gratitude

Gratitude with Hope

Thankfulness. Image courtesy Nikki Zalewski/shutterstock.com
Thankfulness. Image courtesy Nikki Zalewski/shutterstock.com

I'm grateful for the warm, safe shelter of my home when there are 610,042 experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S.

I’m grateful for more than enough to eat when there are 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active live.

I’m grateful that I have clean drinking water when over 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.

I’m grateful that I have good health when so many people do not have access to decent medical care, like the 5,459 people who have died from Ebola this year, and the millions more who die each year from preventable diseases.

I’m grateful I have clothing to wear when in the poorest of places, the lack of proper clothing costs lives, and hundreds of millions still live in conditions of material deprivation.

I’m grateful for my freedom when the U.S. had 1.57 million inmates behind bars, the highest percentage of a population of any developed country in the world.

I’m grateful for my citizenship when there are over 11 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. living in the shadow of constant fear.

But I’m especially grateful for the people I know, and the ones I don’t, that are working for justice and peace; a world where all our brothers and sisters have the basic necessities of shelter, food, clean water, decent medical care, and warm clothing. A world where every human being’s dignity is respected and valued. A world Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Gift of Hopelessness

A figure weeps under a tree. Image courtesy KieferPix/shutterstock.com
A figure weeps under a tree. Image courtesy KieferPix/shutterstock.com

This Advent I am grateful for the gift of hopelessness. Yes, you read that correctly. This past year has been full of heartbreak, suffering, and lament. It follows on the heels of nearly two years of unemployment, financial insecurity, and stress-related health issues. Any hope to which I once clung — any hope outside of God, that is — has been destroyed.

And for that I give thanks.

This summer, as I waited anxiously to hear what was strangely afflicting my father (who had already had several health scares and a heart attack), as I nursed a broken heart and came to grips with personal disappointment, as I watched how a once rosy-outlook turned to a heavy-grey, I learned the true meaning of hope. Everything in this world will break or decay or simply fade away. Nothing here is permanent and even the most seemingly perfect and ideal situation has at least a hairline crack.

Hope — The Most Important Gift

Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com
Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com

I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.

Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”

I read this excerpt aloud:

“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”  

The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”

For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.

Shore

 Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/shutterstock.com
Daybreak. Image courtesy PlusONE/shutterstock.com

After the monsoon, after work, I catch   
you with your face in the hot laundry,
the syntax of spring held together by sap,
hanging wild and worried and crazy
in the lowest branch. In the ripe country,
salmon fold over the linens of the bay,
and I weep with you from the shore, embodied.
For still you feel the fell of dark, not day.

Finding The Perfect Gift

Pile of gifts. Image courtesy Crepesoles/shutterstock.com
Pile of gifts. Image courtesy Crepesoles/shutterstock.com

Like a lot of people, I love giving presents almost as much as receiving them. And the best gifts of all are ones that come with a clear understanding of the recipient in mind — ones that involve thought and care. Maybe a weird record with cover art only your best friend would love, or a necklace that goes perfectly with your mom’s favorite dress.

But spending that much effort on gifts for every single person on your list can be exhausting. Handmade gifts sometimes take weeks to plan and make in advance, and you don’t always have the time (or gas money, for that matter) to spend an entire day driving all over town searching for the perfect present, as romantic as that sounds.

Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there to provide you with excellent gifts that give back. You can find some of them listed in Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide, which offers options ranging from clothes and jewelry to coffee and pecans (yes, pecans!). And if you just can’t find that special something, there are also plenty of choices for giving a donation in honor of a friend or loved one.

An Interview with Elaina Ramsey, Sojourners' Women and Girls Campaign Associate

Elaina Ramsey participating in Sojourners' day of action to help end violence against women.

I firmly believe that people of faith can transform the world. Despite the many flaws and failures of the church and her people, Christians have a tremendous amount of power and influence to do good. This campaign is all about harnessing the leadership of churches and clergy, and encouraging people of faith to raise their voices on behalf of women and girls. Through education and empowerment, we can confront gender-based oppressions and change harmful practices, policies, and structures within the church and the broader culture. It’s a tall order, but one that demands nothing less from us if we truly believe in the sacred worth of women and girls.

What If You Never Prayed Again?

There’s a place in the cultural conversation for both friars and fools, for those who discern truth through contemplation and prayer, as well as those who seek to reveal it through satire and silliness. But it’s not every day that both come together for substantive (if not always serious) theological conversation.

Aric Clark, Nick Larson, and Doug Hagler, also known online as Two Friars and a Fool, host such conversations on their blog and podcast about theology and spiritual practice, sexuality, and popular culture. They recently combined forces as well for their first book, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands and Get to Work. The intentionally provocative title emphasizes the need for Christians to get outside of our own heads and churches, and about the business of being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world in need.

I chatted with the trio recently about their new project, as well as the “Never Pray Again” coloring book, which they crowd funded through a recently successful Kickstarter campaign.

 

Five Spiritual Resolutions for 2014: What Elders, Suffering, and Loss Have Taught Me About the Gospel

Beginning a new year. Photo: canonzoom via Shutterstock

This past year taught me so much about the gospel and caused me to go deeper into my faith. As this new year begins, here are five spiritual resolutions I learned from last year:

1. Return to the gospel. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. passed away in early 2013. He was a mentor, elder, and spiritual director to me. I miss Gordon greatly and often have things I would like to talk with him about. But I usually know what he would say to me and it would always be about returning to the gospel. In his last sermon, spoken from his death bed, he spoke of Jesus’ “clear and frightening statement that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Not The Weapons But What They Defend

United States Marine Corps War Memorial,  Paul MacKenzie / Shutterstock.com
United States Marine Corps War Memorial, Paul MacKenzie / Shutterstock.com

I wish that we, as a people, would speak better words to those who have served in our wars. I fear that we do them, and ourselves, a disservice when we call them all heroes without letting them decide which deeds were heroic and which should be left unspoken. When we call everyone who wears a uniform a hero, we diminish heroism everywhere. 

I don’t mean we should refrain from thanking those who serve. If anything, we should thank them far more than we do, and our thanks should not just be in words. Our thanks should be sincere and long-lasting, and expressed in things like the best military hospitals we can afford, the best education we can provide, and our best efforts to ensure that their generation will be the last to endure what they have endured. Even if those ideals prove to be unattainable, we should not let that stop us from trying to attain them. As the Talmud says, “It is not your job to finish the work, but you are not free to walk away from it.” 

The Man in Row 26

In the weeks and months to come, thousands of refugees will walk quietly down jetways into worlds they've never imagined.

OUR PLANE SITS at the gate in Brussels well past our departure time. Slowly, the empty seats fill with Somali refugees whose flight a day earlier had been cancelled. After a night in the airport, they slide wearily into scattered seats.

Ten years together in a refugee camp in Uganda has melded the group into a close-knit family. What do they feel now, I wonder, knowing that on the other end of this flight they will scatter, not to empty seats but to unknown cities throughout the U.S.? From Syracuse to San Francisco, they will look upon a world they have never imagined. “When will I see my friend?” one little girl asks, not realizing she and her friend will live half a continent apart.

I watch a man a few rows ahead of me. I learn from his friend that he suffers from headaches. I know enough about refugees to realize headaches will likely be the least of his challenges. He and his family will face a confusing culture, strange language, unfamiliar religious practices, unknown yet required skills, and new technology—from flush toilets to garage door openers, from light switches to iPads. Then they’ll have to sort out schools and jobs and health care. They’ll be starting over, basically, with nothing.

Almost nothing. One suitcase per person contains the bit of their past they carry into their future. These slim and elegant humans are traveling very light. Unless, of course, you count the weighty baggage of war and displacement.

I talk with the striking Parisian who facilitates their travel. “They are so grateful the plane waited for them,” she says quietly. Grateful. After fleeing their homeland in desperation. After 10 years in a “temporary” camp. After hunger and disease. After leaving everything that’s familiar. After cancelled flights and cots in airport corridors. Grateful.

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