A Pastoral Message for Challenging Times

No doubt about it, we’re in challenging times.

Many people feel that everything changed with the national election last fall. That racial baiting and violence against people of color (whether immigrant or citizen, across the spectrum of religion) became more tolerable. That freedom of the press and speech are under siege. That Christianity has become an almost-established religion. That science is openly dismissed. That women and people who are queer or transgender are under attack, legally and physically. That leaders view health care as an option that is fine to deny to people based on age, income, gender, disability, or illness. That quality education is not for everyone. That the environment doesn’t need protection. That military solutions are more effective than diplomatic ones. That the balance of powers and the role of courts are no more than a nuisance.

At the same time, things haven’t changed. Our country continues to wage undeclared and poorly publicized wars that disrupt our global relationships and kill and injure our own soldiers, while we withhold adequate support for them. Black men, in particular, and people of color in general receive unequal treatment in criminal justice, which results not only in disproportionate imprisonment but also in deaths at the hand of police. Gaps in income and ownership increase between the rich and poor, while the middle class remains threatened. Money and gerrymandering threaten democracy. The effects of climate change accelerate. And the country’s political polarization is reflected in our legislative bodies.

Though everyone’s precise response varies, fear, anxiety and anger have become part of the daily environment for many of us. Fear and anxiety are real, but will not help us. The normal animal response to fear is to run and hide. We have to acknowledge the reality of the feelings, admit that they arise to protect us, and then refuse to give in to the temptation of escapism.

Anger feels more helpful, because anger provokes action. The problem is that anger-motivated action may not help either. Who hasn’t said or done something they regret when they’re mad? Action needs to be more strategic than blind rage permits.

What’s more, at this point, some of us find ourselves already weary and discouraged. The initial intoxication of the Women’s March and the discovery that others felt the same way may have faded. Yet, there is so much more to be done, and everywhere we look, we see more to tackle.

So, what are we to do?

The answer may be in spiritual advice that has worked through the ages — to seek justice, strive for balance, and hold on to hope. Vaclav Havel wrote that hope is “not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Hope helps us trust that when we can’t imagine how it will be OK, we don’t give up. I find hope in the number and enthusiasm of people who are concerned about a better world.

And I can keep hope in mind when I pay attention to balance in my life, to doing regular spiritual practice and getting adequate rest. When I balance my life with spiritual practice and adequate rest, I can think more clearly, strategize better, and manage my emotions of fear, anxiety and anger. I think of the image of a chorus singing as individual singers sneak breaths, breathing when they can, knowing the chorus will sustain the note while they find their breath. The movement will sustain its work while I breathe.

None of this is to give permission for not doing the work. We have to have balance and hope in order to do the work to bring change to the world, not to have an excuse not to act.

Yes, we are in challenging times. We will survive them. We will overcome them. If we determine to.

In faith and freedom,




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