon blessing and it invites those around them to live more thoughtfully themselves by listening to them carefully now—while we all still have time.
~ Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
~ Reflection by Kate Matthews
By the time Luke was writing his Gospel a generation or so after Jesus died, people were starting to feel discouraged. They were tired of waiting for Jesus to return and finally bring all things to fulfillment, the deepest hope of their hearts. They were tired of being persecuted as a tiny little minority in a great big, powerful empire. They were anxious and suffering. Our passage from Luke is about that waiting and about not being discouraged, not losing heart. However, we’ve somehow read it more as an instruction to “nag” God with our repeated requests, so God, like a weary and worn-down parent, will eventually give in and give us what we want.
Once again, Jesus uses a figure from the very edges of society to teach his followers a lesson. John Pilch tells us that the “word for ‘widow’ in Hebrew means ‘silent one’ or ‘one unable to speak.’ In the patriarchal Mediterranean world males alone play a public role. Women do not speak on their own behalf.” So this “silent one” is acting outside the normal bounds when she finds her voice and speaks up for herself. Maybe it’s because she knows that there’s a special place for her in the heart of God, as the Bible often says. Widows, orphans, and aliens are all very close to the heart of God and the focus of God’s concern. We might ask ourselves who “the widows” are in our time: the ones without a voice who speak up anyway in protest of injustice.
Holy One, we lift our eyes to you in hope and awe.
Grant that we may reject all apathy of spirit,
all impatience and anxiety,
so that, with the persistence of the widow,
we may lift our voice
again and again
to seek your justice.
~ The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the retired dean of Amistad Chapel
at the national offices of
the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio
HOPE, POSSIBILITY, COMMUNITY
As most of you already know, our sister church, First Congregational Church of Berkeley (FCCB) was ravaged by a fire which started about noon on Friday, September 30. The fire broke out in a wing that housed office and meeting space (Pilgrim Hall). Significant damage occurred.
We watched in horror as this beautiful building appeared to be heading towards complete destruction. We mourned the potential loss of all of the ‘stuff’ that was inside. We wondered how the members of that faith community could ever recover from this.
And then we remembered..…
We remembered from our own experience that the church is the people—not the building. We remembered that God’s people know how to hold onto God and to one another to claim God’s love and strength. And finally, we remembered from our beloved Kim’s strong conviction that all will be well and that, no matter what happens, they too are being held in God’s loving arms.
Read the gracious and hope-filled letter beginning on the next page that was written by Rev. Molly Baskette, FCCB Senior Pastor, to the FCCB congregation. The letter will give you more details on the fire damage and, more importantly, you will read the strong and beautiful reactions of Molly, the staff and the people of FCCB as well as those in their larger community.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Beloved Church (the people not the building),
Here is the latest update on the fire that happened at our campus today. The fire is largely out, though some of the most excellent Berkeley firefighters (60 of whom turned out to battle the blaze) will stay through the night.
There was heavy damage to the roof and second floor of Pilgrim Hall (the side of the building where the offices and Large and Small Assemblies are). Offices in that area are likely completely destroyed. There will be much water and smoke damage throughout that part of the building, perhaps on all floors. The roof and skylight over the Large Assembly are a mess, but the walls are intact.
The fire spread through the attic of Pilgrim Hall to the Sanctuary roof. The firefighters were able to contain it so it did not spread beyond the southeast corner of the roof, but there is significant water (and presumably some smoke) damage to the sanctuary, especially above the chancel and first few rows of pews. We will certainly be displaced from the sanctuary for a while.
It seems that Loper Chapel and the East Bay School for Boys is completely untouched, praise God. There will probably be some delay in using these spaces while the folks who are skilled at such things evaluate the gas and electrical systems to the building.
The great good news in all this, of course, is that everyone got out safely, thanks to the quick actions of business manager Nate Mazur and others in the building. Nate, treasurer Moe Wright, member Dan Leaverton and others are following up with our insurance company and disaster remediation to move us into “rising like a phoenix from the ashes” mode as quickly as possible.
Some are wondering what caused the fire. We have a pretty good idea, and it will be revealed in due time, but in order not to compromise the claim-filing process, I’ve been asked not to speak about it publicly yet. Please be reassured that it was not foul play or vandalism.
I was so encouraged, in arriving at the scene, by the strength, humor and resilience of First Church folks already on the scene–who remembered other fires, other rebuilding, and said “you are about to find out how strong we are.”
And I and the rest of the staff have been entirely overwhelmed by the many calls, prayers, offers of worship and office space, loaner vestments, and anything else we mightneed, from scores of local churches, UCC churches all over the country, and our national setting of the United Church of Christ, including immediate phone calls from General Minister and President John Dorhauer and FCCBer and Conference Minister Diane Weible. You really don’t know who your people are until something like this happens. There are surprises.
Tonight, I’m weary but calm, overwhelmed by the tasks before us but also overwhelmed with possibility and new dreaming. I have preached in our sanctuary before that God doesn’t send the disaster–but God sure will use it. I can’t wait to find out what God will do among us, and with us, next, as we find our way forward.
So grateful to be your senior minister!
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the far end of the second parking lot)
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