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Things Worth Hoping For - Our Year on the Blog

There was some real energy for titling this piece “2016 Did Not Totally Suck”. Then Carla pointed us to comments from Wendell Berry, made earlier this month in Baltimore:

“I can’t give anybody hope. Hope has to come up out of you … To find something worth hoping for is a very good place to start. There are things worth hoping for, there are good people, this is still a very beautiful world.”

Good people, things worth hoping for, glimpses of a beautiful world amidst evolving faith – a reasonable setup for our year-end review.

One of my professors, Paul Galbreath, taught me to think of the Lord’s Supper as an eyes-wide-open prayer. That when we do the liturgy in thanking God, remembering Christ, and praying for the Holy Spirit to make broken places whole, we keep our eyes open to the vision of a table where all are welcome and invited, where swords are beaten into plowshares and the meal of grace and interconnected wholeness is bountiful and enough. So we open our eyes. We grab the hand of another. We keep marching forward, saying to our siblings in the faith, “Keep your eyes open. Feel the pain and feel the cries. Hear the voices of those who are weeping, and know that it is for the sake of all of creation that we amplify such voices rather than muffle them out. Keep believing that the triune God is at work in this broken world, weeping with those who weep and ushering us forward to do what needs to be done so that we all might gather at the table of justice and faithfulness in God’s family made known and restored.”

Last night, and every Monday night here in Round Pond [Maine], there is music. This Friday and every Friday in Floyd [Virginia], there is music. Between those two places, and even in each place by itself, the left-to-right political spectrum is, I believe, nearly complete. Let the music prevail. It’s in us all. And there are other elements, shared and uniting. We must find ways to let the transcendent transcend.

That’s my sign and I’m sticking to it.

As I drove, we listened, and we talked. We talked about Brahms’ love of cross rhythms and the beauty of having the cellos play above the violas for certain passages and how sometimes the trombones were like Jesus. We talked about moments we heard the ghost of Beethoven and moments we heard the influence of Bach. This wasn’t a normal conversation at this stage in my dad’s struggle with dementia; holding onto a complete thought was painfully difficult for him. But, he’s a musician, and music has a peculiar power to make rough places plain.

It has been such a joy to watch the youth of Ginter Park experience this musical. … they have been working for months with energy, care and joy. This has been an incredible process, full of growth and hard work – and believe me, Saturday night is going to ROCK!

Now in their 20th season, City Singers has a growing endowment fund, increasing donor support, and strong community partnerships — making the way for their next 20 seasons. For all you have made possible, a huge THANK YOU to Ginter Park Presbyterian Church!

Here in the USA, most of us would be locked away in our houses watching TV.  I doubt many of these Haitians had TVs with cable providers that stream all types of “entertainment” 24 hours a day.  These people were living.  Life is connecting, sharing, interacting, negotiating, trading, helping. Do we even realize what we are missing?

I love my church and I love being there. I’m grateful, this week, for the understanding that people can love church anywhere – a chapel, a park, a bar– when they experience that which is Holy through themselves and those nearby.

I struggle with the complex, ancient words of our creeds and confessions. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with oversimplication, either. I try to avoid a bumper sticker approach to religion — mysterious notions about our relationship with God boiled down to one-liner litmus tests. So I find myself torn between parsing the words in the ancient creeds, and shying away from easy explanation.

Yet there is one short, quick phrase that I return to, when religion starts to get too confusing for me. My own little bumper sticker-style simplification. When the polity and doctrines feel overwhelming, I return to this simple grounding of my faith: God is love.

I often consider the mountains my second home for worship, GPPC being my home church. Walking a trail is like going to church. … Leaving the trail comes with its own closure too. Trail worship can provide a settled, renewed spirit better poised to accept the challenges ahead. When I leave the trail, a bit of the Peace of God that passes all understanding typically accompanies me.

I’m drawn to activities that help me connect with GPPC members, our neighbors, and the world around us: Caritas, Spring Retreat, manning the water station at the marathon, talks with Ruth Brown and Cindy Corell about their mission experiences, even filling cocoa cups at the Love Feast. This is the kind of stuff – the kind of human connection – that I missed during my years away. The solidarity I experience at GPPC comforts me when I get a little too focused on the constant stream of bad news emanating from my various electronic devices these days.

It may sound trite but I do feel I get more than I give when I visit the Palace.

… I can pray informally, randomly, accidentally – maybe even without ceasing. And when I do, my God listens. My God laughs at and with me, is disappointed in me, ignores me at times as an exasperated parent might and clearly turns me down at other times. And sometimes my God holds me close – celebrating, reveling, grieving, comforting, sharing.

Two [turtle] hatchlings just refused to make their way to the ocean—they kept turning around and heading back to the nest—back toward the light instead of toward the dark ocean. Isn’t that really what all of God’s creatures seek? Safety in the light instead of fear in the stormy ocean? Even if facing the turbulent waters brings us closer to the lives we were meant to live? It had me thinking about all of those people on the beach—people of different backgrounds and ideologies– there loving those seven tiny creatures. What if we loved a family from Aleppo the way we loved those turtles? What if we loved people in the poor neighborhoods of Rio? What might that look like?

… my point with this story is the complexity of life when the ordinary Christian lives as a citizen of two worlds.  What is the right answer?  Is it an infringement on patients’ religious liberties to offer public prayer in the Health Care breakfast room where the patients must come to eat?  What about the patients who desire, indeed, ask for, prayer?  Could it be that the Administration, consciously or unconsciously, is standing in the Kingdom when it safeguards the religious liberties of patients who may be incapable of protecting their liberties?

I am coming to accept that every difficult circumstance in my life is something God uses for my good and for His glory. I may not understand the why and how, but I am working to trust more completely that God’s promises for his people and my life will be fulfilled.

Even as a white person, even in my lifetime – it’s a long haul to think things might be getting better, and then to see where we are and to hear the voices echoing the fear and ignorance of more than 50 years ago. I think fatigue is fair. But maybe that’s what naps are for. Maybe that’s part of the good in listening to a multi-racial 8th grade class recite Dr. King – a powerful reminder that his agenda is known but not finished. Maybe that’s some of the value in once a year pausing to recall his life – and some of his many inspiring, invigorating words.

Consider the safety pin, how, before it’s secure, it can wound you. For what are we willing to suffer, even to bleed? I think Jesus might ask us that in The Parable of the Safety Pin. Consider how, once a safety pin is fastened, it holds things together. In Jesus Christ, all things hold together, the Bible says. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female, no longer “able” and disabled, no longer African American or Hispanic or European, no longer rich and poor or red and blue, for all are one. All are held together in Christ.

Bury strains of discord made by tongues that lie.

Bury songs that sing of triumph while your children die.

May our praises ever come to you

With lives that sing:

“You and I —  we and they — All are God’s!”

Everything that happens has happened before, and all that will be has already been – God does everything over and over again.

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