A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Listening for a new world breathing

I had supper with a friend last Tuesday evening at her home in Wichita. As we sat and enjoyed our meal, my eyes kept wondering to a poster on her dining room wall which featured a quote by the Indian writer and social activist, Arundhati Roy. "Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe."

Last Monday, I offered the meditation at the funeral of a dear friend and parishioner, Larry Hesed. Larry was a mentor, a spiritual guide for many. He inspired a large and diverse community across the United States with humility and gentleness paired with an unwavering impulse and drive for peace and justice in this life, in this world. His was a life cut short by cancer. We already miss him very much.

Towards the end of Larry's funeral meditation, I said, "What is our calling in this life? I believe we are all given gifts, given unique abilities to work for and reveal God's reign in this world. But we're only given glimpses, now and again, that our efforts are not in vain. Thankfully, those glimpses sustain and empower."

Following this funeral, I was grumpy, emotional and tired last Tuesday. Despite my frame of mind, I was gifted with with several of these powerful glimpses.

Glimpse 1: At my mom's encouragement, I watched a 5 minute youtube video of a 12 year old girl addressing the United Nations. At the time, I didn't realize this was footage from 1992 and that this girl is now a socially engaged adult. Her name is Severn Suzuki. Twenty some years ago, she came before the U.N. as a representative for The Environmental Children's Organization (ECO) and she stood up there and boldly called all the adults in the room to task for their gross negligence as our world's leaders. Here's an excerpt from her speech,

"I'm only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil--borders and governments will never change that.

"I'm only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal...

"I'm only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be!

"Do not forget why you're attending these conferences, who you're doing this for - we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in....My father always says, 'You are what you do, not what you say.' Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words."

Surely 12 year old Severn was a foreshadowing of what was to come. She sounded current to me, because children today take for granted a sense of global connectedness that adults too often lack. My children, ages 7 and 9, are aware of world events. When they offer their evening prayers, my son usually includes prayers for Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Haiti, Japan, the Middle East and Joplin, Missouri. He remembers them all. He doesn't let go, like my husband and I do after a few weeks. He keeps stringing them together to form his prayer chain. My kids are keenly aware of environmental issues and are taught to recycle and compost in their rural public school in Kansas. Though as a mother I tend to see my children as exceptional, what I'm describing here is more what I sense is emerging as characteristic of our world's youngest ones, the mentality of their generation. This is great cause for hope.

"Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe."

Glimpse 2: I listened to radio coverage of the Penn State scandal last Tuesday and have continued to follow this story. I grieve for the young boys who have lost so much. Sexual abuse, abuse in all its forms, is a trademark of the old order, that ruled by the forces of chaos and violence. But I have been encouraged by the sports media.

In an emotional interview, Penn State alum and sports analyst, Matt Millen said, "But this is more than just a program, this is more than a football legacy. This is about people. And if we can't protect our kids, we as a society, are pathetic. So, that's where I stand on it...Man's inhumanity towards man is just mind-boggling."

Sports columnist, Pat Forde writes, "Joe Paterno, a man who until last week could make a claim to being the greatest coaching institution in the history of college athletics, was terminated Wednesday night with a phone call. Forty-six years as head football coach at Penn State ended when he was informed...that his services were no longer needed. Effective immediately.

"It's the way some employers would treat a middle manager, not a legend. But in the end, maybe that's heartlessly fitting - after all, Paterno abdicated his powerful role and played the part of a mid-level employee in passing the buck up the ladder when informed in 2002 that an alleged pedophile had raped a boy in the showers of his football complex. The crucial lack of leadership in a moment of dire crisis led to the end of his leadership at Penn State."

Sexual abuse is an issue I have too many personal connections to. And I have become jaded at society's response - it's tendency to cover-up the crime, deny the suffering of abuse victims, even defend the perpetrators. To have the sporting institution of this country, without equivocation, perceive the real victims in this whole mess of awfulness and to publicly take their stand only with those who were abused, I see that as an emerging sensitivity to injustice and the plight of the most vulnerable in this society.

"Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe."

Glimpse 3: This Penn State radio report was followed by an update on the situation in Syria. The government there continues to violently suppress the uprising of it's people. This is terrible, but despite the tyranny, the abuse of power, the citizenry remains steadfast. This last year we have been witness to something very new and very powerful in the history of human civilization. We call it, "The Arab Spring". Uprisings, revolutions, these aren't new. But the manner in which these particular revolutions happened were and are new in that technology has so thoroughly connected us, we can join forces and act in a way that defies political boundaries. And the ways in which the revolutionaries went about seeking change is also telling. These were grassroots efforts, largely nonviolent and leadership was broadly shared. It is commonly acknowledged that the Arab Spring gave birth to the Occupy Movement, another global phenomenon made possible in large part by our technological connectedness.

I pray that the people of Syria might continue to find the strength and resolve to make their voices heard, voices insistent on addressing the abuse of power as they lift up the call for justice.

"Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe."

Thank goodness for these glimpses on Tuesday, because on Wednesday I was plunged right back into the maelstrom of community gossip and controversy, inundated with narrow-minded opinions and the fear that keeps us so grounded to this reality.

One of Larry's favorite scripture verses was from Amos 5, "Let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Peter seems to answer Amos in one of last week's lectionary texts (2 Peter 3:13), "But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home." This sounds great, but I'm tired of waiting. I like Jesus' vision much better. The disciples ask Jesus how to pray and Jesus says, "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10)." Exactly. God's Kingdom comes and God's will is done on earth. We don't have to wait. It's already happening!

When I drove away from our church after the funeral last Monday, I was so grateful for my congregation. When I am with my church community, it is so much easier for me to believe another world is possible and that she's on her way. Some Sunday mornings, if I listen carefully, I can hear her breathe. I've been wrestling with the question, "What do we need from church?" It occurred to me this week, this is what I need. I need church to be the community that offers a glimpse of God's Kingdom being realized here and now and empowers me to go out into the week looking for more evidence and seeking out ways to be a part of that movement. My rural congregation is ever so tiny and faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles in its hope to survive. But I continue to feel driven to fight for this church, to believe in it and place my hope in who we are and who we can become, because I so often hear this new world breathing when I am in this God-infused community. This is not to be taken for granted, but is to be cherished and shared. I pray that we might all be similarly blessed with glimpses of God's Kingdom unfolding in our lives and in our experiences of church. May God's will be done...here....on earth.

"Another world in not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe." Amen.


Anonymous said...

I want that poster - I need the daily reminder. Thank you for not only sharing those words, but for expanding and expounding upon them. We all need a "nestling spot" that comforts and renews us, a "place" where we know we are valued and honored, where upon reflection, we can identify the glimpses that feed our souls. Thank you.

Sheri Ellwood said...

I love that quote. There have been many times recently that I have been able to hear that new world breathing. There have been many times when I thought all was hopeless too. Life is full of ups and downs. Thank you for this inspiring writing. It leaves me wondering how we can help faith communities be that glimpse of hope for each other more often. A question worth pondering. Thanks.

Margaret Gary said...

what a beautiful image for glimpsing the Kingdom of God!