Community

Keep On Keepin' On

IN ORDER TO imagine the solutions needed for our environmental crises, we must understand the depth and breadth of their severity—but understanding can all too easily lead to guilt, despair, and hopelessness.

Our response to climate change can no longer be about fear. The more overwhelmed, fearful, guilty, or bitter we are, the less likely we are to spring into action. Corporate monopolies, fossil fuel industry giants, and big money lobbyists have succeeded in getting us to be our own worst enemy. Anger and outrage can only get us so far, and no one knows that better than they do. And in my case, only the good Lord, and my loving husband, know the depth of my daily, ongoing struggle with this.

So what is a faithful, God-fearing, creation-loving person to do? One thing that I have found helpful is to purposefully set aside time to immerse myself in nature, appreciating God’s creation in its vast and intricate beauty. Even a 15-minute stroll through a city park helps me to calm down and regain perspective. Watching fuzzy animals, finding colorful creepy crawlies, and overhearing snippets of people’s conversations gives me pause and reminds me that ours is very complex and witty God.

Another thing essential to sustaining myself in this work is to interact with others for whom creation care and eco-justice is a passion or vocation. The interpersonal relationships build community and nurture my soul. And in them we most deeply experience the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, at work among us, inspired by one another through our faith and common efforts.

Prior to coming to Sojourners, I coordinated multiday workshops for Lutherans Restoring Creation. Each one gave pastors and lay leaders an opportunity to share best practices and resources for integrating creation care into all areas of church life: worship, education, buildings and grounds, advocacy, and discipleship at home and work.

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Monasticism, Beloved Community, and The Common Good

 Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com
Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C., Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

Benedict of Nursia is on my mind this morning as I ponder what it is that Jim Wallis is trying to accomplish with his new book, On God's SideAdam Ericksen pondered the virtues of baseball, winning, and losing in his post from earlier this week. Adam questioned the metaphor. What do we do with our losers? How can we all win?

What would it mean if people of faith began transferring their human identities from class, racial, and national loyalties to a global identity in a new beloved community created by God?
~ Jim Wallis, On God's Side

Today I'm wondering about where Jim was when he started pulling all of this together. Jim shared that he went on retreat (a good practice, in my humble opinion) to gather his thoughts for this new book. He went to a monastery (also a good practice, in my humble opinion). He prayed the hours. He wandered the grounds. He spent some time in silence. He read the Narnia books and gave some serious thought of C.S. Lewis' Aslan. All of this led to a question, well, many questions, but this question I've pulled out is what caught my attention. What if, indeed, Jim. What if we were to do this thing ... the beloved community?

It is no surprise to me that this question would emerge while Jim was at a monastery. Of course it would. And that he riffs on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a way is also wonderfully telling. "Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives," said Dr. King. Our souls must change. So too must our lives. Dr. King said much about the beloved community. So too did Benedict of Nursia.

There's so much to say here. I'm a little stumped. The beloved community is the Church, but it is exemplified by the monastery where people relinquish their individual control of their worldly goods. Monastics take vows to pray and work together. There's a shared rhythm of life. There is a shared mission. It's a challenging and difficult life, and not all Christians are called to it. Obedience, stability, conversion of life. If we want to be the beloved community, then the we must avow ourselves to such a Rule. Indeed, we must give up our personal or private identities to the service of all. 

But how do we do this as a culture, a global church?

VIDEO: 6 Months After Superstorm Sandy, Hope Emerges

Church in Massapequa, N.Y. offers help. Photo courtesy of Mike DuBose.
Church in Massapequa, N.Y. offers help. Photo courtesy of Mike DuBose.

This week marked six months since Superstorm Sandy left entire communities devastated, families homeless, and many with little hope. But in the midst of this natural disaster, many banded together. As is true with many of our nation's tragedies, recent and throughout our history, communities form and hope emerges amid struggle. Sandy taught us about resilience. It showed us what it truly means to reach out, serve, and love our neighbor. 

One young filmmaker in New York, Farihah Zaman, caught that resilience and acts of service on video. Here, she shows us how tragedy can turn into a joint effort to acheive the common good. 

We Don't Need Your Cookies

Platter of cookies, robcocquyt / Shutterstock.com
Platter of cookies, robcocquyt / Shutterstock.com

Back in 2005, I attended a “church growth” seminar in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker was Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Ohio, one of the larger and faster growing UM churches in the country. He shared an experience that sticks with me.

That church had a “Cookie Patrol” that takes cookies to first time visitors. So, every Sunday afternoon, a group of people would meet down at the church to bake fresh cookies to be delivered to potential members.

One day, a member of the church came to Rev. Slaughter and told him, “I just love to bake, and I want to help with the Cookie Patrol. I’ve got a great kitchen at home, so let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll make several dozen cookies each Sunday and bring them to the church. I just don’t have time to spend at church on Sunday afternoons.”

Pastor Mike responded, “You don’t understand. We don’t need your cookies. We need you.”

Lattes for the Common Good

Lattte, happydancing / Shutterstock.com
Lattte, happydancing / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation of what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

"I'm hesitant to talk about the common good as if it's a discovery. This is not news. But maybe, maybe Jim's right in that we've forgotten how to practice it. So this is what I want to know, invoking the spirit of Fred Rogers as I do it: 'Who is your neighbor?' ... Because I wonder if one of the things that we can think about in terms of the common good is learning to practice neighborliness in the inconsequential moments so that when we face the bigger political difficulties of our shared life — when we start talking about the common good in the larger sense around some of the other issues like violence, and fear, and money — that maybe if we've already built up habits we can have these larger conversations with greater ease."

(VIDEO) Stories That Change the World

Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic
Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.

But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.

So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it. 

Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.

Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.

Be Ready to Be Changed

Flower growing out of crack in asphalt, Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com
Flower growing out of crack in asphalt, Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com

We have a group at our church that does a weekly sandwich ministry together. Though we already had a group that makes sandwiches each week for a local shelter, another team realized some folks don’t go to shelters, and that they might be missing out on a real opportunity to connect with different folks in our community if they didn’t go out to where the people are.

So now, every week, they walk the streets of downtown Portland and hand out upwards of 100 sandwiches. As they’ve met folks who live outside, they’ve identified other needs some have, such as socks, new underwear, rain gear, flashlights, and batteries. Each week, they come back with a list of needs, and each week our congregation helps fill those needs.

To me, this kind of ministry is exemplary of what missional church is about. We don’t simply wait behind the walls for people to come ask for something; we go out, meet people face-to-face and get to know them. Yes, we offer them a meal, but we also share stories, learn a bit of their history, and they come to know that there actually are flesh-and-blood people behind all those steeples and stone facades.

PHOTOS: Natural Beauty

With its earth roof, straw bale walls, and cordwood construction, Woodhaven is a beauty to behold. Linda and Scot DeGraf’s handmade, ecofriendly home in West Virginia is featured in “Built to Last,” in the May 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine. Read their story of how they not only built a sustainable home, but also built community along the way.

Check out the slidehow below documenting the incredible journey of constructing Woodhaven. For more information about the features of Woodhaven, click here.

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Submission: Freedom and Community

Freedom has always been important to Americans, but a short-sighted definition of freedom has played havoc with the common good recently. Communities, essential to our survival and well-being, are suffering.

All communities have rules. In my faith community, there are two great commandments:  Love God and neighbor (even enemies). It’s a difficult balance, but when I manage it, I experience freedom from fear, a major reason that I joined the church in the first place. Those two basic rules have held up well, especially as my neighborhood has expanded to include the whole world.

Feeding our Imagination

CRITICS HAVE BEMOANED the lack of fiction centered on climate change, which seems to mirror our public sluggishness about this scientific reality. But two recent novels, Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior (Harper) and Lauren Groff's Arcadia (Voice), artfully integrate climate change into their plotlines, weaving scientific truth about global warming into the lives of fictional characters. Just as compelling, both works of fiction feature spiritual community at the center of critical decisions about the future of the land and its inhabitants.

Flight Behavior is a lyrical story set in rural Tennessee with the fiercely intelligent Dellarobia Turnbow as the main character. She encounters a vast sea of monarch butterflies that seem to have taken a wrong turn on their migratory path, a result of a miracle—or a warming planet. Journalists, ecologists, and locals speculate about the misplaced monarchs. In an impassioned but measured plea for the land, the local pastor invokes a biblical mandate for creation care.

In Arcadia, climate change doesn't enter the narrative until the conclusion of the story, which is the tale of an intentional community started in the 1960s. The central character, Bit Stone, returns to a failed commune in upstate New York, where he grew up, to care for his ailing mother. Set in 2018, the dystopian conclusion is marked by climate change and global pandemics, but the values of the original spiritual community set up a struggle between the desire for freedom and the creation of shared life.

Reading both books, I could imagine myself inhabiting these worlds, in ways more personal than when I read a news report about global warming. Fiction allows us to live into a reality relevant to our time and to visualize our own reactions to the events on the page.

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