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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For Troy: One's Fight Against Bullying

by Tom Pappas

Because of a thrilling experience I had last Friday I want to report it and also try an experiment.  But to start, I must go back 15 years.  At Lincoln High where as a teacher, I got to be around Troy, a remarkable young man who I will tell more about shortly.

Now I will go back one month to a seminar for adults at my church where we put together a series on Bullying which literally included a nationally known expert. During one of the sessions the topic included bystander behavior. The most common bystander behavior is to watch without intervening.

While this discussion was taking place, most of the examples conjured memories of Troy.  He was a good kid; but he was more.  He was an athlete. He was popular with all groups. He related well with adults. He was NOT a common bystander. I have distinct recollections of him stepping between adversaries and cooling everyone’s jets. Over the years, I have thought about him often and when the leader said, “Most young people don’t have the confidence to step into a bullying situation.” I thought, Troy does.  Leader: Most young people don’t have the expertise to diffuse the tension of bullying in progress. Me: Troy does. Leader: Most young people are concerned about the future consequences of intervention. Me: Troy’s sense of justice and fairness trumped all that.

During these sessions I couldn’t get Troy off my mind; not that I wanted to, I have such respect for him it was fun to reminisce.

Then, last Thursday, as my wife, Laurel, was preparing to lead a meditation with the Lumunos Board she asked for help with an idea for a sharing question - like what we do at Lumunos events. The topic was “standing by the door”. I told her that I had long been touched by the question Larson and Miller asked in the Taste of New Wine small group guide. After decades I paraphrase: “Name a person who was important in your faith experience. What did they do for you and if it was so powerful, can you do that for someone else?”

The Lumunos Board is a wonderful and atypical entity. I went along to Chicago to hang out in the big city and was welcome to attend different parts of the meeting. I went to Laurel’s relational time. She asked us a variation of the Larson/Miller question and we counted off to get into random groups. There were just two in my group and after I spoke, Dave began what would be a like a very complimentary introduction of a guest of honor. I felt tears well up when he disclosed that he was talking about me as the person who stood by the door for him in his Lumunos experience. Wow! I am still reeling – in a good way.

Admiration becomes affirmation when it is lovingly presented to the other person. Since Lincoln High days I have admired Troy Hassebroek and followed his career as a college player, often named as the best downfield blocker on the team. Never a bystander he was active in student life and was honored as homecoming king. Unusual for a big university, I think.

The experiment? I would love for Troy to have the empowerment of affirmation that I felt from Dave last weekend. Through the grapevine qualities of the world wide web, I wonder if my high regard for him will reach him? God willing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Doing Something Different

by Lauren Van Ham
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.  - James 1:22-25 (NIV)
A few weeks ago, I fell into a conversation with a handful of women I barely know.  We were reflecting on a local news headline that had us feeling distressed. Sighing softly – and I thought inaudibly - I uttered, “We need to do something different.”  The woman across from me, clutched her chest, “Oh my gosh; that’s IT!  We need to do something different.” 

Where, in your life, do you long for things to look and feel different?  Is it your relationship with your work, your family or prayer life?  Maybe it’s where you’re giving your time, or spending your creativity?  Or it’s the election and major decisions in your local communities?  Where, in your life, are you hungry for greater connectivity, deeper understanding, a sense of purpose and impact? 

Like you, these questions put me on-edge; they’re important and when I’m feeling stuck or dissatisfied, I know it’s because God is inviting me to I do something different.

Our present time in the church calendar often called, Ordinary Time, coincides with New Year’s celebrations on other calendars the world around: Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew), Neyrouz (Coptic), Samhain (Wiccan), and Diwali (Hindu).  It’s not such a stretch to feel New Year’s energy now marked by Autumn’s surge of “Back-to-School” excitement and the harvest bountifully pouring forth at farm stands everywhere.  This final fit of energy – before the solstice dark sets in – might be just the nudge we need to be courageous, to dig deeper and to do something different. 

I won’t lie.  This “doing-something-different” stuff can be DICEY.  It means responding repeatedly to uncertainty and meeting it as authentically as our vulnerable-brave-fragile-resilient-wise-and-humble-selves can muster.  But in this letter from James, we’re encouraged to look for God, to seek what truly frees us, so as to live in blessing.  And I believe this is God’s invitation to us - to prayerfully tend the new possibility as it arises.  Where have you found the Holy revealed in the unpredictable patterns of life and death, joy and sorrow, coming and going, growing and grieving? 

As the seasons change, as Ordinary Time transitions into anticipation and Advent, may you embrace God’s invitation to show up in your life and discover something refreshingly, soothingly, soul-shiftingly different.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Harvest Your Power: October 2012 e-News

It's harvest time here in New England and in many parts of the country.   Because I'm neither a farmer nor a gardener, corn, squash and pumpkins are not on my mind. Rather I am thinking of another kind of harvest.  What might it mean to gather in the life experiences that grow in us?

Recently I revisited a wonderful short book of poetry by Matthew Perry.  The book is titled Aim Toward Love:  A year of Loss, Learning and Connection.  The poems are about Perry'sdivorce and the learning, pain and hope that emerge from it.  In his verse, I hear him harvesting his life experiences.  Just one example:

With her sitting two seats away,
perpendicular to me,
in the courthouse waiting room, 
staring into the distance,
gazing past the chance for small talk,
cauterizing the recent past and the present moment,
I realized that I hadn't lost the last ten years-
I still have those and always will-
I had lost the next forty, 
or fifty, 
the rest of my life
that was supposed to go this way,
but went that,
and then I realized that I hadn't lost the time itself -
I had lost the idea,
the expectation,
the placidity of the daily flow
when the banks are so defined and certain,
and the ocean so far off and unknowable but welcoming -
and I had gained instead a muddy roiling flood
pushing outward past banks, not forward toward the sea,
making mud out of time and a mockery of expectations,
and then, just before they called our names,
and we left our seats to walk awkwardly
with others between us like islands, I realized that
this flood will leave the coming years
not ruined and fallow,
but rich and fertile.
   Flood, by Matthew Perry

We harvest many experiences, even the painful ones.  Occasionally we revisit them, not because we are masochists.  We return because the soil of those experiences is rich and fertile.

Jesus told his friends to gather and remember him, re-telling the painful story of his betrayal and death.  Not because he wanted us to feel sad and stuck.  Rather, harvesting that experience is a reminder of resurrection, the power of Love over death.  It is a lesson the land teaches us every year.
In God's Peace, 
  Doug sigHa

Prayer for the Animals

by Angier Brock

 Last Sunday, my dog Joey went with me as a guest to historic Bruton Parish Church for the annual Blessing of the Animals. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures, great and small…. Perhaps you too took a dog—or a cat, a gerbil, a canary, or even a horse—with you to your own church that day. For us in Williamsburg, rain forced the service indoors, so no horses or goats attended. Still, there were plenty of animals peeping out of the pews once used by the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other persons (both great and small) of their day: dogs of all sizes, a hamster, and at least one Siamese cat, plus a variety of stuffed animals. Joey loved it! We all did. How easy it is to love the creatures we tame and invite to be a part of our family.

Later that afternoon, I went by myself to my home church in Yorktown, donned one of the bee suits kept in the shed, and fed the bees—that is, replenished the sugar water in the two hives that are getting established there. With the flowers dying as days continue to shorten, opportunities for gathering nectar are diminished, so the church beekeepers are supplementing our bees’ food to ensure they have enough to get them through until spring. All things wise and wonderful…. How easy to appreciate, and to want to help sustain, the amazing animals whose work—in this case as pollinators—benefits our well-being.
Then there are the creatures that are difficult to appreciate, let alone love. Mosquitoes spring to mind. During the Revolutionary War battle that took place in the little village where I live, mosquitoes claimed more lives than did the armed fighting. In many parts of the world, mosquitoes remain a major source of human illness, misery, and death.

Are there prayers we might say on behalf of mosquitoes, for surely they too are part of God’s creation? Or do we bless only the “bright and beautiful” and “wise and wonderful” animals we understand, love, and benefit from?

I have no answer. Certainly I resist blessing anything that causes such enormous human suffering. In the end, I can only leave mosquitoes to God—and perhaps give what I can to a relief agency that tackles malaria in developing countries or provides mosquito nets to those living without window screens. I can do what I can to help heal and protect our earth—even as I acknowledge that, like the mosquito, I sometimes bite, sting, do harm to others. I can bow down in humility before the awesomeness of the universe even as I pray for harmony among God’s creatures. And I can continue with a grateful heart to thank God for all the gifts of creation that are indeed bright, beautiful, wise, and wonderful. Amen.