Thursday, November 17, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

"Where Do We Go From Here" is the title of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s final book. In it he writes

When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, 
and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, 
let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, 
working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, 
a power that is able to make a way out of no way 
and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. 
Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

This week I've begun reflecting on gratitude. When going through a challenging time, it is always good to reflect on the question, "What blessings do I have here and now?" What people are in your life? What beauty is in your midst? What do you cherish?

In this time of uncertainty, many of us continue to make sense of the election. However you may be feeling, I encourage you to worship with your faith community. If you are in the Oak Park area, my congregation, Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist, currently worships at United Lutheran at 11am (at Ridgeland and Greenfield in Oak Park). We will have a worship for all ages that includes the children's choir. 
If you are local and want to join in a unique gathering that affirms diversity, hospitality, and practicing compassion among those who are most vulnerable, come to the Community of Congregations Thanksgiving service, the annual interfaith or, more accurately, multi-faith celebration of the blessings we share as fellow Americans. We will gather at Oak Park Temple (1235 N Harlem Avenue in Oak Park) at 7pm Sunday November 20. The theme is "Gratitude and Giving Thanks." 

Clergy and faith leaders from multiple traditions will lead the service. Choirs from at least eight congregations have been rehearsing to provide the music. Xavier McElrath-Bey will preach. He is the Senior Advisor and National Advocate with The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Mr. McElrath-Bey has a heart-wrenching story of growing up in prison and now dedicates his life to supporting vulnerable youth. He is a compelling speaker and recently spoke at the White House. A free will offering will be split between The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and our local Holiday Food and Gift Basket program that supplies households in our community with direct support during the holidays. 
This week, I shared the below readings with my congregation.

Warmly, Alan
Here are some readings to reflect on:

The crucial problem of Judaism was to exist as an isolated, autonomous, cultural, religious, and political unit in the midst of the hostile Hellenic world. ... In the midst of this psychological climate Jesus began his teaching and ministry. His words were directed to the House of Israel, a minority within the Greco-Roman world, smarting under the loss of status, freedom, and autonomy, haunted by the dream of the restoration of a lost glory and a former greatness. [Jesus'] message focused on the urgency of a radical change in the inner attitude of the people. He recognized fully that out of the heart are the issues of life and that no external force, however great and overwhelming, can at long last destroy a people if it doesn't win the victory of the spirit against them. "To revile because one has been reviled-this is the real evil because it is the evil of the soul itself." Jesus saw this with almighty clarity. Again and again he came back to the inner life of the individual. With increasing insight and startling accuracy he placed his finger on the "inward center" as the crucial arena where the issues would determine the destiny of his people. ... He recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of one's inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to one's destiny. ... The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a path of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. "In him was life; and the life was the light of humanity." Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.
- from Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (Howard Thurman was arguably the most significant African American theologian in the 20th century. He mentored Martin Luther King and others active in the civil rights movement. This reading comes from the work that helped me understand Christianity through the lens of those who have known great suffering.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an evangelical minister who resisted the German Nazis and was arrested in April of 1943. In June of 1944, a year before he was executed, he wrote the following:
Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my prison cell poised,
cheerful and sturdy, like a nobleman from his country estate.
Who am I? They often tell me I would speak with my guards freely,
pleasantly, and firmly, as if I had it to command.
Who am I? I have also been told that I suffer the days of misfortune with serenity,
smiles and pride, as someone accustomed to victory. 
Am I really what others say about me? 
Or am I only what I know of myself? 
Restless, yearning and sick, like a bird in its cage,
struggling for the breath of life,
as though someone were choking my throat;
hungering for colors, flowers, for the songs of birds,
thirsting for kind words and human closeness,
shaking with anger at capricious tyranny and the pettiest slurs,
bedeviled by anxiety, awaiting great events that might never occur,
fearfully powerless and worried for friends far away,
weary and empty in prayer, in thinking and doing,
weak, and ready to take leave of it all.
Who am I? This man or that other?
Am I then this man today and tomorrow another?
Am I both all at once? An imposter to others,
but to me little more than a whining, despicable weakling?
Does what is in me compare to a vanquished army,
that flees in disorder before a battle already won?
Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know, O God. You know I am yours.
- from Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

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