Glimpses of Healing and Hope

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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November 14, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Despite whether our candidate won or lost this past week, I would be very surprised to learn that any of us feels good about negative election fallout that has surfaced since Tuesday night.  My social media feed has been flooded with stories about people who fear, with what seems due cause, changes that threaten to make this country a less safe place for them as minorities.

Bernie Sanders explained it this way:  the president-elect “tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics, and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer.”

So, yes, we see reasons why people are ready for change, but it seems to me that change which threatens the other should not be part of the new equation.

Our own daughter had this to say about her strenuous week in the classroom as a college philosophy professor:  “I can’t believe how emotionally exhausting it is to teach right now. Each class today has included a litany of students’ experiences of friends who have been targeted just since the election. One student had a fight break out on her floor. Another had three friends called the ‘n word’ yesterday. Another had a friend called a ‘homo’ as he walked across a different campus yesterday. I have heard stories of undocumented students outed and threatened publicly. It goes on and on and on. To their credit, my students—including the half that voted for the president-elect—are uniformly horrified by these events and united in their fear about what the future holds. We have normalized an incredible threat to the safety and inclusivity of our communities, and now we need to figure out how to fix it. Roll up your sleeves, people, this is not going away anytime soon.”

Jonathan Merritt, writer on faith and culture, reports that “the protests on Fifth Avenue have garnered a lot of attention, but New Yorkers are posting their grief underground on tens of thousands of sticky notes. These emotional messages are slapped onto subway station walls across the city. The New York Times story on this protest is moving, but nothing beats the messages themselves,” messages offering prayers and desires for love, hope, equality, safety.

One of my friends shared a brief note about “transgender youth suicides that occurred late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning.”  And the Kissing Fish Facebook page offered this list of fearful Americans who may have reason to be involved in protests beyond whether or not their candidate lost: “They’re black Americans who hear talk of law and order and remember a racially charged stop and frisk program, or see an emboldened KKK holding a celebratory parade.  They’re Muslim Americans who worry that spitting in their face is now okay and violations of their rights to assemble and their rights to privacy are about to come.  They’re LGBT Americans who fear not just of the loss of marriage rights or restaurants gaining the right not to serve them, but of an administration that thinks it’s more important to research electrocuting the gay out of them than AIDS.  They’re Hispanic and Latino Americans who are scared their children will be bullied in schools, and their families ripped apart while their culture is mocked.  They’re women who are wondering if we’ve normalized groping, and if their career endeavors will be judged by their face and body, and not their minds.”

Many of us may feel we have no immediate access to preventing these sorts of discriminatory behaviors, but small ways of offering assistance or showing solidarity have emerged in these first few days since the election.  Sojourners posted this information for what to do if you see Islamophobic harrassment.  Safety Pin USA’s Facebook page tells the story of the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, when “hundreds of thousands of British citizens took to wearing a safety pin on their lapel, a quiet and dignified gesture intended to signal to their immigrant brothers and sisters that they stood in solidarity with them against the tide of fear and hate that drove the Brexit decision.  Simply put, I say that, in the wake of the US election, we repeat the practice here in the states. Too many reports have already flooded the airwaves indicating a sharp increase in racially-motivated violence and intimidation across the country, and, while this simple act may not change that, it will demonstrate to those who are the targets of such aggression in your community that they have allies on the streets, and not just the Internet.”  

Already, social media has suggested that perhaps this small act of wearing a safety pin trivializes the seriousness of the situation at hand, or that wearing the pin will make us smug about doing something and less likely to work at the larger issues, or that minority groups may take offense.  While I would be the last to deliberately offend, I also see that this solidarity move could be meaningful in a small way in some situations.  I will not judge people for wearing the safety pin or for not wearing it.  Two of my Facebook friends posted positive outcomes as they wore safety pins.  One shared this safety pin story:  Yesterday in a thrift store in Normal, IL, a gray-bearded tattooed man thanked me for wearing a safety pin. We commiserated. There I have it. I talked with someone not like me in solidarity.  Another said, “I wore one yesterday and my daughter asked me why.  I said it's a way of letting people who are different from me know that I'm a safe person.  She was thrilled.  I did not expect her to notice it or appreciate its meaning.  It was worth it just for that.

Preparation for the job ahead of us can come in all sorts of ways.  My niece shared that, while cooking, she listened to an hour of Radiolab segments on laughter for much needed respite.  Strangely enough, comfort food provided a sort of self-care as our family struggled to make our way through last week.  I was delighted to find Trader Joe’s (in Grand Rapids) had received their holiday shipment of turkey-less stuffed roast with gravy.  I bought three on Wednesday and they were gone by Friday…one with the Grand Rapids family, one with the South Bend family, and one for a late-night snack on the in-between day.  Sometimes you do what you have to do to maintain sanity and a small sense of well-being in spite of the world's condition!  How did you achieve that for yourself this past week? 

Friday I shared our home with a peer group in the morning, a directee in the afternoon, and family members for supper.  It felt good to offer warmth and hospitality to friends and family, kind of a preparation for opening myself to those I do not know who may need safe spaces in their lives, especially now.  In what ways might we at Kern Road begin to reach out during this difficult post-election season to those who feel threatened?  How might we provide sanctuary for the marginalized?  Our faith mandates that we stand with those who are bullied because they are different.  The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty says something very similar:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Before we can be there for others, we need personal fortification, our own resilience strategies, our own ways to work at repairing the breach, our own understanding of the grief we suffer.  With regard to the latter, John Pavlovitz says this:  “Grief always laments what might have been, the future we were robbed of, the tomorrow that we won’t get to see, and that is what we walk through today. As a nation we had an opportunity to affirm the beauty of our diversity this day, to choose ideas over sound bytes, to let everyone know they had a place at the table, to be the beacon of goodness and decency we imagine that we are—and we said no.

“The Scriptures say that weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning. We can’t see that dawn coming any time soon.

“And this is why we grieve.

I visited an out-of-town church Sunday morning; one thing of many that I took away with me from that service was the worship leader's statement that today is the day that we grow bigger than our differences.”  I hope we can find ways to live into that sentiment.  I also look forward to working with other Kern Roaders to bring Phileena Heuertz' words to fruition in our own setting:  America is not just for white Christians. America is for all people, regardless of race and creed.  And regardless of what kind of government is in power, we all have a responsibility to walk the hard road of love to heal our nation.

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November 7, 2016
By Jane Bishop Halteman

A plumb line Parker J. Palmer says he uses to test his decisions...

Laura Turner’s article, posted in the health section of The Atlantic last Tuesday, led with the headline “When National Turmoil Becomes Personal Anxiety.”  The subhead read, “The hateful rhetoric and high stakes of the 2016 U.S. election are causing people emotional distress.”  The article went on to state that the “election is taking a toll on everyone. The turbulence of this time of national transition can cause anxiety that makes day-to-day life more alarming, but people’s existing fears can also be inflamed by what they see happening in the election. This creates a sort of feedback loop between personal and national anxiety.”

We’re in a psychosis of what is called negative polarization, according to David Brooks commentary Friday on the PBS Newshour.  “What’s depressed me most about this race is that we went into this a divided nation and now the chasms are solidified.  We are divided along lines including race, gender, urban-rural, more and less educated.  The campaign barely matters; people are just going with their gene pool,” Brooks said. 

A recent Vox article headline reports that “election anxiety is real.” The article notes that preliminary data from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) upcoming annual Stress in America report reveals that about “half of people surveyed (52 percent) say the election ‘is a very or somewhat significant’ source of stress in their lives. The breakdown by party is about even: 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say this election is causing them stress.”  The APA also offers graphs plotting election stress by generation and race/ethnicity.  Matures (71 and up) report at 59%, Boomers (52-70) at 50%, GEN Xers (38-51) at 45%, and Millennials (19-37) at 56%.  The race/ethnicity graph shows these ethnicities reporting somewhat/very significant source of stress:  Hispanic, 56%; White and Native American, 52%; Black, 46%, and Asian, 43%.  And for women who have been physically or emotionally abused at some point in their lives, this election holds another kind of trauma.

That's a lot of people feeling tension as a result of the current election season.  We know the drill about eating well, sleeping enough, getting sufficient exercise, but what else might we do to rebuild our exhausted minds and bodies after this particularly difficult cycle?  Facebook friends have taken to posting beautiful music and nature photos daily as a respite to “cure their election blues,” one of them said.  I’ve immersed myself in finding ways to allay election fatigue during the past weekend, the last before the 2016 presidential election.  Wearied and worn by the outrageous incivility, the hurling of brutal epithets and accusations, the failure to fact-check, and the generally toxic environment that appears to have built beyond my wildest imagination in this election cycle, I polled KRMC Facebook page followers to see what they might recommend to beat election anxiety and fatigue.  Catherine replied that she takes nature walks with her kids and checks out Facebook only for photos of cats and babies.  Barbara diverts her attention with line-dancing and Zumba, quipping that, as the “great philosopher Snoopy once said, ‘to dance is to live.   

Deanna reports that she changes the subject to “shift the negative energy to positive thoughts and feelings,” when the election comes up in public discourse, employing, for example, questions like these:   “So what do you think about those Cubs? Have you seen the beautiful fall colors around town? For what are you thankful this year? What new projects are you working on?”  She thinks it’s high time we “stop giving energy to things that do not deserve our worry and fear. Life is about love and joy and gratitude, not fear and hatred and anxiety. If people don't know what to do to release the stress and anxiety in their lives, they might consider coming to my next Seva Stress Release class at Kern Road on November 19 to learn some acupressure points and self-care tips to release fear and anxiety. And remember to breathe deeply and trust the Life-giver.” 

Some of us wind down from overexposure to by making calls on behalf of our candidate, knocking on neighborhood doors, driving voters who can’t get to the polls themselves, or engaging in other ways of bringing out the vote. Others seek out something beautiful, something for which to be grateful, something that makes them laugh, someone who understands how they feel.  Sometimes listening to favorite music or grabbing a soothing drink moves us past the frustration and fear.  Distracting myself by taking flaming foliage photos and vegan food pix or watching the seventh game of the World Series worked temporarily for me. 


Finding distraction by photographing autumn beauty

Typically not a devoted sports fan, I found it a meaningful distraction to glue myself to the TV with family for the seventh game, cheering on the team from the city around whose edges I had lived for 32 years.  Who would have thought I might stay up until 1 a.m. that night to see my team win, though by then I had left the TV to rely on my laptop for friends' input about the outcome!  Taking in the hubbub of parades from a distance, witnessing the joy of a celebrating city, and seeing people I know making trips to Chicago to participate in the celebration over the following few days kept my attention from wandering back to the election.  And finding this article, Why America needed the Cubs win, reminded me that it’s ok to be happy and hopeful in spite of what’s happening in the run-up to our election. 

Beyond distraction, mindfulness techniques help “combat the negative political rhetoric of this contentious election,” according to author Susan Kaiser Greenland.  She notes that “a collective effort to help each other lower our political anxiety is important for reasons that reach well beyond this election. When people feel anxious, they move into a reactive mode. Anxious people tend to be less flexible and less open to new experiences and points of view.”

This Patheos article recommends trying one or more of these 10 spiritual practices to survive toxic times:  limiting media consumption (perhaps watching more HGTV or Food Network than usual?), reading poetry (see this Parker J. Palmer post which inspired the meme I placed at the top of this entry) or listening to music (try this version of The Prayer for starters), being generous, getting outside, being present, worshipping, praying, traveling, refusing to engage negativity, and doing something for someone else.  You probably have other favorite remedies you might add to this list to overcome your anger and disappointment related to this election.  I cook comfort food like mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy.  And find inspiration wherever I can, usually starting with our kids and grandkids. 

Come Tuesday night, you may wish to join Kern Roaders and folks from other area churches at the election day communion event explained below, where you can “pray for the transformation of the powers that rule our world to fulfill their calling to serve the common good, and gather with others around the table to remember Christ who first loved us and who we love and serve in return.”  Reportedly, at least 200 of these gatherings will be held across the country.

And what of the day after, when many Americans will be disappointed with the outcome?  Last night’s 60 Minutes segment suggested it will be the candidates’ responsibility to set the tone for accepting the outcome and moving on…to keep from breaking the thin thread that still binds us together in spite of our serious differences.  Check out this article surfaced by Deanna from The AtlanticAmericans Don't Need Reconciliation—They Need to Get Better at Arguing.  The author recommends more listening, more serving, more (constructive) arguing to arrive at reconciliation.

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