Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brave New Roads of Thanks

The story is told of the first few years of the pilgrim’s residence in the wilds of New England. Camped precariously on the edge of the great woods, this little band of white settlers had lost much to find their new home in North America. Battered and decimated by the long journey across the ocean, the Pilgrims set up their small settlement at Plymouth Rock. We all know the legend of that first Thanksgiving. Short of food, unfamiliar with the crops of the New World, they were saved; it seems by the generosity of the Native Americans whom they would someday make war upon.

Several years into the new settlement, the Puritan fathers had exhausted their resources, even with planting by the shore. The proposal was made to build a road into the interior to bring wood and other resources to the settlement. Much was said at that meeting but in the end, the fathers voted to not build that road. One young woman stood up after this decision and asked to address the meeting. Reluctantly given permission she said: “Here we have traveled thousands of miles over the most dangerous seas, fleeing a mighty persecution on account of our religion; facing savages not all of who are friendly, and staving off starvation only to be afraid to build this road several miles into the wilderness! Why would God give us such a magnificent creation if not to be seen and used? Wherefore that same courage good gentlemen that carried you here, cannot carry you on?” The assembled voted to build the road.

We can argue, of course, as to whether or not such a road was ever a good idea. After all, these Euro Americans would build a great many roads at a great cost to the environment. We would come to exploit all that the land had to offer and we would, most tragically, come to decimate the native peoples of this land. But the salient message in this apocryphal story is not the road but the courage to create something new. Ours is a world rent and ravaged by war and injustice, this great land for which we give thanks is a torn by sectarian and political divisions. The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. And yet, we have the power to create something new, the power to build a new road into this wilderness of despair and bring people together as we are doing this evening, if only in our own small way. We have the power if we have the courage to speak our mind, and be who we are destined to be like this powerful young woman.

As we journey through the holidays consider the gift of courage for yourself and those you love.  We are destined to change our world.

With Grace and Grit,    John

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Need What You Have

Perhaps the first act of living a temperate, balanced life is to realize that you need most of what you have; the love of a family, the love of friends, food, shelter, comforts, this church. As we approach a season filled with consumption from things to food, ask yourself what do you really need? I will admit I ask myself this question all the time and it’s not easy to answer. Certainly I don’t need seconds of anything, from food to cars. We live with one car between us; it helps to focus your life and plans. We think about the food that goes into our bodies, it helps create justice for those poor of nutrition and spirit. We think about what we buy, almost always for someone else. We have all we need and then some. There is a distinction to be made though between having enough for your family and having enough for a community. Because a community is made up of people who need as much as they want and giving generously allows the community to respond to real needs such as shelter, health and spirit.

The harder part is needing what you don’t want. None of us wants to get sick but it teaches. It teaches all of us. I had a little reminder of this last week. It had been a full weekend. Frances and I were looking forward to getting home. As we were packing our bags and preparing to leave for the Denver airport, I felt a sudden twinge in my back. No, I thought. Not this. I know this. Within minutes my back was in spasms. Painful spasms. The kind that wrap all the way around your rib cage and with each contraction take your breath away. I laid down on the hotel bed. Now what? How was I going to drive in a car, manage a bus, get through security? There is nothing like pain to sharpen your options. Frances found some painkillers. She drove to the airport. She arranged for a wheelchair. She carried all the bags. She got me home. I laid there for two days. I realized that while I didn’t need the pain, the pain needed to teach me a lesson. To let go, to let God, or at least to let Frances do what she was always capable of doing. None of us is completely alone. Even those who travel alone, have kind strangers to help them along the way.

May we learn to truly want what we truly need,

With Grace and Grit,  John