Friday, January 19, 2018

Life Together

Dear Friends,

I keep thinking about the Haitians who are on the verge of being sent back to Haiti when their Temporary Protection Status expires later this month. At this very time, there are large numbers of Haitians waiting in Mexico to enter the United States, having fled Haiti through Brazil and then embarked on a long walk from Brazil though Central America. When asked about the closed doors of the United States toward him and other Haitians, one sturdy young Haitian, eating a much needed meal in Tijuana, said with a note of despair, “Life isn’t finished, but hope is.”

Last week, speaking to the world, Pope Francis urged nations to welcome migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons in the spirit of Matthew 25. But President Trump seems to be rejecting select ethnic and national groups from coming to the USA.

How do we make our way through of all of this? As Disciples of Christ, we are called not to abandon one another – our brothers and sisters, whoever they are. And furthermore, we are called not to be passively resigned to the demonic forces in life – not to be fatalistic – but to be committed to justice and reconciliation, compassion and love.

Christians believe that there will come a time when human conflict and misunderstanding will be resolved. We call that time of lasting peace and love “the reign of God” or “the kingdom of God.”

What will the reign of God look like? Feel like? Do we know it at all in our life as we live it or are we committing ourselves to something we will never see on earth?

Yes, we do know the Reign of God in our lifetime, but it will not blossom unless we accommodate our lives to building it. We can catch intimations of what the kingdom of God will be like by studying the sights and sounds of transformation in human interactions. For example, in the last scene from Ken Burns’ Civil War series, soldiers from the blue and gray who had fought in the Battle of Gettysburg gathered together there in the late 1920s. They were all old, feeble and wrinkled. As part of the reunion, they decided to do a reenactment. The Confederates attempted to charge up the hill, but their limps and hobbles didn’t get them far. From the top of the hill, their Union counterparts left their fortifications and made their way down hill. Men from both sides embraced one another, crying and comforting one another. Together they had decided to be part of the change the world needed. A glimpse of the Reign of God.

We become part of the change the world needs by reforming our ways of thinking, speaking, and acting. By standing with the soon-to-be deported and rejected migrants, by letting our congressional delegations know we want to be a country of welcome today as we were in the past. Our attitudes turn into votes, which turn into policy, which turns into what? Life together. An intimation of the Reign of God.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Every Day "Click"

Dear Friends,

Here’s a question to ask at a party when the conversation lags. Ready? “What is one of the most common sounds heard in this century?”

It’s “click.” The light bulb goes on. The radio alarm, the electric razor, the food processor. Click. The MRI machine, copy machine, DVD. Click. On-off. Click. So much of everyday life involves a click.

Yet there are things in life that do not click on and off, like steadfastness, caring and generosity.

Then, too, some things begin when we are unaware of them and move into our consciousness and emotions, for better or worse, there to be harbored or cultivated – like attitudes toward people whose color is different from ours or enhancing our daily living by a series of “must haves.”

Take relationships for example. Surely we can say that he/she and I clicked immediately when we met – but if the relationship is to grow after that, what’s needed? Work, that’s what.

The relationships of our lives – relationships with God or people, require staying power and work, and that work requires openness.

Jesus was open to the people he met along the way – even those who eventually showed themselves to be his opponents. He was open to their questions, their need for healing, their hesitant hearts. Some came and stayed. The American Presbyterian Clergywoman Rachel Strubas says of the leper whom Jesus cured that “he was rehumanized by Jesus’ touch.” Others came and sipped from the cup of life. Others poured out the water of life on the earth and walked away. But Jesus remained open, never withholding Himself from others, even on the cross.

How open we are? Do we really listen to what others are telling us or are we preparing our response instead of listening? Or do we grow weary of hearing the stories of the pain of others and tune them out? Do we take in what others offer by way of gift or suggestion or are we limited by our own tastes and desires? Do our minds and hearts have narrow borders that we prefer not to cross? Do we go out into the world and treasure its adventures or does fear of the unknown hold us back?

It’s a new year. Unexpected things may click in us. How open are we to them?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, January 5, 2018

Following the Word of God

Dear Friends,

We know the key figures in the Epiphany: the Holy Family, the wise men and Herod. Don’t leave out Herod, for he represents darkness in the story. Herod is the counterpoint to the others and helps us understand the difference between self-serving power and cooperation with God.

This Herod, one of several to bear that name in the Gospels, knew from the wise men and from his own priests and scholars the ancient prophecies about the long-awaited savior who would come to set God’s people free. Instead of seeing this as a moment of grace and redemption for his people, Herod found the Newborn to be a threat, fearing that the Holy One who had come would now unseat him. In his rage, Herod massacred the children under two years of age who lived in the area. Great sorrow was in the land, but Herod didn’t care.

Mary, Joseph and the wise men, on the other hand, had been attentive to the Word of God that came to them through messengers and dreams. They listened and they obeyed. They made a decisive response to the invitation of God. There was no law given for them to obey. Rather, it was what they heard in the depth of their being that moved them to do what was being asked of them. They heard and obeyed.

Obedience is not a popular term today. We Americans don’t like to be told “Do this. Don’t do that.” This is a caricature of obedience. We say we prefer dialogue, thank you, and then prefer to be left alone, each of us to our own opinion. After all, we argue, adult self-direction is best. But in this Epiphany account, we are given a new way to understand how compelling obedience really is. The wise men had their dream. So did Joseph. The messages they were given were unenforceable. No one made them act, but they all knew what they needed to do and they…did…it.

We are invited by the story to be obedient as Mary, Joseph and the wise men were, and Herod was not. Without benefit of a law, we know that, at times, we must do something…to act in some hitherto unexpected, life-giving way. No one else knows it. It’s unenforceable, but we know and we have a choice. Will we do it or not?

Christian history is full of women and men who stood firm and did not capitulate to the Herods of their day – not just martyrs, but ordinary people who in their own way stood up to destructive powers in obedience to a higher call.

This year, 2018, new Herods will arise and maybe some old ones will return – personal Herods who want to destroy individual lives or macro-Herods, whose selves are so huge that nothing else matters in the world.

When these things happen, stand firm. Listen to the dream. Go where it tells you. Do not tarry. Do not be afraid. Be Epiphany people.

~Sister Joan Sobala