Pastor’s Note August 28

Dear Friends,

Sometimes, when I don’t know what to pray or how to pray, when I know my prayers are going to sound muddled and confused and maybe even a little crazy, like a schizophrenic on the street, I will pray a poem. We will get to the poem in a minute, but first let me tell you why I needed to pray a poem in the first place.

My heart has been troubled the past two weeks by several stories in the news. The three-ring circus that is American politics is disturbing. The DNC, the RNC, the halls of power have too many snake oil salesmen and women, con artists, power hungry politicians looking out for their own political interests, and bold-faced liars pretending to serve the public. Yes, there are exceptions but they’re not the ones doing most of the talking. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

Our state has seen some of the largest wildfires in California history, burning roughly one million acres in three of the five complexes. As I write this note, I am thankful evacuees are slowly returning to their homes and fewer people will have to clean their cars of ash. But these signs of the times, so to speak – ash falling from sunless skies, death and destruction left by hurricanes, a toxic political climate, and a pandemic – leave some of us wondering when the four horsemen of the apocalypse are going to arrive.

And, of course, there are the stories of Jacob Blake, a 29 year-old black man shot in the back by police seven times in Kenosha, WI; and Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17 year-old who is accused of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third, after which time he walked right past police officers while people were shouting he had just shot someone. There is still much to be investigated and uncovered about each of these tragic incidents, to be sure. However, what is fairly straightforward is that a black man was shot in the back and a white teenager shot three people and then walked down the street with his semiautomatic weapon in hand right past the police.

To pray about such things is sometimes not easy for me – floods and fires and politics and pandemics and racism and riots make it so I can barely get through a sentence. The real danger, I suppose, is that all these stories, and the stories I tell myself about these stories, will be so heartbreaking I will shut them out, close myself off, protect myself from the pain, stop working for abundant life for all humanity, stop caring, stop praying. Which brings me to the poem I have been praying titled, “Lead,” by Mary Oliver.

LEAD

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.

May my heart, your heart, our hearts break open and never close again. Because to do so would be to close our hearts not only to what we experience as painful, but also any possibility of the good that might come out of that pain. For example, the fact that tens of thousands of people – of all races, all religions, all sexual orientations – marched on Washington today, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 57 years ago, demanding racial justice and an end to systemic and institutional racism in our country. The dream is still alive…so long as we do not lose heart…so long as we allow our hearts to break open and never close again.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

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