Glimpses of Healing and Hope

Taking time to care for the Earth

April 26, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

“I am convinced that there is an urgent need to address the damage that humans inflict on the Earth and on each other, to educate folks about climate change, and to take steps to ensure the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants for generations to come.  I have come to see that Mennonites have a valuable perspective on this work, because the Anabaptist commitment to nonviolence is as relevant to how we view creation care as it is for directing our opposition to war.” 

Lawrence Jennings, native New Yorker who attends Infinity Mennonite Church of Harlem and cares deeply about climate change, wrote these words back in 2014 in a MennoNerds blog guest post following Earth Day, the annual observance on April 22 marking the anniversary of the birth in 1970 of the modern environmental movement and finding ways to do justice to the Earth. 

“The height of counterculture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. War raged in Vietnam and students nationwide overwhelmingly opposed it,” according to Earth Day Network.

Though much of America remained indifferent to environmental concerns back then, “the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, and beginning to raise public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and links between pollution and public health,” Earth Day Network continues.

On that first Earth Day, “twenty million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.”

By 1990, Earth Day went global, “mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage” as that year’s emphasis also boosted recycling efforts around the globe.

Given our denomination’s long-running interest in simplicity, good stewardship, and well-being of the powerless, it is no surprise that Mennonite Creation Care Network (MCCN), a bi-national Christian organization affiliated with MCUSA and Mennonite Church Canada, came into being in 2006, preceded by Mennonite Environmental Task Force (1991-2001) and Mennonite Creation Care Planning Group (2004-2006).  

The present-day MCCN welcomes those wishing to be part of a faith-based network of people engaged in caring for creation, including congregations that grasp God’s love for all the earth, individuals and households where decision-makers consider environmental impact, schools where students of all ages learn to connect with the natural world, church agencies that choose advocates to keep creation care prominent, and the broader community shaped by creative approaches to transportation, housing, food, waste disposal.

The organization’s website states that congregations “are the primary focus of Mennonite Creation Care Network’s energies. MCCN encourages congregations to appoint a creation care liaison and become one of the network’s 100 Shades of Green Congregations. Preaching, teaching, community gardens, advocacy, and eco-justice work are a few of the ways congregations care for the earth.”

Kern Road has been active for years in energy conservation, both in the construction of the present church building, and by inviting members/participants to conduct energy audits in their own homes.  Some years ago our junior high students made recommendations based on their energy audit of the building, and just this past calendar year KRMC installed solar roof panels. 

The congregation has invited the community to a Solar Energy Celebration and Open House Saturday, May 21, from 2 to 4 p.m., during which time participants will learn how solar panels help save energy and reduce KRMC’s carbon footprint. Government officials, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and a representative from Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light (HIPL), an interreligious organization promoting energy conservation and clean energy in faith communities across Indiana, will be invited. KRMC’s solar panels were funded in part by a $24,000 grant from HIPL. 

Consider the resources offered by Global Footprint Network as you assess how living into the resurrection might include care of the earth this Eastertide in your own household, as well as in our city and country.  Global Footprint Network is “an international think tank that provides ecological footprint accounting tools to drive informed policy decisions in a resource-constrained world.  We work with local governments, investors, and opinion leaders to ensure all people live well, within the means of one planet.”

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Bringing healing and hope to orphaned boys

April 18, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Eunice and Leonard, top photo; orphaned brothers, Peter and Castro, left and right in lower left photo; orphaned boys' parents, Peter and Francisca Dorine, lower right photo

“I will feel like I have abandoned them if I can’t get them here,” says Leonard Amuok of his nephew Peter’s orphaned children.  “So many relatives are struggling, and I would love to bring other relatives’ children, too, Leonard continues, but finances limit what his family can do to help.

Leonard, presently on KRMC’s church board, and his wife Eunice Oduor and their four children came from Kenya to the United States in 2004 upon winning the green card lottery.  They settled at Kern Road via some Mennonite connections from back home, where family members still live in rural communities, at some distance from the nearest big city, Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city and principle city of western Kenya.

According to Wikipedia, The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, making 55,000 immigrant visas available in an annual lottery, starting in 1995. The lottery aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States by selecting applicants largely from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the previous five years.

Leonard’s brother’s 30-year-old son Peter died in 2012 while working at a construction site in Uganda.  Peter didn’t have proper safety equipment, according to Leonard, and was killed instantly in a fall.  Peter and his wife, Francisca Dorine, then six months pregnant with their second child, also had a two-year-old son, Castro, at the time.

When he traveled to Kenya for nephew Peter’s funeral back in 2012, Leonard noticed that Francisca Dorine had a swelling on her neck, which he suggested she should have checked by a physician.  Eventually she began taking medication for a goiter, and Leonard mentioned the possibility of surgery if necessary. 

She gave birth to the couple’s second son, Peter, and seemed to be managing as well as could be expected by selling vegetables to make a small living, with occasional contributions from Leonard and Eunice, who also had funded the elder Peter’s high school education.  Francisca Dorine died quite unexpectedly at home in October of 2015, leaving behind their two sons.

Upon hearing of her sudden passing, “I immediately thought:  what will happen to the kids?” Leonard recalls.  Because family members are already providing for adult children and in some cases grandchildren as well, Leonard and Eunice did not believe chances were good that relatives in Kenya could find a way to take in the orphaned children permanently.  “So many people are idle with no options for work,” he noted, adding that those who might go off to try to make a day’s wages could potentially come back with $10 or $20.

Leonard and Eunice began to consider bringing the children to the United States, when they realized that “if the children go to relatives still in Kenya, there would be no guarantee that our donations to help would actually assist with the children’s support” due to so many other financial needs.

Following Francisca Dorine’s death, Leonard spent six weeks in Kenya.  In order to begin the process of bringing the children out of their home country, he needed to file for death certificates for the children’s parents and birth certificates for the children, none of which had been processed at that point in time.   

Because his nephew died in Uganda on the job rather than in his home country, acquiring that death certificate was particularly difficult.  Leonard found application offices constantly filled with people.  “I don’t believe in bribery, but you can’t avoid it.  There is no other way but to grease palms.”  And after all the requisite forms had been signed, there were the tedious waits for ancient typewriters to crank out official documents, Leonard reports. 

Having acquired those four documents, Leonard and Eunice will ask for legal custody of the orphaned boys, now nearly six years old and four years old.  They expect to retain a lawyer in order to prepare for the Children’s Services’ presentation to the Kenyan High Court to verify and certify that they reside abroad, that they are related to the children, and that the children are, indeed, orphans. 

On the United States side, says Leonard, it will cost $1,900 to file Department of Homeland Security forms to begin background checks for himself and Eunice in addition to their three young adult children Celia, Wendy, and Brian; son Castro passed away in April of 2014.  Home studies will follow in preparation for receiving the boys.   

“I would love to see them here in six months,” says Leonard, but he knows that timeline is not probable.  Hopeful that perhaps they will arrive within a year, he says he is concerned that the children are currently with different family members separated by 20 miles.  As plans and financial needs become more clear, we at KRMC will be watching for ways to help this family live out their resurrection dream to bring glimpses of healing and hope into these young boys’ lives.

“Through the grace of God, perhaps all these obstacles I’m seeing may disappear,” says Leonard optimistically!  The family welcomes prayers and logistical support as the process continues.  

 

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When spring fails to deliver

by: Jane Bishop Halteman
April 11, 2016

Three nest fails (top left, center, bottom right) surrounded by early signs of spring

Spring is the season of resurrection, but some signs of spring in the world around us culminate in disastrous outcomes that fail to reveal what we expect of Easter. 

The last two years brought three failed birds’ nests to our yard.  In 2014 a pair of mourning doves built a nest in our front eaves, but the nest slid off its perch and we found it on the ground one morning. 

Soon after that failure, cardinals constructed a nest in a low shrub outside the sunroom window where we could observe undetected, but one morning we discovered the eggs missing from the nest.  Alerted to the fact that one of the eggs did not match the rest, I learned that cowbirds steal space for their eggs in other species’ nests. 

Our cardinal family had, indeed, been victimized by a cowbird.  We were advised to remove the cowbird egg from the nest.  One internet source I read indicated that “cowbirds may ‘punish’ egg-rejectors by destroying the eggs or entire nest.”  Did our intrusion lead to the eventual nest failure? 

With our grim 2014 history, I was elated last spring to discover that a robin had built a sloppy nest in a small niche created by our backyard guttering at the second-story level. By the time I noticed the nest, the mother bird was already sitting on it, and, though I had missed the building frenzy, I felt hopeful that this nest might survive long enough to produce young robins.

Only two days into nest-watching, however, I was disappointed yet again one morning to find this third nest on the ground with no sign of eggs anywhere.  Perhaps they were yet to be laid or maybe a raccoon got to them, a friend suggested.

Trying to understand our 100% failure rate, I began scouring the internet and was surprised to discover that robins “can produce up to three successful broods in one year. On average, two clutches are raised with less than half being successful. Only a quarter of those that do fledge survive to November. From that point on, about half of the birds alive in any year will make it to the next.”

Typically the season bounces back and forth between winter and summer with at least a few casualties as chilly temperatures and late snow showers snuff out magnolia blossoms or fruit tree buds perhaps forced out prematurely by too-warm-too-soon temps.  Last year I found our tender new greenery chomped to the ground or stomped to bits overnight by hungry intruders.  

Caught in the midst of these kinds of seasonal “failures” and losses or severe weather in our own lives, how do we respond when resurrection seems momentarily to slip out of sight?  What learnings might take place even in the midst of disappointment?

Even as failed nests, frozen blooms, and nibbled stems and leaves are unhappy experiences for some of us, I found it interesting to learn recently that the advent of a mourning dove in one’s life “signals a time to go within, a time to release emotional discord and the memories of past trauma.”  I was intrigued to receive the appearance of these mourning doves as signs of resurrection, because, as one author I read pointed out, though its melancholy call has earned this bird its name, “beyond its sorrowful song is a message of life, hope, renewal, and peace.”

Along with the disappointments of spring, we savor earlier sunrises and longer evenings, the reappearance of morning birdsong, the variety of growing things that come to life in our yards and flower beds, the successful nest-building, and the many creatures that reappear from their winter hiding places.

Parker Palmer’s Spring is Mud and Miracle speaks eloquently about the many resurrections born of spring.  What Palmer observes is so true:  “Spring begins tentatively, but it advances with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, pressing up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. The crocuses and snowdrops don’t bloom for long. But their mere appearance, however brief, is always a harbinger of hope—and from those small beginnings, hope grows at a geometric rate. The days get longer, the winds get warmer, and the world grows green again.”

Parker goes on to say, “From autumn’s profligate seeding to the great spring give-away, nature teaches a steady lesson. If we want to save our lives, we must spend them with abandon. When we’re obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with the rational relation of means and ends, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it’s unlikely we will ever know the fullness of spring in our own lives.”

What will the fullness of living into Easter look like in each of our lives this resurrection season?  In the words of Jan Richardson, what are we being asked “to carry from the Easter garden to proclaim in the world, in the way that only we can proclaim it and live it out?”  Where will the Easter path take us?

Author Macrina Wiederkehr suggests we ponder questions like these as we await, and ultimately experience, the arrival of spring in nature and in our own lives:  “How are we, like the buds of the earth, opening to God and to others?  What secrets buried deep in the soil of our souls are being revealed to us?  How is the gospel of springtime unfolding for us?  What is the great blossoming in us?”

Wiederkehr notes that, as the vibrancy of life is about to pulse through nature at this time of year, it is also a good thing to “enjoy what is emerging from within, to savor the taste of hope, to trust in what the future promises.  It is the time to believe in growth and to give oneself to it wholeheartedly.”

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April 4, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Loren brought good news during Easter Sunday worship when he shared an e-mail recently received from his brother and sister-in-law, who are on a two-month assignment in Nigeria with the Church of the Brethren.  They are offering presence in crisis and working with internally displaced persons in a city where Boko Haram has commandeered villages, targeted pastors, killed thousands, and caused many more to flee their homes, Loren explained.

“When Boko Haram took over various villages that are key to the church, many of the buildings were bombed or burned.  It was anticipated that buildings in Garkida, where my brother lived for five years, would have been burned as well.”  Upon visiting Garkida, Loren’s brother was surprised to learn that the Muslims of Garkida told Boko Haram that Christians and Muslims get along together in that place and that, if they burned the church, they would also be burning the mosque.  Surprisingly, many of the buildings were saved. 

“My prayer requests are two,” Loren said:  “First, that we celebrate the community and support which exists among the Christians and Muslims in Garkida and second, that we pray for our (so-called) enemies and for the poor conditions that lead people to become violent and destructive.”

A story of the existence of community and support among the Christians and Muslims in Garkida was a piece of resurrection news so appropriate for our congregation to hear at our Easter Sunday service.

That news came before last week’s Glimpses of Healing and Hope blog entry, which posted the following day on Monday morning.  A quick response to the piece, entitled Living into the Resurrection, arrived from a Michigan pastor who said,  “Our church has taken the theme Practicing Resurrection for this Easter season, so we will be walking along with you. I pondered yesterday what it would mean if we would become ‘radicalized cells’ of the Ever Rising Body of Christ—radicalized by love and forgiveness and passionate hope. I wonder...”

Can we imagine with that pastor what radicalized cells operating in our own church and community might look like if love, forgiveness, and passionate hope ran rampant among us?  Where in our denomination or congregation, our towns, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our families might we live into resurrection and new life by confronting, even in small ways, the signs of death and dying, hate and wrath, injustice and corruption often evident around us?

We are fortunate already to have “cells” of people among us who regularly offer support and encouragement to the marginalized and encourage all of us to do the same; those who urge us toward greener living by steering us toward installation of solar panels and other ways of caring for our earth; those who model thoughtful eating habits that take into consideration the environment, personal health, and animal welfare; those who demonstrate a variety of ways to live and share together in Christian community.

Many of us, raised in the more-with-less culture, practice our favorite schemes to simplify and extend.  If you haven’t already tried some of these, you might experiment with fresh ways to implement resurrection living by beginning a new effort to repurpose, compost, upcycle, grow your own, reduce waste (or even consider zero waste), buy local, regrow from scraps, choose not to use plastic or disposables, select plug-ins over batteries. 

Once I began looking/listening more carefully for examples of resurrection living, I found hopeful green shoots in lots of places.  During my weekly drive to Grand Rapids, I heard an NPR story on why Utah will continue to embrace refugees even though that stance is now unpopular in many states. 

Upon arrival at my destination, I discovered a story from The Mennonite about how a Colorado church made a commitment to share its little-used fellowship hall and classrooms with community groups who needed meeting space.  Soon a local arts group began holding monthly gatherings in the space, an organization offering services to senior citizens set up an office, and a large church with no permanent building began using study space and the kitchen for various outreach programs.

This link about recycling plastic in new ways appeared in my feed from another friend’s Facebook page.   A pastor in a neighboring state told me about an ambitious worship/education series currently under way in her congregation which has led to a vigorous new mid-week meeting of enthusiastic group leaders who are willing to travel many miles for the extra get-together.       

Signs of new life are, indeed, all around us.  Green sprouts of renewal, like the mini iris shoots my granddaughter spotted with great glee in a flowerbed last week, continue to spike their way through the warming earth, through our community, just waiting for someone to notice and share the good news.  Make it a habit to be aware this week of the sights and sounds of the earth as it rouses in our part of the world after weeks of winter.  What are the comparable rousings you notice at KRMC?  Share with us here at Glimpses of Healing and Hope the resurrection sightings that come your way. 

As if to prove that the above paragraph is no joke, this story was waiting on my Facebook feed after I thought I had wrapped up the post.  Read it, even if just to confirm that, “If you keep your eyes open, you can find people doing good things all over the globe.”

 

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March 28, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Watching a Chopped champion accept his $10,000 award last week, I was excited to hear him say, on being asked how he would use his cash prize, “The first thing that comes to mind is this question:  Who can I offer assistance?  Whose lives can I help change?”

I know nothing about this man except that he is a successful enough chef to have been invited to compete on a Chopped episode during which he outcooked three other chefs on the Food Network show.  His exemplary desire to share his winnings with those who have less, however, speaks to me of resurrection living!

During this season of Eastertide, which thankfully stretches all the way to Pentecost beyond the single day we call Easter, I think back a number of years to the first time I became acquainted with author Megan McKenna on the Spirituality and Practice website. Her book Not Counting Women and Children, Neglected Stories from the Bible describes the practice of resurrection living like this:  “Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth, every time I confront injustice,” I am practicing resurrection living.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat have posted at their website an excellent page entitled Easter:  Resurrection as Spiritual Practice.   Check the site for the many ways they suggest to practice resurrection living; here is a sampling of their recommendations about living into resurrection.

·         Paying full attention to whatever you are doing helps you recognize the constant renewal of life all around you. 

·         Cultivating the art of making connections dismantles the walls of separation so that new life can spring up out of the rubble.

·         Walking the path of beauty allows you to notice radiance in people, places, and growing things—all signs of rebirth. 

·         Leaving the past to God's mercy and the future to God’s discretion permits you to live in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, as you affirm your belief in resurrection.

·         Working for justice, peace, equality sets the stage for resurrection.  When you feed the hungry and stand up for the oppressed, you are a life-giver.

·         Staying open to all people and situations affirms your believe that all things can be made new.

·         Welcoming large and small changes signals your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.

And here’s another approach to thinking about resurrection living as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “You are just like a firework going off in every moment. The firework diffuses its beauty around itself. With your thoughts, words, and actions you can diffuse your beauty. That beauty and goodness go into your friends, your children, grandchildren, and into the world. It is not lost and you go into the future in that way.”

In the wake of the March 22 Brussels attack and other recent violence, either publicized or unpublicized, I was drawn to a Sojourners post by Eric Barreto, who says this about resurrection living, even in the wake of terror:  “As we grieve Jesus’ unjust death and celebrate his resurrection, as we grieve the unconscionable loss of life and the hope that God promises, may despair and praise together point us to those whom God calls our sisters and brothers, our kin.  In the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the acclaiming of Jesus as a king and his execution as a threat to the political order, may we discover a resurrection power that overwhelms our instincts to shelter ourselves, our fear of the stranger, our hopelessness in a broken world.”

How do you respond to Barreto’s thought that “resurrection is for today.  Imagine, then, if our reaction to these attacks would not be fear and self-interested protection. Imagine if we didn’t close our borders. Imagine if we didn’t view our Muslim neighbors with suspicion. Imagine if we didn’t give into our basest instincts to build bigger weapons. Imagine if we lived the resurrected life together.”

What experiences from your own faith journey come to mind as you ponder new things God is doing around you?  How have you made resurrection a spiritual practice in daily life?  How have you experienced new ways of seeing and being?  If the idea of living into the resurrection in these ways is new for you, what appeals to you as a practice you might implement this Eastertide?

Going forward, I’d love to hear your resurrection stories so that I might retell them in a future Glimpses of Healing and Hope blog post between now and Pentecost.

 

 

 

 

 

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March 21, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

I find US politics almost intolerable to watch these days as common courtesy and civility cave to name-calling and fear-mongering, no matter how hurtful or demeaning to the other.  Grasping at straws to do my miniscule part to stem the seemingly unchecked tide of hostility, I came across Jan Richardson’s 2011 Painted Prayerbook post entitled Holy Thursday: Take a Blessing

My interest in blessing is not new and has been whetted over the years by reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World and more recently by John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.  Blessings written by Richardson and Maxine Shonk have become other inspirational guides on the blessings journey.

The first mention of blessing that captured my attention took place many years ago when I heard Mennonite evangelist Myron Augsburger share the story of offering a blessing for a homeless man who walked ahead of him on a crowded sidewalk.  The man appeared to be disconsolate, without much sense of self-esteem, Augsburger said.  As he breathed a prayer of blessing on the man's behalf, Augsburger noticed that the stranger straightened his posture, glanced at his reflection in a store window, and rearranged his cap with a sudden air of confidence. 

My initiation to blessing as an alternative to ugliness came last Thanksgiving when Maren Tirabassi offered this introduction and “blessing across boundaries” during what she described as a difficult time that threatened to become divisive:  “You have blessed yourselves by your presence tonight to give thanks across boundaries in a time when the willingness to do that is desperately needed and we are so frequently divided by background and tradition, by religion and race, ethnicity and economic differences, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, ability, education, and when our fears, even the reasonable ones, all too easily mutate into hatred.  So for this Thanksgiving season, may you be blessed in your waking and in your sleeping.  May you be blessed in your travels and in your homing.
 May you be blessed when you give and when you receive,
 when you sit at tables of welcome
 and when you walk together in peace.”

I was attracted to what seemed like a promising fix for the threat of fear mutating to hatred.  Richardson’s new book, Circle of Grace:  A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, offers the “invincible circle of grace” as an additional antidote to fear morphing into hate:  “Within the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us.”

O’Donohue, who sees blessing as a way of life, as a lens through which the whole world might be transformed, continues to build the case for practicing blessing.  His book suggests that “when a blessing is being invoked, time deepens until it becomes a source from which refreshment and encouragement are released….Whenever one person takes another into the care of their heart, they have the power to bless….To bless someone is to offer a beautiful gift.”

And when I begin to fear the consequences of the diminishment of civility in our country, I want to remember this from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s Spirituality and Practice website:  In his book’s “magnificent closing essay titled To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing, O’Donohue posits that this gift is grounded in the belief that human kindness holds sway in the world and that beauty abounds. Blessing moves in and through us by means of wonder, and each day is received as an invitation.”

In their overview of O’Donohue’s description of blessing, the Brussats explain that “a blessing is a protective circle of light and a key to awakening and creating forgiveness. It is also ‘a sheltering wall’ and a constant stream of mindfulness of others and their needs….Best of all, blessing is the secret sustenance of our lives and the powerful and positive intention that can transform situations and people.”

O’Donohue maintains that “a blessing breaks down the barriers between people….It changes the environment around us and opens new possibilities of connection, healing, and transformation.”  What are the ways we might seek to pass on blessing during this pre-election period, particularly now as we complete the season of Lent with the pilgrimage through Holy Week and beyond to the resurrection joy of Easter?

Perhaps learning to receive a blessing will assist us in offering one, but, as Richardson observes in her Holy Thursday post, “Sometimes it can be daunting to receive a blessing…a blessing requires something of us. It does not leave us unchanged. A blessing offers us a glimpse of the wholeness that God desires for us and for the world, and it beckons us to move in the direction of this wholeness. It calls us to let go of what hinders us, to cease clinging to the habits and ways of being that may have become comfortable but that keep us less than whole.”

Receiving a blessing, according to Richardson, “places us for a time in the position of doing no work—of simply allowing it to come. For those who are accustomed to constantly doing and giving and serving, being asked to stop and receive can cause great discomfort. To receive a blessing, we have to give up some of our control. We cannot direct how the blessing will come, and we cannot define where the blessing will take us. We have to let it do its own work in us, beyond our ability to chart its course.”

Richardson concludes that “a blessing is not finished until we let it do its work within us and then pass it along.  Yet we cannot do this until we first allow ourselves to simply receive the blessing as it is offered:  as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole.”

During this Holy Week, may we not only “take a blessing,” but also become a blessing to one another.  How might we extend the blessings we receive “as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole,” even to our country’s current political scenario?

 

 

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March 14, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

As I was contemplating getting to work on this week’s blog post and pondering what lead sentence might catch appropriate attention, an old Sunday School song from my long-ago childhood came to mind.  I haven’t thought about this musical ditty in decades, but something about the dark political climate in our country these days juxtaposed against the willing workers in our congregation who reach out to help conjured up the memory.

I see and hear myself as a six- or seven-year-old singing lustily in the basement of our church building with the rest of the congregation’s children:  “Brighten the corner where you are!  Brighten the corner where you are!  Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar; brighten the corner where you are!”

Despite the archaic language, I think my young Sunday school classmates and I got the message, which was lived out in our congregation by members of our cheer-up group who routinely took small gifts and plants and edible goodies to those who needed emotional or physical support both in our congregation and in the congregation’s neighborhood, sometimes extending beyond our own membership.

Whether it be packing up Christmas bundles for refugee families in post-World War II Europe or singing carols with the MYF for neighborhood shut-ins at Christmas, I’ve never forgotten those gracious, merciful acts of kindness my childhood congregation showed to those in need.

Last week I had the privilege of meeting the Ahuatl family of eight.  With extensive indoor and outdoor work, they have brought back to life the house at 1326 N. Kaley, hoping to move in this past Friday. KRMC Immigration Ministry representative Marisa (who serves on the committee with Mabel, Janine, and Jenny) met me at the Ahuatl home to translate.

Marisa became acquainted with several of the children on the job at El Campito, one of South Bend’s oldest non-profit child development centers, founded in 1970 to help migrant families adjust to their new lives in South Bend.  Mabel learned to know several of the children through her work at Kennedy Primary Academy in South Bend.

Since the two Immigration Ministry members were both aware that the family hoped to buy their first house after being in a two-bedroom rental home for eight years, the committee came up with ways they could support the family’s efforts.  About a year ago, the Immigration Ministry committee gave a scholarship to one of the children to continue pre-school.  Last October Kern Road, under leadership of the Immigration Ministry group, provided labor and supplies for a painting workday at the house.  Around Christmas, the committee funded tub and shower installation during renovations.   

The family purchased the home through a realty company for $6,000 without knowing that the city of South Bend already had slated the structure for demolition.  After paying $500 to rescind the demolition order, the family eventually secured a grant to help defray costs of installing new windows, plumbing, gas, siding, and water. 

Mom Piedad had been working at home until recently, but when her youngest child went to daycare in September, she took a part-time job to help with expenses of restoring their home while continuing to pay for their rental house.  Both Piedad and her husband Librado are employed by a University Park Mall restaurant; Librado also works a second seasonal job maintaining the grounds at the South Bend Country Club.

In February of 2003, Librado came from the state of Puebla, Mexico, to South Bend, where members of his family had settled prior to his arrival.  He was in town eight years before he went back to Mexico to bring Piedad to South Bend.    

Oldest child Ana is 12 and a middle school student at Dickinson.  Her three brothers Agustin, 10, Edgar, 8, and Kevin, 7, are students at Kennedy.  Five-year-old Bryan is enrolled in preschool at El Campito, along with Alison, 3, recipient of a current KRMC scholarship.

Neighbors have appeared to greet the family with a doll for the three-year-old and bikes for some of the other children.  Family friends live a couple of blocks away, and the Immigration Ministry committee is considering ways Kern Road might help welcome the family, perhaps with a house blessing after they are settled in or with assistance to install a fence around the back yard this spring or summer.

Once warm weather arrives, those of us who live in or near the Near Northwest Neighborhood might consider walking or biking by to say hello.   

Even if you don't live near the Ahuatl family, reflect on how you might "brighten the corner where you are" as we continue during this Lenten season to listen to and learn from the living stories Jesus told his disciples.  And many thanks to this family for brightening their corner of South Bend!

 

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March 7, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

My family can tell you that I don’t like being in total darkness or feeling trapped.  I recall waking up in the middle of the night clawing at the zipper in a tiny pup tent many years ago during a short-lived camping era before we had children.  I remember all too well how hard I had to work to fall asleep in the impenetrable darkness, compounded by the close quarters of a European hotel room once upon a time.  More often than not, I have cracked many a curtain or blind or shade to make sure I can “see” in the dark when in an unfamiliar place.

I was fascinated then, with a Facebook friend’s Lenten post to this link, which became the inspiration for this week’s blog post.

In her spiritual memoir Called to Question, Joan Chittister says, “Darkness, I have discovered, is the way we come to see. It creates the depressions that, once faced, teach us to trust. It gives us the sensitivity it takes to understand the depth of the pain in others. It seeds in us the humility it takes to learn to live gently with the rest of the universe. It opens us to new possibilities within ourselves.”

That find led to my recollection that Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark has been sitting on my shelf unread since soon after its release two years ago just before Holy week, prime time for the publication of a book about darkness.  I read it through quickly and found comments by others, some of which are recorded here, helpful as I digested Taylor’s words about walking in the dark.

Also author of the best-selling An Altar in the World, Taylor “challenges our negative associations with darkness and our attraction to light...She draws on her own experiences—from exploring caves and experimenting with blindness, to her questioning of her own religious training and faith—to explore what might be gained by embracing darkness. What she finds are the possibilities of emotional healing, a deeper appreciation of silence, living in the now, and peace of mind where there once was fear,” according to Spirituality and Health magazine’s assessment of the book.

A Booklist reviewer says this:  “Darkness, Taylor writes, is ‘shorthand for anything that scares me.’ That could include something as profound as the absence of God to the fear of dementia to the loss of family and friends.  She recounts how she became impatient with church teachings that accentuated the light while denying the existence of darkness, and comments on the difference between faith and belief, certainty and trust.  She encourages us to turn out the lights and embrace the spiritual darkness, for it is in the dark, she maintains, that one can truly see.”

In an interview with Taylor, which appeared in his On Faith & Culture e-column for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks her about her understanding of the use of the word darkness in scripture.  Acknowledging that most biblical references to darkness are negative (referencing ignorance, sin, evil, death), Taylor says she believes that many positive things happen in darkness as described in Bible stories.  

In Genesis, darkness exists before God even got to work. Everything was made by God from darkness. In Exodus, God promises to come to Moses on Mount Sinai in a dense or dark cloud. Here, darkness is divine and where God dwells. Abraham meets God in the darkness, Jacob wrestles an angel in the middle of the night, and angels announce Christ’s birth to the shepherds at night. There’s so much that happens in the dark that is essential to the Christian story,” according to Taylor.  “Linguistically, it (use of the word darkness) is the pits.  Narratively, it is a different story.”

Defining darkness in this interview as “everything I do not know, cannot control, and am often afraid of,” Taylor goes on to say, “But that’s just the beginner’s definition. If I am a believer in God, then darkness is also where God dwells. God may be frightening and uncontrollable and largely unknown to me, yet I decide to trust God anyway.”

Taylor concludes in her conversation with Merritt that “the great hope in the Christian message is not that you will be rescued from the dark, but that, if you are able to trust God all the way into the dark, you may be surprised.”  Attempting to rehabilitate our fear of the dark, according to her book jacket, Taylor “reflects on how our lives do not work only when everything is fully lit.  We can’t always see the light.  It waxes and wanes or can go out altogether.  What we need is a spirituality that works in the nighttime.

Though she says she does not intend to underplay the importance of light in scripture, Taylor critiques some current-day churches for practicing a “full solar spirituality” with no mention of finding “healing and liberation” in the darkness as well. 

Her own experience of walking in darkness has taught her this:  “When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died.  The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair.  Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.”

Perhaps this Lent is a good time to turn from deadly scripts we have been taught about darkness.  How might we begin to learn to walk in the dark without fear?  What tiny steps might we take to travel where the light is dim?  What props might help build up our courage to take those steps?  (See lighted pathway in the dark in the photo above, snapped at Vic and Nancy’s Longest Night observance in 2014.)  How might we encourage others to risk learning to walk in darkness?

May we continue to unearth our living stories and new narratives this Lenten season, especially amidst our timid stumbles into the darkness.

 

 

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