ARC Forum on Faith - 2014
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Fr. Angelo Arrando
FORUM ON FAITH
We can faithfully follow the path Jesus set.
by Rev. Angelo S. Arrando
Published: Saturday, April 19, 2014
Danbury News Times
Tomorrow, on Easter Sunday, Christians around the world will again celebrate our core central belief -- the resurrection of Jesus.
Having just come through remembrance of Holy Thursday (the last meal of Jesus) and Good Friday (his crucifixion), our sadness is overcome with Easter joy.
This last week leading up to Easter, the one Christians call Holy Week, can be a challenge for many.
I have heard rhetoric from TV evangelists fanning the fires of anti-Semitism with the circumstances of Jesus' death, missing the point entirely. In my experience, not all who claim to follow Jesus are faithful to him and to his teachings.
I believe that uninformed rhetoric is not only misleading, but dangerous. Non-Christians must wonder at the role of this so-called Prince of Peace when his followers so often preach hate. I believe hatred has no place within Christianity.
Over the centuries, horrific things have been done in the name of Jesus, presumed to be with his blessing. History shows how often Jesus has been turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Misguided rhetoric encouraged horrific things against Jews over the centuries.
In an apparent anti-Semitic hate crime just last weekend, a gunman took the life of three innocent people at Jewish centers in Overland Park, Kan.
It makes no sense. How do so many Christians seemingly forget that Jesus was a Jew? Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a Jew. His father, Joseph, was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. Jesus never stopped being a Jew.
It took my church, the Roman Catholic Church, 20 centuries before absolving Jews of complicity in the death of Jesus. When absolution finally came, by Pope Paul VI in October 1965, it was a significant, though long-overdue, moment.
Looking back, non-Christians must call into question why anyone would want to be a follower of this Jesus. Could Jesus be really as judgmental as many Christians make him sound? So condemning? So hateful?
That's why I believe it's so important to remember that not all Christians speak for Christianity, nor for Christ. How do non-Christians come to know about Jesus other than witnessing the words and actions of Jesus' followers?
I believe that knowing Jesus challenges Christians to live and walk in his footsteps and embody his teachings. That is our true Easter challenge, I think -- the resurrection of Jesus calls his followers to be life-givers, embodying Jesus by caring for the very least in our midst.
How Jesus resounds in us then becomes the barometer of our understanding of Jesus. Christianity teaches that Jesus lives in us; we abide in him. Christians remember and believe that Jesus became what we are so we might become what he is.
As Christians, we are called to find our compass in Jesus. When asked who we are and what life means to us, it is to Jesus that we point. It is his kind of life we would love to live.
Like us, Jesus had to ask himself every day, "How shall I live today?" Like us, who Jesus was and who he ultimately became was worked out in the personal center of his own soul.
Like us, without grandeur, beset by setbacks and through drab, dull, wet, cold ordinary days, Jesus played the hand that life dealt him. Jesus made do with what life gave him. Jesus endured what life did to him.
Like our own lives, the life of Jesus took the form of a story. When his human life was over, his story was shaped by the decision he made to live the life he lived. Jesus pointed us down a road we humans now can take.
What Jesus was, he asked us to become. What Jesus did, he asked us to do. He was the love he asked us to live. He was the humility he asked us to imitate. He was the poverty he asked us to practice.
Jesus walked us through. Jesus showed us how. I believe what Jesus did is doable. I believe it is our turn to do it now. I believe this is what Jesus means when he says to each of us, "Come, follow me."
My prayer is that Easter joy and Resurrection hope can keep us focused on the good news of God's unending love for all of humanity -- Jew and Gentile alike.
The Rev. Angelo S. Arrando is pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church, 85 Great Plain Road, Danbury. He can be reached at 203-797-0222 or email@example.com.
Rabbi David Lipper
FORUM ON FAITH
Exodus illustrates strength of faith weathers storms.
by Rabbi David A. Lipper
Published: Saturday, April 12, 2014
Danbury News Times
In Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," he references a story of a lance fashioned from wood that was "storm strengthened on a windy height." It came from a tree standing lone and solitary on a deserted mountain, battered and beaten by the winds' fury. The roots held fast; their grasp triumphed over every condition that sought to uproot them.
I believe this is an important parable for the Exodus narrative, which Jews remember every Passover. Storms rise, vent their fury over our lives and leave for certain their tell-tale scars. But they also can leave behind an impenetrable strength born in the crucible of life -- sometimes unimaginable strength, like the faith of our ancestors, which carries us through the storm.
Storms are a natural component of life on this planet. Whether we, like Tennyson, can fashion a lance from the storms of our life depends on the quality of our spiritual resources and the faith stories and practices that we are able to muster to our aid.
I find the spirit of the Passover Exodus narrative in the poetry of William Henley a as well. As a child he caught tuberculosis and had a foot amputated. He seemed to struggle under the weight of the storms that pounded him. He wrote:
I find the spirit of the Passover narrative in Beethoven and Bach, both deaf, and in the arthritis-ravaged Chopin. As in the Exodus, person after person, beaten and battered by physical struggles, raised their sails in order to find calmer waters.
They transformed their lives into shields against the storms that surrounded them. They were gifted with a unique spark of life that built faith and hope when all seemed lost. They proved that the human spirit holds a remarkable luminescence, powerful enough to melt away the darkness and defeat the storms of life.
This is the essence of the Exodus narrative. It is focused on the desire of individuals, and then a people, to be pulled from a bondage that has held them captive towards a freedom that will allow them to be the "masters of their fate," as Henley wrote.
As Moses was drawn out of the water, so too Jews today, as we celebrate Passover, share stories of how we ourselves are drawn out of our bondage. At the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, bondage was a literal and physical struggle against oppression. But we recognize a spiritual component to that bondage as well.
The Jewish people know well the pain of history and the struggles through time of people in lands near and far. We have journeyed through oppression and exile, time and again overcoming the forces that would have destroyed us.
The great Jewish poet and philosopher Martin Buber felt that we must, in order to thrive in the world of faith and defeat the storms that rage, focus our efforts on creating an intimacy with God. That it was through our relationship with God, in the most personal and profound way, that humanity could find the path to true living and sacred redemption.
Similarly, for me, the essence of the Exodus narrative is that redemption is found not by fleeing from one's bondage, but by facing it in sacred partnership -- where strength can be found to survive all bondage. I believe redemption is possible only when relationship to the Divine is primary in our lives.
To me, deliverance from our own bondage moments hangs on the relationship we have built with God in our lives. The market may rise and fall, oppression may once again rear its ugly head, bondages may come -- but the Jewish tradition teaches that there is always a sunrise after darkness. For people of Jewish faith, the key to seeing that sunrise is our faith in the divine relationship that guides and sustains us in both good times and bad.
So like Lord Tennyson's tree, alone and exposed on a rocky crag, the Exodus narrative is central to Passover and to the Jewish faith because of its timeless illustration of people standing most days battered by forces all around. Resolute we stand because the roots of our "tree of life" reach deep into the soil and create for us a stable and firm foundation of faith -- faith that endures.
Rabbi David A. Lipper, DD, Interim Rabbi - Temple B'nai Chaim, Georgetown, Connecticut.
Rev. Joseph Shelpey
FORUM ON FAITH
Clergy stitch together humanity's life events.
by Rev. Joseph Shepley
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014
Danbury News Times
This inevitable question in the average social encounter is especially interesting for the clergy. Once, while not in uniform, rather than simply offering the usual cocktail party conversation stopper of "priest," I responded reflectively, "Hatching, matching, dispatching."
With a quizzical look, my conversation partner replied, "So, you're in mass marketing"?
"Well, yes, in a manner of speaking," said I.
"Packaging and distribution?" he continued.
"That's one way to look at it," I nodded. Then I came clean. "I am an Episcopal priest."
As I suspected, he was at a loss for words, but then found his footing: "So what exactly do you do between Sundays since you don't have to work?"
We clergy are a contradiction to the world.
The work of a pastor brings together diverse patches of the human experience, creating a deeply textured tapestry forming the people of God.
We don't choose our parishioners; rather, God chooses us for our church family. Our common life is ever stretching under inexorable change, both inside our own perspectives and in the surrounding diversity of faces we call "the church."
We baptize new life, officiate at marriages hinging on blissful hope, and stand on the precipice blessing souls embarking for the other side. And then there is all that lies in between.
The poignancy of life's endings especially tests the mettle of clergy. Coming alongside a person facing the mystery of death, we preside over the fabric of our divine connections as they undergo a tear.
Sometimes this is quite sudden, while at other times the rending of mortality's garment is gradual, with time to reflect and prepare for the journey ahead.
Being a pastor can be a heartbreaking venture, leaving us a bit frayed. As pastors, we engage the division between this life and the next by proclaiming an eternal seamlessness, withstanding all visible separations of body, mind and spirit through the promises of God.
Balanced by the sheer joy that comes with the daily touching of eternity, to oversee and commend to God person after person, year after year, can nevertheless take its toll. Loss is very sad, and we pastors experience more than most, even in all of the hope we declare.
Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. We are in good company when we weep as well.
Christ-centered wellness -- an integrated, healthy and balanced approach to life, with plenty of laughter -- seems to me essential if we are to joyfully fulfill our vocation witnessing to Christ's resurrection power over death.
As the Spirit works through us, I hope we clergy can become healing, reconciling stitchwork in the fabric of life. And we could not be who we are without so many good lay people framing God's work in us.
God ultimately does the work of holding us all together as the church -- as a sign of wholeness within a fragmented existence for far too many in our community and beyond.
A recent exchange occurred in an elevator as I rode to the 26th floor in a Manhattan office building, and a young woman nervously looked at my collar: "Did someone die?"
"No," I chuckled, "I'm just here for lunch."
"Oh, that's good," she exhaled with relief, then changing gears asked, "Is the lunch up there any good?"
Taken from the sublime to the mundane on a daily basis, "boring" is not in our lexicon. We are entrusted with what I believe is the world's most privileged calling, each day bringing its own adventure in a world still trying to understand us.
The Rev. Joseph Shepley, Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookfield, CT 06804. He can be reached at: 203-775-9587
Rev. Dennis Mason
FORUM ON FAITH
Walking the stations as Lenten preparation.
by Rev. Dennis J. Mason
Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014
Danbury News Times
During the season of Lent, the Catholic tradition, like other Christian traditions, has certain customs and practices.
From the Bible, we learn to fast, pray and practice works of charity.
In our liturgical life, worship takes on a tone of penance -- with muted colors, sparse decoration, and musical pieces in plaintive minor keys.
Also, from our devotional tradition, Catholics participate in a Lenten form of prayer called Stations of the Cross.
Along the side walls of most Catholic churches you'll find fourteen artistic representations of Jesus' long walk to his crucifixion called "the Stations." They are sometimes sculptures, sometimes mosaics, sometimes paintings.
The Stations present various events along the road to the cross, up to Calvary, such as Jesus being condemned by Pilate or his meeting with women from Jerusalem who wept to witness his suffering.
During Lent, usually on Fridays, Roman Catholics in our community and around the world will meditate and pray about those events -- walking the Stations of the Cross as a devotional practice.
For Catholics, the liturgy is the source and the high point of all prayer and worship. All the Catholic devotions outside of the liturgy (for instance, the rosary or benediction) are drawn from the liturgy and are meant to lead back to the liturgy.
The devotion of the Stations of the Cross is drawn from the Solemn Liturgy of the Lord's Passion and Death on Good Friday. Praying the Stations during Lent is meant to prepare participants to enter into that Good Friday liturgy.
The Stations of the Cross began early in the Christian era when pilgrims travelled to Jerusalem and prayerfully walked the path which Jesus took up to Calvary, stopping along the way to remember specific events of the first Good Friday.
When pilgrims returned home, they told their families and friends about their experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Eventually those who were unable to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem wanted to share the experience in some way.
Artists began to depict the scenes of Jesus' journey to the cross. Spiritual leaders began to write prayers and musicians to compose songs to match the events depicted.
The most popular hymn used at the Stations is more than 700 years old and tells of the sorrow which Jesus' mother, Mary, felt at seeing her son so cruelly treated.
With time, the devotion became universal in the Catholic Church. When Catholics pray the Stations, they are on a spiritual journey, symbolically accompanying Jesus through his suffering and death.
Sometimes Stations are also set up outdoors. Imitating the pilgrims in Jerusalem, people walk the path of Jesus either on the grounds or inside their home churches, just by moving from one Station to another.
The word "station" comes from a Latin word that means a stopping place. Praying this devotion, participants move from Station to Station, stopping at each one to meditate, pray and sing about the Lord's suffering and death.
As they journey through the Stations, participants adore and thank Jesus for accepting death so that they might have new life in God.
In the Stations, participants also connect their life stories with Jesus' story. They see that Jesus was no stranger to the tenderness and terror, gentleness and disregard, pain and consolation which they themselves know at times in their own lives.
Thus, their faith as Christians that the Son of God really did become one of them can be deepened and strengthened.
By praying the Stations, participants have an opportunity to take their life's journey and unite it with Jesus. They are invited to find hope in his hurt, challenge in his forgiving heart, inspiration in his acceptance and gratitude for his gift of himself.
For me, the Stations help me recognize that I am not alone on the journey. They help me prepare to offer prayers and work, joys and sufferings to God the Father with Jesus at the Solemn Liturgy of the Lord's Passion and Death on Good Friday.
The Rev. Dennis J. Mason, OFM Conv., is pastor of Sacred Heart Church, 46 Stone St. in Danbury. He can be reached at 203-748-9029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Kimberly Bosley
FORUM ON FAITH
Lent is a time of preparation.
by Rev. Kimberly Bosley
Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014
Danbury News Times
On March 5, Christians all over the Western world went to services to have their foreheads marked with a cross made from ash.
Ash symbolizes our mortality ("ashes to ashes, dust to dust"), and receiving the sign of the cross indicates our understanding of the need for repentance.
Ash Wednesday traditionally marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period leading up to Easter (not including Sundays).
Christians understand Lent to be a season of spiritual preparation.
The word Lent comes from the old English word "Lenten," meaning spring -- not only a reference to the season before Easter, but also an invitation to a kind of "springtime for the soul."
Why 40 days? Lenten observance began in the 7th century, and it is thought the early church had several other 40-day (or 40-year) periods in mind when it established Lent as 40 days long.
For example, Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness learning to trust God. The prophet Elijah spent 40 days in the wilderness before hearing the still, small voice of God on the same mountain where Moses spent 40 days listening to God give the law.
In the New Testament, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness -- a period of testing and preparation between his baptism and his ministry. And so the choice of a 40-day period has some Biblical significance as an appropriate amount of time to prepare.
How do modern Christians prepare spiritually during Lent? There is no "one size fits all" for Lenten practices, and indeed there are denominational differences. I can only speak for practices I have seen United Methodists observe.
Some United Methodist Christians understand the 40-day period as a time to observe traditional spiritual disciplines such as fasting, praying and meditating on the word of God.
Commonly, individual churches offer programs for their members to enhance their time of preparation. The goal of these programs is to give church members an opportunity to deepen their spiritual connection with God.
This could be accomplished through a sermon series, enhanced worship experiences and opportunities for small group participation.
At Danbury United Methodist Church, for instance, we are offering a sermon series, "Following in the Footsteps of Jesus," to enhance members' understanding of the significance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a foundational event at the heart of Christianity.
At our church, even the children get into the act.
Their programs are aimed at helping them to understand that Lent is a quieter time of getting ready for the joyful celebration of Easter.
To help experience this in a concrete way, during a recent children's sermon youngsters collected the word "alleluia" written on pieces of paper throughout the sanctuary and put them in a box that will not be opened until Easter.
Adults in our church also get the opportunity to talk more intimately about their faith and to learn with others, which is the goal of our small groups. This Lent we are offering a seven-week study on "The Final Words from the Cross" by United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton.
Its goal is to help Christians understand the significance of each of the phrases Jesus Christ was said to have proclaimed from the cross just before his death.
After dinner, group members watch a video on one of the final words or phrases, delve into Bible study, discuss group questions and conclude with prayer time.
This group time enhances each individual's experience of making Lent a time for spiritual introspection.
Here are some reasons group members said they were drawn to participate in a Lenten study class:
"It is very important to me to focus on what Jesus has sacrificed for us. I think about it a lot, especially at this time of year. I don't want to take it for granted."
"During Lent, I give up something as a personal sacrifice. I am choosing to give up some of my personal time to learn more about the Bible and the kind of life Jesus wants us to live."
"Lent encapsulates a basic tenant of the Christian religion. Without the crucifixion, there would no Christianity."
"Easter is so central to our faith that it's important to get ready for it."
The public is invited to join us for dinner and Bible study every Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. in our fellowship hall.
Rev. Kimberly Bosley is the Pastor, Danbury United Methodist Church, 5 Clapboard Ridge Rd.
Danbury, CT 06811. She can be reached at: 203-743-1503 or Email at:
Rabbi Jon Haddon
FORUM ON FAITH
Purim is Every Day for Jews.
by Rabbi Jon Haddon
Published: Saturday, March 15, 2014
Danbury News Times
Jews celebrate Purim this year on Sunday -- a holiday that centers around the biblical book of Esther and Esther's remarkable story.
But the message of Purim is really a way of reading all of Jewish history and> one that I believe is relevant for our own day, as well as perhaps for people of other faiths.
For one thing, Purim teaches the importance of treating women equally to men.
Esther, a beauty queen married to the King of Persia, finds herself in a position to learn of a plot to exterminate the Jews, her people. And with the help of God, she finds >the courage to speak up and save herself and her nation.
It is remarkable that, in a world of patriarchal domination, this book about salvation coming from a woman has remained a perennial favorite among Jews everywhere.
Little boys and girls grow up knowing about a powerful woman who intervened to save the Jews. Without Esther's calm, her intelligence, and her articulate and dramatic words, her people would not have survived.
Esther's example is one that empowers women to be all that they can be, to realize that gender is not a limitation or a destiny.
Esther liberates both men and women to be who they are as individuals and to take responsibility for their actions, their people, and the world around them.
A second lesson to emerge from the Megillah -- the scroll of the Book of Esther, which is read on the festival of Purim -- is the imperative of Jews to fight for their own defense.
Evil people -- the spiritual heirs of Haman, the villain of the story -- are often willing to scapegoat Jews and blame them for everything, from inflation to communism to war.
Israel is the only country in the world whose enemies want to get rid of it and its civilians entirely, rather than simply disputing a territorial claim or a particular policy. The irrational and obsessive nature of anti-Semitism is as true now as in the days of Haman.
In the book of Esther, the Persian King Ahasuerus shows us that for evil to triumph the only thing good people have to do is nothing.
The king was not a wicked man, not a fervent anti-Semite. But he allowed himself to be manipulated by Haman, and the results were devastating.
Yet what brought Haman down was the resolve of one brave Jewish woman to speak up for her people. And so Jews today speak up actively for what is in our own interests -- for a vital and democratic state of Israel, and for the freedom and safety of the world's Jews, including those in the United States.
Synagogues place a high value on Jewish education for this reason -- and Purim, lifting up the story of Esther each year, is a part of the story.
The twofold lesson most Jews take from this is that we make an effort to establish permanent dialogue with other peoples, educating them about the reality of Jewish living and Jewish people so that the Hamans of the world will not have an audience.
Additionally, we are always on guard, trying never to allow ourselves to be in the role of dupes to bigotry, whether against a race, a gender, a religion or a sexual orientation.
Jews have a special interest to oppose any form of hatred, persecution or discrimination.
For instance, even as I write this column, the situation in Ukraine has the attention of the world's Jews. Rioting and anarchy is rampant -- in a country steeped with a history of anti-Semitism and hatred for Jews.
Recently in Ukraine, there have been reports of attacks on Jewish people, vandalism of Jewish schools and synagogues firebombed.
And so this Purim, Jewish communities around the world are paying close attention to the news coming out of Ukraine, and we are praying especially for the Jews who live there.
I believe the lessons of Purim are relevant today: the equality of men and women, the need to oppose anti-Semitism, to support Jewish interests, and to reach out to all humanity to transcend hatred.
For Jews, Purim continues on every day of our existence.
Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi Emeritus of the Temple Shearith Israel, Ridgefield, CT and a member of the ARC Board of Directors. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Rev. Matt Crebbin
FORUM ON FAITH
Stories of strength and struggle form church's history.
by Rev. Matt Crebbin
Published: Saturday, March 8, 2014
Danbury News Times
This year Newtown Congregational Church (UCC) is celebrating its 300th anniversary. Like most United Church of Christ communities in New England, our congregation traces its roots back to the earliest settlers of this region. Our congregation was the first faith community of Newtown, as local folks gathered in 1714 to build a church in the newly incorporated town.
We are proud of our rich heritage and also excited about the next 300 years! Our tradition believes that every generation is called to make the historic Christian faith its own in faith and practice. With three centuries of history, our church is filled with stories of strength and struggle, hope and healing, foolishness and faithfulness. In honor of this anniversary year, I offer a story that took place 49 years ago this month.
In March 1965, our newly called senior minister, the Rev. Alastair Sellars, had been serving the Newtown Congregational Church only a few months. During that time Rev. Sellars had been meeting monthly with fellow Newtown clergy and had discussed the issue of voting rights for Southern blacks and the demonstrations taking place in Selma, Ala. (In March 1965, Civil Rights supporters who tried to march from Selma to Montgomery were met with violence by local and state police.)
Newtown Clergy reached out to leaders of the Selma movement asking how they might be able to help. "Can you come down?" was the response. So, Alastair, along with these other Newtown pastors -- Edward Cook of Trinity Episcopal Church, James Ilten of Christ the King Lutheran and Richard Losch of St. John's Episcopal Church -- joined the Selma demonstrators.
During their visit, Newtown clergy attempted to attend worship services at white Southern churches. They were told that they could enter but that their "friends" who were black could not. The faith leaders decided to worship on the sidewalk. In addition, during their stay in Selma, the Newtown clergy leaders provided spiritual and emotional support for the demonstrators who had gathered.
When they returned to Newtown, there were those within their congregations and the wider community who were critical of their trip. Some within our own church wondered if "we should keep this man in our pulpit." It is said that the chairman of Sellars' "Calling Committee," which had made the decision to call the new pastor to Newtown, had stopped participating in church affairs.
An editorial in a local paper wondered if these town faith leaders' time and energy would be better spent "tilling the local soil." The four clergy leaders met with members of their churches and the community at a gathering in Edmond Town Hall to share the story of their journey. Nearly all who gathered agreed with the goal and spirit of the trip -- in fact their meeting ended with the group singing together, "We Shall Overcome."
Long-time members tell me that they still remember that gathering. It continues to remind them that faith calls them to look beyond the internal interests of our church (as important as those may be) and care about what is happening in the world. This continues to be a bedrock principle for many of us within the United Church of Christ.
In response to the questions and interest raised by their journey to Selma, the four Newtown spiritual leaders wrote a joint statement about their reasons for the trip: "We went to Selma because we believe that the present crisis is a religious issue. The business of the church is not merely within four walls. Too often the church has stood by, indifferent towards social injustice and human suffering. We went to give encouragement to the people of Selma in their struggle for their God-given and Constitutional rights. We hold the nation to be morally responsible; for violence done to any man is violence done to all of us."
Our congregation continues to believe that the business of the church is not merely within its four walls. While we believe that faith is always deeply personal, it is never private. Like our faith ancestors of 300 and 49 years ago, we continue to discern how we are called by God to make the historic faith our own in this time and place.
For we believe that "God is Still Speaking," and there is "yet more light and truth to break forth" in the midst of our lives and in the midst of our world.
Rev. Matt Crebbin is the Senior Ministerat the Newtown Congregational Church, UCC.
14 West Street, Newtown, CT 06470.
He can be reached at: 203 426-9024 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya
FORUM ON FAITH
Transforming ignorance to wisdom.
by Ven. Ocean of Wisdom Sakya
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014
Danbury News Times
Buddhism is about transforming ignorance into wisdom for ourselves and others.
The Buddha saw the world suffering and sought a way out of that suffering for all beings. The word often translated as "suffering" from the Pali texts is "dukkha," but I prefer the translation "stress."
The Buddha said life is full of stress, and if he had stopped there, Buddhism would be very pessimistic. However, the Buddha said if we eliminate the cause of stress, then stress itself will end.
So what causes stress? The main cause of stress is ignorance, or literally not knowing how the world actually is; we fail to experience things as they really are.
The true nature of existence is that all things are impermanent, and all things rely on other things for their existence; all things are interdependent.
Now we know intellectually that all things are impermanent -- we know our bodies won't be here in 100 years. Society as we view it will be gone in 100 years. Many physical things around us will be changed -- but we don't know this experientially.
As a human being, I am a result of many different causes and conditions that we call interdependence. My body was provided by my parents.
From my birth, the air, the water and the food I take in have been responsible for my existence. All the food I receive comes from the Earth and the labor of others.
For example, let's say I eat an apple. The apple consists of the wind, rain, sun and soil. If any of these things is not present, the apple ceases to come into being, and I cannot nourish myself.
Therefore, I should be very careful not to poison any of the things that become part of the apple, because I will, in turn, be poisoning myself. Buddhists recognize, as Native Peoples have, that whatever we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
Also, for me to have an apple, the farmer had to grow it. For that to happen, someone had to give birth to the farmer.
The apple needs to get from the orchard to the grocery store, and that requires a truck. This means someone had to have an idea of a truck with an engine and tires.
This means that someone had to harvest the rubber for the tires and the metal for the engine, and someone had to give birth to all those people who did the work.
If any of these elements are missing, then I don't get the apple. In fact, if I follow this logic, I can see that there isn't a single being since the beginning of time that in some way has not been involved in my having an apple right now.
For Buddhists, globalization is not a new idea -- it is a perennial reality.
So ignorance of impermanence and interdependence is what leads us to misunderstanding. We see things as divided and separate, where they are actually constantly co-producing each other.
Because of this divided mind, we start generating greed and aversion to all the things of the world, including other people, when in fact we are all interdependent.
We divide the world into likes and dislikes. We divide the world into nations, races, religions and even subcategories of religion. We forget the reality that underlies ourselves is also the reality of all others.
If we see deeply, we can see that all beings also experience stress, and all beings seek to be happy, regardless of category. Though categories have conventional utility, if reified they lead to misery.
Because of not knowing, we also tend to seek happiness in the attainment of fame or power, or through filling ourselves with TV, food, technology or various drugs.
And then we compete with each other over these things, rather than attempt to make each other happy. But none of these things can give lasting happiness.
So how do we cut through this ignorance? In Buddhism, we meditate. Meditation is the process that leads to an experiential understanding of impermanence and interdependence.
Experiential understanding is what we call wisdom, and when our wisdom is cultivated, ignorance about the nature of reality dissipates, and the resulting state is one of no stress, which we Buddhists call Nirvana.
Ven. Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya is the Abbot of the Middle-Way Meditation Centers. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
FORUM ON FAITH
Living the slogan 'To care is to do'.
by Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Published: Saturday, February 22, 2014
Danbury News Times
When I was growing up in the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, N.C., we had an oft-repeated national UCC motto: "To believe is to care. To care is to do."
This slogan still rings true to many in my current church, the Congregational Church of Brookfield.
I laughed out loud last Sunday, when one small woman struggled through the church door, her arms brimming over with an extra-large bundle of bulk toilet paper. She could barely see over it, and she struggled to put it down before finding her seat in a pew.
This is why I love my church -- we are such practical Christians that we seek to love the people Jesus called us to love by making sure they all have well-stocked bathrooms.
To us, "believing in Jesus" means that we try very hard to live like Jesus, to follow in the way of Jesus -- loving others as he loved the world.
This means reaching out to help others with actual human hands, with real human touch -- we embody God's love with very practical gifts of food, shelter, clothing and, yes, even toilet paper.
Our people respond with genuine and astounding generosity every time our Church-in-Society Committee issues an appeal for help.
This month -- as February is "love" month, when we send Valentines to loved ones -- we began a "Feed the Love, Sustain the Soul" food drive to benefit our Brookfield Social Services Food Pantry.
The overflowing food pantry donations from the November-December "holiday season" have dwindled, but we know our neighbors still need our help.
In 2009 our church adopted a vision statement, "Make Jesus your Mentor: Pray, Share, Welcome.
Sharing -- our focus this year -- is the way our church tries to shine the light of the Gospel, "the good news of God's love," into the world.
We love, and we share with others, because we first were loved by God in Jesus Christ. Knowing God's love through the people who love us in our faith community makes us want to share more.
For this column, I asked a few of our church leaders to comment on why we share with others, and, boiled down, this is our "Top 10 Reasons We Share":
Our church is at the crossroads of Routes 25 and 133 in Brookfield. All are welcome to worship with us on Sunday, or to just stop by on a weekday and pick up a grocery bag to help us "Feed the Love, Sustain the Soul" in the way of Jesus.
FORUM ON FAITH
Holding Our Convictions Loosely.
by Rev. Garrett Mettler
Published: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Danbury News Times
Many years ago I received some unexpected advice about getting into a car accident. Not how to make one happen, but rather what to do if you see a collision coming. I was told that you want to loosen the muscles in your body right before impact so that you are as "plastic" as possible to absorb the shock.
Of course, our instincts are just the opposite. We brace ourselves against the blow by tensing up. But the combination of that rigidity meeting the sudden force of the crash amplify the injuries that result. Remember the saying about what happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object?
Just consider the implications of this advice when applied to another kind of collision - the conflict between groups of people holding differing religious beliefs. I have long been saddened by the history of religious divisions and wars.
The rigidity of tightly held convictions has caused a lot of damage when forced hard against those with differing beliefs. In spite of the hope of peace which is a recurrent theme offered by many religious belief systems, the temptation to try to impose the superiority of one faith over another has often proved too strong to resist, creating new suffering instead of alleviating it.
Similarly, religious believers have sometimes become so self-righteous in their own positions that they feel justified in using forceful coercion and even persecution of those who wouldn't "see the light" as they had. It is understandable then why I once saw a bumper sticker that read, "Please Jesus, save us from your followers."
But contrary to these destructive examples of heavy-handed religiosity, passions of faith that run deep and strong can be both persuasive and generous. This happens when the holders of such strong convictions choose to honor the intelligence and capacity for discernment in others above their own impulse to want to coerce the other into right belief.
Generosity in sharing a strongly held faith is a lot messier than the "hard sell" approach that seeks certainty and control. Imposing one single creed that "fits all" is lot simpler than committing to keeping relationships with those who believe and practice differently.
But the high price paid for that simplicity is the loss of opportunities to learn from differing beliefs - to see what effect they have on people's character and daily actions. Surrounding ourselves with others who think just as we do may be comfortable, but living in the midst of diversity offers greater opportunity for our own beliefs to be tested and honed.
A generous approach to sharing faith does not regard others as targets to be converted or prevailed upon but instead as people with dignity and free will deserving of our care and honor, even when they choose not to share our convictions.
I don't make that claim as a politically correct nod towards open-mindedness or in an attempt to be fashionably tolerant. Rather I take that position, along with the complexities and extra effort it requires, because it is how my tradition of Christianity has understood God's example of relationship with humanity.
God does not put the hard sell on us or attempt to manipulate us into a relationship of respect and love. Instead God reaches out with intention to bless and free us from our own self-centeredness and fears of one another. And then God let's go of control and honors our free will to either accept or reject that relationship.
The 2003 comedy "Bruce Almighty," starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman, captured well this aspect of Christian belief about the character of God. A scene toward the end depicts Carrey's character in an exasperated conversation with God played by Freeman. Despite being temporarily given all of God's powers, Carrey discovers that he can not compel the woman he loves to feel the same way about him. He exclaims to God, "How can you make someone love you without affecting free will?!?" And God answers back, "Welcome to my world."
That is a world where we hold our faith tenderly instead of tensely and let go of the need to try to control what others believe. It is a world where a lot of destructive collisions are avoided and many inspirational examples of healing and caring for others take their place. It is a world where I want to practice my own faith.
Reverend Garrett Mettler is chaplain, Wooster School, 91 Miry Brook Rd., Danbury, CT 06810. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Joseph Krasinski
FORUM ON FAITH
Helping others without changing who they are.
by Rev. Dr. Joseph Krasinski
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014
Danbury News Times
Religious hostilities around the world have reached a six-year high, according to a Pew Research study released Jan. 14.
While "The Pew Research: Religion and Public Life Project" concentrated specifically on government restrictions of religious practices, it also looked at societal harassment and intimidation.
This is so disturbing to me -- that anyone would try to restrict or inhibit people from following their own "closer walk" with God, as the old hymn goes.
It saddens my heart to think of what we do to one another in the name of "religion." Notice I do not say in the name of "God," for I do not believe that the God of my understanding would ever tolerate intolerance.
The importance of being not just tolerant but encouraging to others in their path to God was clarified for me while I was doing my Masters of Divinity studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City.
General Seminary is the oldest and the only "official" seminary in the Episcopal Church. The vast majority of students were Episcopalians, but in my class we had two Armenian Orthodox students.
At first I found that rather strange. Why would the Armenian Orthodox Church send seminarians to an Episcopal seminary?
The Armenians explained to me why their denomination has close ties to Episcopalians. Their story not only made me exceptionally proud of my denomination but also opened for me windows of understanding that I would not otherwise have seen.
In the early 20th century, as World War I was beginning, the Ottoman Empire undertook what is called the Armenian Genocide, also called the "Great Crime."
The ruling government of the Ottoman Empire first arrested all the leaders and well-educated men of Armenian descent in 1915. They then slaughtered every able-bodied Armenian male.
Women, children, the elderly and the infirm were then deported -- many sent on death marches into the Syrian Desert.
Because of World War I, relief efforts from other countries were slow to arrive. The United States was trying to maintain a very strict "isolationist" policy.
When some nations did come to the rescue of the Armenians, it was woefully late. Some 1.5 million Armenians, Greeks, Jews and other ethnic minorities had been murdered by the Turks.
I learned much that is to be admired about the Armenian Orthodox Church from my Armenian colleagues in seminary, but the greatest source of pride in my own Episcopal Church came as I learned of our role in the story.
It turns out the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, from the start offered comfort and welcome to members of the Armenian Orthodox Church who survived their flight out of Turkey.
The Anglican Communion offered not only a voice of witness to the Armenian atrocities but also relocated refugees, many of whom were orphans.
The Episcopal Church in America made a concerted effort to assist those who needed asylum -- with places to stay, food, clothing and the basic necessities of life. They particularly worked with clergy in relocation and resettlement.
More importantly, the Episcopal Church offered a place in which the members of the Armenian Orthodox Church could worship.
As religion is so much a part of the culture of this beautiful people, the Episcopal Church insured that the Armenian Orthodox could continue with their own religious practice and traditions in the face of extermination.
In other words, instead of using the mission to rescue the Armenians as a way of evangelizing them, trying to make them into Episcopalians, we offered them home and shelter to continue to be who they were.
This cooperation continued until 2003, when there was a division between the churches over the issue of sexuality.
And now we read that religious hostilities around the world are increasing instead of decreasing. With the risk of being called a Pollyanna, I would have to ask the question: Why can't we all just get along?
Is competition for church members so drastic that we must physically and psychologically harass members of another faith?
There is so much that we can learn about the beauty and wonder of the Supreme Being -- drawing ever nearer to the Godhead as we know it -- if we can just be open to each other.
Rev. Joseph Krasinski is the pastor of St. James Episcopal Church, Danbury, CT and member of the ARC Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com. Web site: www.saintjamesdanbury.org.
Rev. Barbara Fast
FORUM ON FAITH
Civil rights pilgrimage is eye-opening.
by Rev. Barbara Fast
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014
Danbury News Times
Henry David Thoreau - famed Transcendentalist Unitarian, Abolitionist and author of "Walden" - also wrote an essay called "Walking," where he called it "sauntering." This he derived from the French "sainte terre," or "holy land." A walk into a holy land can be a transformative pilgrimage.
I made a pilgrimage earlier this year to the Deep South. The Living Legacy Pilgrimage is a yearly trip sponsored by Unitarian Universalists who were part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and '60s.
I took a bus with 30 folks of different faiths, races, ages and sexual orientations through Alabama and Mississippi. We stopped to pay our respects at Civil Rights memorials in Birmingham, Marion, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama and Meridian, Philadelphia, Jackson, Greenwood, Ruleville, and Oxford, Mississippi.
We visited places and met some of the veterans of the movement who worked tirelessly for equality - at times putting their lives, livelihoods, and families at risk. We were honored to hear their stories.
How appropriate to reflect on that pilgrimage today as it was on this day 54 years ago, February 1st 1960 four African Americans began the famous Woolworth Lunch Counter sit-ins that after 6 months of peaceful passive resistance successfully challenged the segregation of those public facilities.
I learned in painful detail of the many daily, often dangerous, indignities that were written into laws to enforce the second-class status of blacks - from stepping off of sidewalks and keeping your eyes down when a white person's path crossed with yours to not being able to try on shoes or clothing before buying them.
I learned about "sundown towns," not limited to the South, where if you were black, you had better be gone before sundown. One white person on our bus remembered when a black family had a flat tire while passing through in her childhood hometown. As they struggled to fix it, white folks gathered to watch without saying a word. They kept watch until the car was out of sight. It sounded terrifying.
We listened to folks who lived through the "Freedom Summer" of 1964 and had organized to register black voters. How family members were beaten in the night. On the front lawn of the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Philadelphia., Mississippi, there is a simple memorial to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner - the three young Civil Rights workers who were murdered that summer.
I spoke with a woman after Sunday worship at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham - where 50 years ago a bomb had killed four young girls. I asked if she had been in Birmingham at the time of the bombing. She smiled and nodded. She said that he had been a student, that she had been part of the children's marches. She leaned over and said, "Much has changed, but much needs to be done."
Throughout the journey, we were challenged to carry the work forward to our communities. We took time to reflect on how racism, hate and unequal opportunity and poverty influence our lives today.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a lot about the power of love. He decided that he was "sticking to love," because, he said, he'd seen "too much of hate."
This month, from January 17th through February 16th, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury is taking part in the "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign - which has a goal of "harnessing love's power to stop oppression." It is a time intended for daily reflection, shared discussion and actions that support the First Principle of Unitarian Universalism, that all people have worth and deserve to be treated with dignity. Said another way, we are all created in God's image. It is another kind of pilgrimage, to an inner "holy land."
On my recent pilgrimage, I learned an important verse of "This Little Light of Mine," a Civil Rights theme song: "This love that I have, the world didn't give it to me. This love that I have, the world didn't give it to me. This love that I have, the world didn't give it to me. The world didn't give it - and the world can't take it away."
These lyrics sum up a faith in the sustaining power of love that fed these courageous people and sustained them. It is a love that transcends religious differences, which every human being can celebrate!
The Rev. Barbara Fast is the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. She can be reached at 203-570-0447 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Jon addon
FORUM ON FAITH
by Rabbi Jon Haddon
Published: Saturday, January 25, 2014
Danbury News Times
On a busy Friday morning in January, a man at a subway station in Washington, D.C., began to play the violin. He played six pieces for about 45 minutes. About 1,100 people passed by, but only a 3-year-old and six adults stopped to listen for a few moments. Everyone else rushed by. At the end of the session, the musician had earned $32.
Here's what the commuters didn't know: The violinist was one of the most talented violin virtuosos in the entire world. Joshua Bell had played one of the most intricate pieces (by Paganini) ever composed on a violin worth $3.5 million. Several days earlier, Bell had played for an audience where the average ticket sold for $100. At the request of the Washington Post, Bell had agreed to be part of an experiment about perception and priorities. He would play exceptional music in a commonplace environment at a busy hour. The question was: Would people notice?
The results of the experiment suggest that no, most people would not. Blinded by the rigors of schedules and daily demands, people simply failed to see the beauty or hear the brilliance that resonated in the subway station on that busy Friday morning.
Which leads to another question: If people could miss such unmistakable talent right before their very eyes, what else are most of us missing in life? How much do we miss because we don't have the time or the willingness to see and hear what's around us?
Jews throughout the world are reading the Book of Exodus in the Torah at this season. In a portion read just a few weeks ago, Moses saw a bush that was on fire but not burning up. Thinking it was unusual, he decided to go over and see it. The Sages teach that Moses wasn't the first person to come across the illogical and supernatural sight of a bush on fire that didn't burn. But Moses was the first to take notice and check it out. As the verse tells us, it is only once the Lord saw Moses approach the bush that He communicated with Moses. Only then did Moses encounter God.
Life is busy and demanding. But if we get too engrossed with trivial things, we may fail to see the beauty around us and the godliness in our midst. Do we encounter the Lord on the way to work? Do we find God in a baby's laugh or in an older person's eyes? Do we see God in a common place and at a busy time? The truth is, we are surrounded by God and beauty all the time. The question is, do we notice it?
Let's take time this week to slow down and look around us, and there is so much to be seen in our very special city and state. Because when we take the time to notice God, perhaps God will take the time to notice us, too.
Rabbi Jon Haddon is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Shearith Israel and a member of the ARC Board of Directors.
Rev. Laura Westby
FORUM ON FAITH
Believe you are beloved of God.
by Rev. Laura Westby
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2014
Danbury News Times
One of my favorite Christmas carols is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
The name "Emmanuel" means "God with us," and the refrain of that hymn -- calling for the coming of "Emmanuel" -- expresses so well the yearning of human hearts for the presence of God.
Christians believe God not only shares humanity's passion to be in relationship, but went so far as to become human when previous divine attempts to establish the covenant God desired to have with humanity failed.
This assertion, that in Jesus God entered human history by becoming human, is not logical. It doesn't make sense. There have been numerous attempts throughout Christian history to explain how this could be so and resolve the questions this statement raises.
The Bible's stories about miraculous births and angel visits, shepherds and wisemen, were the first attempts to do so.
These stories may or may not be factual; the ancients had a different sense about the value of factual data than we do. But they do point to the truth we affirm -- that in ways that were mysterious, intimate and powerful, the infinite became incarnate.
Many people are familiar with the stories of Jesus' birth in the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is from these gospels that the well-loved Christmas stories come.
There is another story about birth, however -- one that is just as miraculous. It is the account of John.
It would be extremely hard to base a Christmas pageant on John's gospel. His birth narrative is only two verses. Still, they make a bold claim -- that we are what Jesus was, children of God.
In other words, Christians believe that the gathered community of believers, what we sometimes call "the body of Christ," is one way God is present in the world now. The church, Christ's body, incarnates God, just as Jesus of Nazareth did so long ago.
Christians have a sometimes well-deserved reputation for considering the human body to be less valuable than the spirit.
At certain times in our history we have treated parts of the body as "dirty." We have valued male bodies more than female ones, and bodies of one race more highly than others.
John's assertion about the meaning of Jesus' birth gives a different message. The incarnation means that all people hold infinite worth in God's eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God's beloved world.
Our circumstances, our experiences, our triumphs and our mistakes may describe us in part, but we are defined by the fact that we are beloved children of God.
This doesn't mean we don't make mistakes, hurt ourselves and one another, or act in ways that are counter to our belief. Sin and evil are part of the human experience.
Being God's beloved children also doesn't mean we don't have doubts.
Most of us have trouble believing we are beloved and that God wants us to be partners in caring for the world. The minute we hear the words of John, that OTHER voice chimes in, "You? What about your failed marriage?"
Or, "What about the time you let your parents down, or lost it with your kids? What about all the mistakes you've made? If God REALLY knew about what you're like."
The temptations of human life are real. It's true that we won't always live up to our identity as God's beloved.
But if the incarnation means anything, it means that our creator loved every person and everything in creation with such passion that love became human flesh. Now, "nothing can separate us from the love of God" (Romans 8:38).
I gave my congregation a challenge recently that I hope will help them live into their identity as God's beloved. Twice a day for one month, they are to look in the mirror and say the following: "I am God's beloved child, and God will use me to change the world."
It's my hope this will counter the all negative messages that their history, environment and society give them.
If we can believe God loves us and has proved it, then we can do what Jesus did -- be holy vessels through which the world can be blessed.
You are God's beloved as well. May the coming year bring you a fuller knowledge of love and a deeper sense of the way you, too, are an instrument of peace, healing and hope.
Rev. Laura Westby is the Interim Minister of the First Congregational Church of Bethel.
FORUM ON FAITH
Many chances for new beginnings.
by Polly Castor
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Danbury News Times
I love January. I hunker down with sparkling fresh resolve, the past behind me, and my life stretching out ahead of me.
It is a cozy month when I'm not distracted by wanting to be outdoors so much, and instead make headway on my various indoor projects with fewer interruptions.
Unlike folks who feel dismal this time of year, I am buoyed with hope and expectant of progress.
Reflecting on this season of new beginnings, I'm realizing they are not just once a year, so we need never feel entrenched, trapped or waiting to start again.
January is a time of reinvigoration, but spring is as well, with all the new life spouting green and fragrantly floral.
Summer has its own sense of renewal, filled with lots of light and balmy breezes, recreation and revitalization.
Fall's freshness is tied to an academic calendar, launching different opportunities, and many feel it is the real beginning of the year.
But what about other fresh starts -- a new job, a new house, a new baby, friend, hobby, study or goal?
The Old Testament tells us in Lamentations that the Lord's mercies and compassions "are new every morning," which is a wonderful thing to behold.
In the New Testament, we are told in Ephesians to "be renewed in the spirit of your mind," which can happen at any time. It says we are to do this by putting off "the old man" and putting on "the new man."
Christian Scientists study the Bible thoroughly, not only to know the stories and the message, but also to thoughtfully discern what they mean for them individually during any given day or season.
For example, in my experience putting on "the new man" has meant different things to me at different times. Lately, the story about Lot's wife has had resonance for me.
As you may remember, the city of Sodom was a mess, making such routinely bad choices that God was planning to destroy it.
But first he sent angels to rescue Lot's innocent family and get them out of the place. They were told to escape for their lives and not look behind them.
Was Lot's wife so grateful for her special dispensation that she was careful to be precisely obedient? No, she looked back.
We can certainly understand the temptation. I don't think she even wrestled with herself about it. She was fleeing her home, never to return. It was a natural reflex to look back. What harm could one last look do? But in doing so, she became a pillar of salt.
Later in the New Testament, Jesus says, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." It seems to me these are pretty strong messages about not looking back.
I think of the rearview mirror in the car. We use it mostly for backing up. To go forward, we need the largest part of our awareness looking out the windshield at where we are headed, concentrating on what we are about to do.
But is this how we usually live mentally and emotionally? How much baggage and garbage from the past gets our attention instead? Is it dragging our gaze back, mesmerizing us, immobilizing us and paralyzing us like Lot's wife?
In her typical no-nonsense approach, Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science church, writes in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "to remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way."
I am trying resolutely to be both present and moving forward in this season of renewal, prayerfully endeavoring not to look back, regardless of whether it is with frustration or fondness.
I can't do anything about the past, but the present is full of glorious possibility that can be fulfilled if only I endeavor to connect with it.
I hear the Apostle Paul loud and clear as he states in Philippians, "Brethren, I count myself not to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
By Polly Castor, Christian Science Practitioner and member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Ridgefield. She can be reached at: PollyCastor@gmail.com.
Rev. Leo McIlrath
FORUM ON FAITH
On the Fence.
by Rev. Leo McIlrath
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2014
Danbury News Times
Dag Hammarskjold, the late United Nations Secretary General, offered the world a great number of wise sayings, one of which caught my eye on a pastor's desk in Raleigh, NC. It read "For all that has been, 'Thanks!' For all that will be, 'Yes!'" It is now "New Year 2014" and I believe this is a good time to say "Thanks!" for the past and "Yes!" to the future.
Alex Haley, author of the wonderful book, Roots, found himself becoming a bit proud of his many accomplishments A close friend sent Alex a picture of a turtle on a fence. Of course, everyone knows that a turtle cannot climb a fence. Ergo, the obvious question: "How did it get there?" Of course, someone else had helped.
Whenever Alex was tempted to excessive pride over his multiple life successes, he looked at the picture and realized that, whatever fame he had attained in life, was partly because of the considerable help given to him by other people - parents, family members, friends, co-workers, teachers, and the like. I believe all of us could have a picture of a turtle on a fence somewhere in our homes or in our workplace; that we could then look at and say "Thank You!" to at least one person who helped us become who we are. We may be surprised at how many we will find.
With a New Year now upon us, this is a good time to consider those people in our lifetime, thus far, who have helped us to be who we are today.
Personally, I thank our Triune God for all of his/her glorious creation, including ourselves. Also, I must be eternally grateful to my family. They did everything good for me, preparing me to live happily in this world, in body, mind and spirit. To each of them, I loudly say: THANK YOU!
And before our parents came our grandparents. Native Americans urge us to look back seven generations and express our gratitude for what they believed in and protected, including: clean air, fresh water, and God's sacred earth.
My list turtle-friends would include the following categories of people: parents and family; religious and prayer communities and their leaders; teachers, coaches, and mentors; classmates and school administrators; leaders of music and the arts; community and sports organizations; friends, employers and coworkers.
My "number one", deserving of my overall act of thanks-giving is from my Christian faith: our Triune God: Father-Son-Holy Spirit. All others take a distant second for me. As with the people of Israel, I am reminded of all the good that God had done in the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; in the life of Joseph; in the Exodus under Moses; through Joshua, Judges and Kings, especially King David; through the lives of the Prophets even up to John the Baptizer. And when I remember these people and their lives under God's guidance and protection, I can only be thankful for God's presence in my own life today.
In the new covenant, God's people are graced with the presence of "God-with-us," Emmanuel, in the person of Jesus. Christians practice gratitude for this gift in the Christmas season especially, but we lift up our thanksgiving for Christ's life, death and resurrection on other Sundays too when we gather for worship.
When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, we break bread and pour the cup as Jesus did on the last night of his life, and as he asked us to do, "in remembrance" of him, and with gratitude. The word "Eucharist" derives from the Greek "eucharistia," which literally translates as "thanksgiving." When Christians gather to worship, offering words of blessing and breaking bread together as the first disciples of Jesus once did, we continue to: give "thanks" to God on a regular basis.
I believe God's Holy Spirit also inspires us to give thanks for all those people who have affected our lives down to this very day.
Now, we look ahead to anticipate all those who will be there for us throughout 2014 and the years ahead.
For me and perhaps for you as well, the start of this new year is a great time to look into our lives and take the time to thank God for the many people who have given us a lift up onto our fence.
The Rev. Leo E. McIlrath, D. Min., is Ecumenical Chaplain at The Lutheran Home of Southbury. He can be reached at 203-270-0581 or at email@example.com.