Glimpses of Healing and Hope

January 8, 2017
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

The sign pictured above, now available for $10 at Kern Road Mennonite Church ($9 covers printing charge and $1 goes to our KRMC Immigration Ministry), began as a black and white, hand-lettered version at Immanuel Mennonite Church (IMC) in Harrisonburg, VA, according to a story written by Steve Carpenter which appeared in The Mennonite back in September 2016.

“When the Democratic and Republican primaries were just beginning,” Carpenter reported, “my congregation decided to put up a sign proclaiming our shared value of welcoming foreigners….It reads, ‘No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor’ in three languages: English, Spanish and Arabic. IMC’s neighbors speak many languages, but primarily one of these three. Pastor Matthew Bucher said, ‘I hope that the sign is a marker to the community. And, I hope that folks leaving IMC after a service are reminded of who we are to be.’” 

The story proliferated quickly with a variety of local details but the same basic content featuring folks eager to welcome their neighbors despite widespread political rhetoric to the contrary…this one at Lancaster Online mentions friends our Ten Thousand Villages’ volunteers will know from their connections with the Bunyaad Rug Room.  

An NPR story which aired December 9 reported that the sign carries a “message of tolerance and welcome” and this Petworth neighborhood blog in the Washington DC area shared with readers how to get their own signs.

This story in the Huffington Post calls the sign “a sign of the times” and explains “why this welcoming sign is popping up in yards across the country.” The Huffington Post article further explained that “a PDF of the sign is available to print for free on the (founding) church’s website. The church has also started a Facebook page called “Welcome Your Neighbors” where you can contact others who have made the sign and place orders.”  Mennonite World Review’s article about the sign, published December 27, reveals the sign’s migration to Canada and our own nearby Goshen.

We at KRMC are grateful to Barbara for taking the initiative to make signs available to us in South Bend and, through us, to others beyond our town who see our signs and want to share them in their own neighborhoods.  Our pastors reminded us during yesterday's worship service that “light came into the world in the midst of dark times.”  These signs are just one of the places I see the light spreading around us…where else do you see warmth and light and welcome?

It was a lovely serendipity, another burst of light, this weekend to find this link when a friend posted a four-part harmony version of My Soul Cries Out from Laurelville’s Music and Worship Hymn Sing 2017.  The words of the chorus voice this promise:  “My heart shall sing of the day you bring.  Let the fires of your justice burn.  Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!”  May we participate in the world's turning.

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January 2, 2017
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

I look to two of my favorite go-to writers for inspiration as 2016 draws to a close and we move into 2017.   

Speaking of Howard Thurman’s “growing edge” of life, Parker J. Palmer says this:  “I’m heading into 2017 aspiring to look at life thru the eyes of a child. Buddhists call it ‘beginner’s mind’—a corrective to the cynicism that comes when we let hard realities darken our vision and diminish our imagination. It’s a way of looking at the world that doesn’t deny the darkness, but makes fresh starts possible in everything—from our personal to our political lives.”

This link will take you to more from Parker Palmer about how he will engage the new year, as well as the rest of Howard Thurman’s explanation of “the growing edge” of life.

Singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer, who has a close connection to Palmer and says she has clarified her own way forward in the new year by paying attention to his work, writes that she has made “a decision to open my heart and awareness to who and what will be most marginalized and affected during the next legislative year—including immigrants, women, persons of color, the LGBTQ community, healthcare, arts and public media, protecting our besieged natural environment. 
This can be overwhelming—so I will try every day to breathe, focus on what I love, and be gentle with myself—and yet stay engaged with the world around me.”

John Pavlovitz’s On Learning to Love Offensively gives me great hope to carry on in the new year with the challenges it promises to bring.  He says, “More and more, I simply live to be the antidote to the things I find hurtful or damaging in the world, rather than arguing with those I believe are being hurtful or damaging. There are certainly times to identify dangers and to call out injustice, but those pale in comparison to the countless moments that simply require personal goodness.”  (See the rest of his compelling post here.)

Indeed, it is often the little things we do, perhaps without forethought, that make a difference. A few days ago another Facebook acquaintance posted a lovely sentiment about how much she enjoys seeing decorated holiday trees from outside.  That reminded me of a story I hadn’t thought about in a long time.  One Christmas long ago, very unexpectedly and for no particular reason, I placed a small pre-lit tree, hung with all our angel ornaments, in an upstairs bedroom window where I thought of it as being just for us as we passed through the nearby hallway…definitely not a spot for public consumption. I learned later that the next-door neighbor’s master bedroom faced out toward that tree…it was the holiday season her husband learned he had cancer and the tree had become a source of comfort to them every night as they retired to their bedroom. She was quite taken to learn a few weeks into the season that the tree was laden with angels, which she said she felt were placed there especially for them! 

My friend posted this surprising response when I shared the above anecdote in her tree thread: “What a beautiful story, Jane. The gift you didn’t know you were giving turned out to be laden with meaning. God at work in us... incarnation.”  

The picture at the top of this blog post features our youngest granddaughter looking onto the grounds from outside the gates of the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. One recipient of our end-of-year video, which included this photo, said, “The slide that hit me the most was one of your granddaughter holding the bars of a gate with a big house beyond.  It symbolized so many things for me….the picture is haunting.”  I hadn’t thought of the photo in the way it struck that viewer, but it wasn’t hard to catch her meaning.  As we stand on the threshold of a new year with many unknowns, where does this photo take you?

The nine photos posted as one at the conclusion of this entry represent good memories from 2016.  To select these nine, I focused largely on spaces that were sanctuary for me in a year of upheaval around the world and in our own country. 

Within that crazy, noisy world, I found quiet spots of beauty and respite, gifts from the Divine that offered balance in chaos for me (from left to right and top to bottom): with local grandkids on a carousel in St. Joe, MI; with Michigan grandkids at Clapton Pond in London; on the Saint Mary’s campus with high school friends; admiring the front porch sanctuary of long-time friends in Lansdale, PA; with a KRMC friend taking in the beauty of her mom’s barn in Everett, PA; viewing with golf foursome women the glorious waterfront in Douglas, MI; enjoying my own backyard in South Bend; inhaling warmth through the window with small group friends at Grandpa’s Woods in Goshen, and appreciating the glory of a sunset overlooking my high school’s memorial garden in Lansdale, PA.   

What offers balance in chaos for you?  What sustained you in 2016?  Where will you look for respite in 2017 as you go about doing the things that need to be tended to in today's world?  Pastor Janice invited us in her first sermon of 2017 to watch for the hand of God in the coming days, weeks, year.  (And, to be sure, many of the good things happening in our world were eclipsed by this past year's calamities. See the evidence in this link, unearthed by another friend, about some of the good news of which you may not be aware.) 

May we walk confidently into the new year to the tune of these thoughts from the Hispanic creed in our Sing the Journey hymnal supplement:  “We believe in the reign of God—the day of the Great Fiesta when all the colors of creation will form a harmonious rainbow, when all people will join in joyful banquet, when all tongues of the universe will sing the same song.  And because we believe, we commit ourselves to believe for those who do not believe, to love for those who do not love, to dream for those who do not dream, until the day when hope becomes reality.”

The Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids offer this blessing for the first day of the new year; I trust it will guide our way in 2017:  May the God of Newness be with you, freshening you with renewed energy and awakening you with new perspectives on old visions. May you be free enough to let go of what is stale and used up and to embrace what is new and full of promise. May Gods grace be with you as you wrap yourself in what is right, if unfamiliar. May you look upon your life and your ministry with the eyes of God, ever new and ever transforming. May the God of Newness be with you.—©Maxine Shonk, OP

 

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December 26, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Editor's Note:  This post first appeared as 2015's Monday-after-Christmas entry and continues to hold best-read status of all posts in the last 14 months.  The original version has been slightly revised to reappear here the day after Christmas 2016.

What are the best gifts you’ve ever received…at Christmas or any other time of the year? Depending on our personality types, of course, we’ll have different takes on what qualifies as a good gift, but year-end seems an appropriate time to take stock of the things for which we are grateful these last 12 months.

Maybe even a good opportunity to back up even farther than the last year to take a longer view! No matter what your age, comb through your memory to find the stuff of life that has made you happy over the years. What experiences, incidents, encounters, happenstances do you recall with the greatest clarity or measure of gratitude?

One physical gift I remember with great fondness came from Jim many years ago. Brightly colored shards of the small mosaic glass lamp he gave me reflect light beautifully and mysteriously. A tight shot of the lamp appears in the center of the photo collage that accompanies this post.

That glowing central image anchors the photos around it of life experiences that continue to warm me: extended family interactions, long-term friendships, involvement with grandchildren in the last 10 years, and the ever-heartwarming beauties of nature and other places I notice the Divine.

Many people have made a difference in my life: professors who helped me find a profession, pastors and contemplative friends and spiritual directors who have modeled a spirituality I find compelling, parents who raised me well and have allowed me to journey with them into old age, our children and their spouses who invite me to spend quality time with their children and continue to challenge us in positive new directions.

Treasured gifts of experience and endurance come to mind as well. Our son-in-law gave the women in our family (his wife and daughter, our daughter-in-law, and me) a Women’s Day Out gift one Christmas, which we experienced together on a warm April day with trips to a theatrical production of Peter Pan, a pleasant coffee shop, our favorite lunch spot, and a nail salon. What an extravagant, pleasurable, memorable day of togetherness that gift offered. And the warm memories endure…

Two Mother’s Days ago the family surprised me with a landscape design plan, which was installed during the fall of 2015; it has afforded me much pleasure already as I have watched it come to be last fall, winter over, and return to life again last spring before it produced spring and summer flowers followed by beautiful fall color. 

Jim’s long-term employer gave us the opportunity to travel together as a family every other summer when our children were small as he took students on trips to Europe. That gift gave then, and it continues to give now as we still love travel and exposure to cultures other than our own.

Twice in my life I have met quite unexpectedly people who have become important to me in life-changing ways. When our daughter went to Belfast for nine months with Mennonite Mission Network between high school and college back in 2000, she began second-guessing her decision, so that I found it difficult to leave her after spending 10 days helping her get settled.

By happenstance (or more likely Providence), I met a couple from Belfast in the Dublin airport as they were headed for Boston and I was returning to the USA. They invited me to airport tea and inquired about what brought me to Northern Ireland. Upon learning that Meg would be staying in Belfast until June, they committed to making a connection with her on their return from Boston.

I believed that they would, though my family teased me about the airport pickup and wondered why I expected them to keep their promise. Nearly three months passed before we learned that they had, indeed, made a connection. No amount of looking for the organization she was with had produced results for quite some time, but one night on an unseasonably warm walk to dinner that December, they passed an open outer office door which listed the names of organizations lodged there, including the one where Meg was a volunteer. They inquired of a doorman whether or not an American girl worked there and made contact soon after. Their care for her was the best gift that holiday season, and one that I have been grateful for over and over these past 16 years.

In the fall of 2009 the gift of another important connection came to me, again with no orchestration on my part.  As a 16-year-old, I lost a boyfriend in a truck accident and 12 years later my 18-year-old brother died in a car crash.  I did not do sufficient grief work around either of those painful deaths, but, miraculously, incentive to unearth that old pain arrived with a most unexpected crossing of paths with my boyfriend's younger brother, whom I did not recall.

We found a way to walk that journey together and eventually were able to recommend that our high school establish a memorial garden to remember our brothers, other students who died before graduation, and all alumni no longer living. Not only did we plan and execute a worship service and dedication event for the garden, but I was able to introduce my high school classmates to the space, where we shared a variety of personal griefs and losses at our 50-year reunion in the fall of 2014.

I am grateful for all these good gifts.  I trust these vignettes will remind you of similar good gifts that have come to you.  Share your stories with your friends and journal about those stories so that they don't slip from your mind.  Invite your friends to do the same. 

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December 19, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Late sunrises, early sunsets, the low arc of the sun across the sky each day, and lengthy noontime shadows announce we are moving toward the winter solstice, marking the year’s shortest day and longest night.

It is during this season, when merriment and festivity take center stage and our culture screams glitter, that many churches, including ours, have chosen to acknowledge with a longest night service that Christmas can be a bittersweet time for those suffering grief and loss, whether the anguish of broken relationships or lost loved ones, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the aches of poverty, violence, injustice, or, in this particular year, the unsettledness left in the wake of a very contentious election cycle and fear for the marginalized. 

We will take time together to recognize our sadness and yearning to know God’s presence in the midst of pain Wednesday, December 21, at 7 p.m.  Join us in the sanctuary to declare that we experience darkness in many ways, even (or perhaps especially) during our culture’s long holiday celebration encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  At this time of the year, when daylight diminishes to barely nine and one half hours, it can be difficult to imagine our lives six months from now when daylight will prevail once again for 15 to 16 hours.

Called a Blue Christmas service in some circles, the longest night observance offers space away from the constant December refrain reminding us that this is the season to be jolly.  For some, this Christmas may be the first year without a loved one or a job or perhaps the first year with new knowledge of a serious health issue.  For many, the season becomes a particularly difficult time of balancing painful losses as others are celebrating their joy with family and friends.

As we move through this darkness of the winter solstice and begin the return to longer days and shorter nights, we pause during the longest night service to remember the dark times in our own lives and the lives of others.  We will witness the lighting of our Advent wreath candles, with the first candle representing our own grief, the second our courage, the third our memories, and the fourth our love.  Participants also will be offered the opportunity to light candles and plant them in sand to recognize burdens, griefs, sorrows, or whatever makes Christmas a “blue” time for themselves, others, and our world. 

Join us to proclaim that, even in our despair, God promises to walk with us as we experience insecurity, grief, and isolation.  We will find solace together in this hope, with prayer, scripture reading, music, and quiet time as we look toward the dawn on the other side of the longest night. 

This Jan Richardson post from December 2015 at the Advent Door describes how she has journeyed through the grief of losing her husband during Advent several years ago:  “If I have learned anything about grief in the past two years, it is that grief is a wild creature. Grief will resist every attempt to tame it, to control it, or to keep it tidy and well-behaved. Rather than managing it, grief asks instead that we tend it, listen to it, question it. One of the surest ways to calm it is to give it some space in which to speak—or to holler, or weep.”  

Richardson describes new ways she has learned to tend her grief as she notices more about the boundaries between heaven and earth, new methods of opening herself to knowing, more options for practicing the art of intentional remembering, and the discovery of darkness as a place where God meets us.

“Comfort, O comfort my people, we hear God cry out in an Advent text from Isaiah (40:1). If, in this life, I cannot do away with grief, then I pray that I will at least enter into it with a heart open to this comfort, this solace that is one of the greatest treasures God offers us in the landscape of this season. This comfort is no mere pablum, no saccharine wish. And though it is deeply personal, it is not merely that; solace does not leave us to our own solitude. True comfort opens our broken heart toward the broken heart of the world and, in that opening, illuminates a doorway, a threshold, a connection. It reveals to us a place where, in the company of heaven and earth, we can begin anew, bearing forth the solace we have found.”

And in the midst of this darkest time of the calendar year in our part of the world, when too much cold and snow and ice lead some of us farther down the road to despair, warm yourself with this story about kindness, which reveals how a Muslim-owned restaurant in London is offering a free meal to elderly or homeless persons who would otherwise be alone on Christmas day.

You may find it a useful spiritual discipline to watch for the care of strangers who meet you with kindness when you least expect it.  I was the recipient of unexpected care last week at the Grand Rapids Trader Joe’s store where I shopped for snacks for long-time friends who would be hosting family and other guests this past weekend in connection with the memorial service of their 33-year-old son.  “Wait a minute…don’t go yet,” the check-out clerk said after I had completed the transaction, explaining a bit about my purchases.  She ran over to the TJ’s flower kiosk and came back with a beautiful bouquet of yellow tulips for my friends, a big hug for me, and a few tears all around. 

May our longest night service equip us with small tokens of comfort we might carry to others.

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December 12, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Advent 3…collecting canned goods and grocery cards

Pastor Janice told the story in her sermon at Kern Road Sunday morning of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s interaction with a violinist who became frustrated with attempts to play well a very difficult Stravinsky piece.

In response to the less-than-masterful attempts, Stravinsky replied that he loved “the sound of someone trying to embody” the piece, despite whether or not it was played to perfection, Janice told us, pivoting next to a comparison of how the Divine might respond to our mostly less than perfect attempts to live out God’s dream for the world.  “God loves the sound of people trying to play that song,” she assured us.

Suggesting that the simple act of friendship can go a very long way toward building bridges and making a difference, she ticked off a list of the marginalized who might feel threatened in our present-day culture and wondered aloud what it might take “for all of these to be provided with a safe place, a place free from danger.  How will God make this happen?” she asked us.   

In response to her own question, she suggested that “friendship is one way we can try to play that song.”  The Advent 3 scripture describing Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-56, according to Janice, reveals how Elizabeth gives Mary the gift of friendship…two women’s friendship embodies God’s reign.”

And then she shared a story about friendship which made me perk up my ears upon hearing her mention Roy Hange, who grew up some years behind me at Line Lexington Mennonite Church, my childhood home congregation back in eastern Pennsylvania. 

Mennonite World Review’s (MWR) November 29 story entitled “MCC’s crisis response in Syria is its largest ever” describes Roy’s impact, which began with a friendship:  “The humanitarian work of Mennonite Central Committee in Syria during this time of war grew out of the placement of a single worker with the Syriac Orthodox Church 25 years ago.  It’s hard to believe that the presence of one English language teacher [Roy Hange] in 1991 became a relationship that has lasted for 25 years and has helped hundreds of thousands of people in their daily lives,” said Mor Ignatius Ephrem II, patriarch of Antioch and All the East, at a Nov. 12 celebration of MCC’s 25-year relationship with Syrian partners.”

According to the MWR article, the celebratory evening featured “a photo presentation chronicling MCC’s many involvements over the past 25 years: providing English teachers, supporting developmentally disabled adults and orphans, funding a prison ministry, helping Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria, and supporting exchanges,” such as a visiting Mennonite choir.

And further, the article explained, “in a video created for the celebration, the Middle East Council of Churches enumerated ways MCC had helped displaced Syrians and struggling host communities through that one partner alone:  providing 2,122 infant kits, 29,398 school kits, 38,775 hygiene kits, 15,772 blankets, 6,156 relief kits, 382 pieces of medical equipment, 20,386 winter-clothing kits, 5,720 heaters, 25,222 pairs of shoes and much more, benefiting in some way more than 248,000 people.”

Following Janice's sermon which gently challenged us to “offer a safe place for those in need as we embody God’s reign,” it seemed quite appropriate to  spend the afternoon at South Bend Civic Theater’s interpretation of It’s A Wonderful Life, where we heard George Bailey’s guardian angel Clarence say these concluding words: “No man is a failure who has friends.  Thanks for my wings!”  If you haven’t seen the 1946 movie or a theatrical production of it, check out this story of a frustrated businessman who gives up his dreams to help others.  Eventually Bailey learns from his guardian angel, who is working on earning his wings, how different the lives of his friends and family would have been had he, George, not been born.   

What are some little things we can do right where we are in our own neighborhoods or our shared church community?  This NPR story depicts how one congregation’s hand-painted outdoor sign has morphed into a colorful yard sign that is making its way across the country.  (Unofficial word on the street is that signs will soon be available to KRMCers.) We are engaged at Kern Road during the season of Advent in collecting canned goods for a local outreach to the homeless and in purchasing grocery gift cards for families in need.  I can only begin to imagine the efforts in which we may be involved as individuals.   

This parting thought from Parker Palmer seems applicable to the waiting that continues as we move past the third Sunday in Advent with much need evident all around us:  “None of us can save the world. But as more of us learn to live more simply “on winter’s margin”—sharing whatever crumbs we have with those who have none—together we can survive the winter and thrive when spring comes again, as it must, as it will.” 

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December 5, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Kindling God embers as we share the warmth of the season...

Joan Chittister offers thoughts on Advent in her most recent weekly e-mail:  “Advent is the season of waiting. Its function is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.  When year after year we hear the same scriptures and the same hymns of longing for the life to come, of which this is only its shadow, it becomes impossible to forget the refrains of the soul.”

Still awash in post-election news that besieges us on a daily basis, it may seem difficult to focus on the refrains of our souls in order to answer the questions that Chittister claims Advent requires of us:  “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?”

On Day 8 in The Mennonite’s 2016 Advent blog post, Marlene Kropf, professor emerita at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, suggests that “during the dark days and nights of Advent, we open our hearts to our deepest longings:  we want everyone to be free, to be safe, to be welcome at the table and to have enough to share. Even though our earthly rulers regularly and thoroughly disappoint us, we can’t forget Isaiah’s dream-like vision of a world where justice and compassion are everyday virtues, lived not only by rulers but by everyone, great or small.”

Two days earlier in the same Advent blog series Amy Gingerich, MennoMedia editorial director, observes that “Advent is a time of living in tension, a time between celebrating God’s presence now and awaiting God’s peace in the future. A time of knowing that God’s peace is at hand and God’s peace is still on the way.  It’s a time for us not to wait and see what policies incoming political leaders will enact but to get ourselves into action:  our neighbors and neighborhoods are hurting now.”

My prayer for us at Kern Road during Advent is this one with which Gingerich closes her December 2 blog post:  “In this season of Advent, I pray that each of us be given God’s heart for righteousness, that we would defend the cause of the poor, that we would give deliverance to the needy….Let’s not throw away our hopes and dreams for God’s peace to reign.”

And I love this blessing from the Grand Rapids Dominicans which arrived in my inbox on Friday:  “May the God of Passion bless you. May God fire in you an eagerness for the Kingdom, an enthusiasm for the good news of salvation. May you be energized by faith with an intense awareness of God’s presence and activity in your life. May the divine energy in you kindle the God embers in each one you meet. May the God of Passion be with you.”  (© Maxine Shonk, OP) 

I notice that some of my friends are beginning to respond to Gingerich’s call on the local, micro level with the passion Shonk suggests; friend Molly reports that “I am hosting a tiny Christmas party for several little guys who have been displaced recently...the elementary school teacher in me has surfaced! We’ll be listening to The Chipmunk’s Christmas CD, watching a vintage kid’s Christmas movie, baking cookies, making marshmallow snowmen, etc.”

Sometimes, in preparation for reaching out to others, we benefit by tending to self-care and rebuilding our own fortitude first.  I spent the weekend discharging November despair by going to three holiday concerts (at Goshen College, Kern Road, and Saint Mary’s College) and listening to The King’s Singers A Cappella Christmas Songbook.  (Many thanks to friend Jeremy for the latter prompt.)

Reading about a gratitude jar (see this Pinterest link for more info) reminds me of how taking time to give thanks helps rebuild a semblance of joy where a sense of hopelessness threatens to overwhelm.  And beginning to post photos in the December Reflections 2016 challenge offers restoration in two ways…both in the process of creating my own photos and as I find space for solace and reflection in the photos of others.  

I noticed myself taking fresh courage as I decorated our Christmas tree, reminiscing about where each ornament originated (some reminding me of family and friends, others of special occasions or bygone eras) and which phase of our family life it represents.  What opportunities for a personal reboot will you allow Advent to offer this season so that you might be enlivened to listen well to the refrains of your own soul, to take action in hurting neighborhoods, to kindle the God embers in others?  

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November 28, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Despite the fact that the liturgical year has shifted from ordinary time into its annual focus on Advent, which marks that period of waiting for the birth of the Christ child and the start of the new church calendar four Sundays before Christmas day, I find myself dragging election distress into this season of waiting, pondering, embodying.  As we continue to become more aware that many minority groups living among us in this country now feel less welcome in our midst, perhaps bringing post-election baggage into Advent is to be expected this year.

Christine Sine said this in her Advent 1 post Sunday at her blog Godspace: “God’s home is always open to the hurt and the broken, the lost and the lonely, the homeless and orphaned, the rootless and forgotten, those needing saving from themselves, requiring rescue and release. There is no rejection here, only unconditional love.”

How might we, the people of Kern Road, I wonder to myself, find a way to be sanctuary for those who feel threatened, unprotected, frightened, at any kind of loss during this uncertain post-election period?  How might we make our space a place of no rejection here, only unconditional love,” particularly for those feeling less than cared for at this time?

To orient us to the embodied waiting of Advent, Janice spoke in her first Sunday of Advent sermon about a variety of physical waiting experiences to which we might relate:  perhaps we are waiting for bodily healing, perhaps we are awaiting relief from grief or loss or other emotional brokenness, perhaps we are waiting for pregnancy or adoption, to lose a tooth, to get taller, to build physical endurance. And she asked this thought-provoking question:  How does God want to be carried in our bodies? 

My personal response, triggered, to be sure, by election fall-out, shouts inside of me that now is the perfect opportunity for us to speak out on behalf of the marginalized, to extend a welcome to all.  As I was completing this post Sunday night, I read a poignant account of a scenario which took place the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in a 45-minute line at a Los Angeles grocery store checkout.  Upon hearing the white male behind him use vulgar hate language about women, another white male spoke up after a long silence from bystanders:  I’m sorry, everyone, but I must ask for some support in addressing this….Someone look up because I can’t do this alone. He reports that people who had been looking down began to look up. I began to cry and I don’t know why but I couldn’t stop. I continued telling him that his comments were inappropriate and that I would not allow them in my world.

What brought this man to the recognition that he needed to speak up?  “I suddenly flash to a remembrance of me as a 6-year-old child. A family member once owned a home that was part of the Underground Railroad. We’d sit behind this concrete slab under their deck and talk about what happened here. Even as a small child, a young, white man myself, I said I would die before I let that kind of open hate live in my world. I made the same resolution when I learned about the Holocaust in junior high. And I felt that exact same fire now, in the grocery store. 

In what ways can we join forces across America, and particularly in our own space here at Kern, to step up/speak out on behalf of the marginalized?  As the young man who shared the above experience reported, Together, we silenced hate. We made the choice to look up. And we shared a moment. I was overwhelmed with emotion and fear before I decided to speak, but I asked for help...and help came forth, strongly and beautifully.

Other thoughts from Janice’s sermon:  “In what ways are you waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, and how is God waiting?”  And, answering her own question, she continued:  God is waiting to call forth people to carry God’s way into the world…God longs to use us to embody God’s hope for the world,” God’s dream for the world.  

If you are seeking ways to mark the days of Advent so that you might embody the season or build your own confidence to speak up or step out, try one of these on-line daily meditation options:  Goshen College’s Advent devotions or Upper Room’s photography challenge.

Other encouraging stories for a time such as this include a Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s on-line Observer post discussing “compassion, civil discourse, and concrete action” (including comments from panel discussant and KRMC member Megan), this Southern Poverty Law Center list of ways to challenge hate, a majority immigrant church’s response to vandalism, and this Guardian commentary by Barbara Kingsolver on how we might be called as American people of faith to speak up for the marginalized, stretching beyond our typical ways of being, perhaps, to embody inclusion for the outsider.  The latter is a tough one…don’t read it if you aren’t ready for Kingsolver's call to action!

I stumbled across these hopeful posts at Sine’s Godspace site:  “Meanwhile the world goes on…” (see Mary Oliver reading her poem Wild Geese here) and Wendell Berry reading his A Poem on Hope here.

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November 21, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

                                                                                                                                                                                           photo by Jane Bishop Halteman

Parker J. Palmer said the following in a Facebook post about the state of many in our country this past week:

“For millions of Americans, this is a time of doubt, despair, and the pain of loss.

“I have no ‘remedy’ for this widespread suffering—and if I said I did, you’d know you were hearing from yet another con man.

“But this much I know to be true: doubt is the other side of faith, despair is the other side of hope, and the pain of loss is the other side of love.

“The words (inscribed on the photo above) come as close as I can to saying why we must learn to hold our doubt, despair, and pain—until we can reclaim our belief, our hope, our love.

“We can hasten that day by joining in the never-ending struggle for love, truth, and justice in whatever ways we’re able.

“As Wendell Berry has reminded us, big problems never have one big ‘fix.’ They yield only to a million-million human scale answers to the question, ‘Under these circumstances, what’s the right thing to do?

In response to Palmer's musings, one of his readers offered this Mark Nepo quote:  “After all these years, I’m beginning to see that tranquility is the depth of being that holds what we think and feel, not the still point after we’ve silenced what we think and feel. Serenity is the depth of being that holds difficulty, not the resting point after we’ve ended difficulty. And peace is the depth of being that holds suffering and doubt, not the raft we climb on to avoid suffering and doubt. This leads us to joy, which is much deeper and larger than any one feeling. Happiness, fear, anxiety, contentment, doubt, regret, unworthiness, anger, despair—all these and more are the waves that rise and fall in the sea of being.”

My solo drive to PA a few days after the election allowed for many prayerful tears, brought on by election trauma and intensified by news I did not want to hear about the son of a soul friend.  While visiting my parents provided a good distraction from election fallout, I kept one eye on social media where I was horrified to learn from a peace and justice compatriot that she had spotted white supremacist leaflets on her walk to work in South Bend.  Eventually, becoming nearly seasick in response to “the waves that rise and fall in the sea of being,” I shifted into resource-gathering mode to work at combatting the fear and despair settling upon me for the many who have been singled out in our country as different from the majority. 

I borrowed Cindy Crosby’s term “spark in the dark” from last week’s edition of Tuesdays in the Tallgrass and began watching carefully for every ember, every spark of light that might come my way in this perceived darkness.  And sure enough, the sparks began flaming toward me:  the evening my dad surprisingly engaged in conversation when an unexpected visitor stopped by, this delightful PBS documentary on Three Rivers Spirituality (if this video does not post, read the transcript option) by correspondent Judy Valente posted in Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, these amazing renditions of the late Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. YouTube is full of endless examples of upbeat music.  I added this Canadian Tenors version of the Cohen favorite as another of my best-loved for listening in the midst of despair.  Or this one where Oprah surprises the Canadian Tenors with an appearance by Celine Dion.  Or the 12 Tenors singing You Raise Me Up.  Here’s another good story that I shared a year ago; a friend resurrected it again this week…it seems consoling when the world suddenly appears to be less safe for the other than it used to be. 

There were these comforting words from poet David Whyte:  “The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying a profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realize, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time.”  For more on Whyte’s approach to despair, see this link.

From Joan Chittister, I found these encouraging words on speaking up:  “Jesus left to all of us the obligation to speak up on issues that threaten to erode our humanity. To speak out for the innocent and oppressed. To speak on, however long it takes and whatever the pressures ranged against us. To speak up when we hear around us the strategies of those who would balance the national budget by denying the hungry food stamps, and children good education, and the unemployed and underpaid decent lives, and the strangers in the land a way to become community.  Our obligation is not to be like those who would secure themselves by making others insecure. Our obligation is to be like Jesus.”

Toni Morrison, talking about the artist’s task in troubled times from this week’s Brain Pickings, writes that “this is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.  I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

And finally, I discovered Sojourners’ helpful list of 10 commitments we can make during a time when minorities feel threatened, starting with going deeper in faith, lifting up truth, rejecting white nationalism, loving our neighbors, and welcoming the stranger.

Zero Balancing/Soul Lightening Acupressure session with my body/energy-worker friend helped release built-up pain and trauma from the past as well as some of the stress of the present, while Sunday's baby shower at Kern Road eased me back toward hopeful mode as I experienced the gathered community welcome this new little one into our midst in spite of the fact that our country no longer seems as much a sanctuary as I have imagined.  May we take small steps together to make our homes, our places of worship, our communities sanctuaries for the marginalized and oppressed. 

In spite of the waves that rise and fall in the sea of being, we celebrated the arrival of baby Alexia!

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