2017 Lenten Reflection – May

Hello, fellow members on this journey! During this year, two experiences have changed my life. First, this simple act of describing my own spiritual journey.  And second, traveling on a month-long series of airline journeys.  To illustrate, I will ask for the help of 3 ghosts, imitating Dicken’s Christmas Carol.

For the Ghost of Journeys PAST, I’ll point first to my family: Many parents can tell you how their children created a new connection with the world. In turn, my husband Jack & I celebrate our 40th anniversary this year.  It‘s been a fascinating 40 years – Thanks, Jack!

For the last 20 of those years we have been owned by a small business, which designs & imports cloth toys from The Philippines.

Another person from the past (and still a friend) is my college freshman roommate, who I’ll call Sarah for her privacy.  Sarah lives with her husband on a dairy farm in the Midwest, with their nine children’s families nearby.  More about Sarah in a few minutes.

On to the PRESENT:  In January Jack & I flew to Asia.  We first spent a week in Hong Kong during the annual International Toy Fair. There we struck up a lunch-break conversation (in English) with two arabic-speaking men from Lebanon, comparing notes on small business.  Of their four toy stores, the Damascus branch in Syria had been forced to close.  Then one man smiled and said, “We are waiting to see what happens with your new President. The President of the United States is really the President of the world!”  That conversation illustrates our very small world!

After touring Hong Kong, we flew to Manila, capital of The Philippines, for a visit to the company’s branch.  Its purchases help support almost a hundred craft sewing families.  For another week we met with the company’s manager.  Like many Filipinos she is well-educated, but others may have little opportunity.  Filipinos recently elected a President who promised to end the country’s serious drug trafficking problem – with vigilante violence.  The Ghost of Journeys PRESENT shows us that even in a strongly Christian-Catholic country like The Philippines, frustration may cause voters to elect & defend what seemed previously unacceptable.

Finally, on January 20 Jack flew home while I traveled another two weeks visiting family.

On arrival in Los Angeles from The Philippines, I missed marching with thousands against the Inauguration.  What were an estimated 60 million people worldwide protesting?

Well, at first it was planned as a Women’s March.  Why?  Please allow me to illustrate, as a representative of Journeys PAST.  After college, during an unhappy first marriage I was the beneficiary of something unavailable since Adam & Eve:  The Pill, the first dependable method of birth control.  For fifty years, this fruit of science has helped to improve the lives of every woman, yes every man, and every child in the world. It also helped our denomination, the United Church of Christ, to change over those 50 years.  But The Pill is now in danger of becoming available only to the rich.  As a result, women of lesser means may be cynically criticized for resorting to abortion as a means of birth control.

But the chilling prospect of losing women’s Choice was only one concern.  The women’s march grew into worldwide protests against Donald Trump’s policies of exclusion.  For example, while in the Los Angeles area, I took a side trip to San Francisco to visit our two sons, Gordon & Justin (both baptized at Central Church).  Sunday morning we attended nearby St. Johns Church and met the minister, Rev. Merida Wilson, who was acquainted with recent RI Conference UCC discussions.  At coffee, another woman bemoaned that most of the city’s young people have difficulty organizing because they missed the experience of belonging to a church.  Perhaps as a result, we saw no crowd there for a Children’s Sermon, like Central Church’s.  Thanks to Aidan and to our Christian Education Director Cathy!

So where were all the young parents that Sunday?  At the airport, protesting President Trump’s initial travel ban for primarily-Muslim countries.  The sound of 24-hour marching songs greeted me.  Signs waggled:  “Deport Trump!” “You are welcome here” and “Refugees built America.”

Also in San Francisco I spent the weekend with our two sons – one who felt sad about ending a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, and another who introduced me to his significant other.  She turned out to be an accomplished young woman who might not have been accepted by previous generations of my Great Plains family.  Rebecca had counseled me, “You must meet her yourself.”  In California we hit it off as simply human beings.  Thanks Rebecca!

Flying back to my extended family in southern California, their incredulous reaction to the election bordered on panic.  What to do?  Write a divided Congress?  Find a march to join?  Again, non-churchgoers lack an organized way to express strong opinions.

Then it was off to Tucson, Arizona, where my sister and brother-in-law had joined thousands for their city’s protest march. Like others, they were also looking for answers in areas such as the education field, and as suburban home owners who have worked with immigrants.  Their dilemma?  How does one disagree politely with neighbors who favor a huge new border wall?

Back home in New England, let’s call on the Ghost of Journeys FUTURE:  What leadership can Central Church provide?

I suggest that we follow an unlikely example:  Remember my freshman college roommate, Sarah?  Last fall Sarah visited our home, where she was also a guest at Claudia’s book discussion group, and where we shared a mutual love of books.  Thanks Claudia!

Later, as Jack & I drove with Sarah and her husband to look at fall foliage, we compared notes about small business–from dairy farms to importing cloth toys. Their trip left us with wonderful memories and friends.

At the same time, Sarah asked me direct, searching questions, such as:

  • How is your denomination organized?
  • Are women allowed to serve in your church?
  • What do you believe about The Creation?
  • What Presidential candidate will you vote for?

As you can imagine, we are also on opposite sides regarding the national Planned Parenthood organization.  But despite our differences I was able to thank Sarah for her early political activism, which in turn had inspired my own.

What does the Ghost of Journeys FUTURE advise us?  Sarah and I claim the same God.  I believe that if Sarah and I can continue our long friendship despite profound disagreement, Central Church members can also follow that Way.

At the same time I believe we must walk the walk, and not only talk the talk.  For example:

We can hold a letter-writing lunch to our state and federal officials.  Surely this is as necessary as writing letters for church needs.  At the same time, we can utilize our strong bonds with many other local and state churches and organizations.

In turn, we can support those elected officials.  If you have pets, or even small children, you know that criticism must be balanced with praise:  Not only “Bad Dog!” but “Good Dog!” too.

Central Church has a strong collection of voices on national issues, such as RI Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Darrell West of the Brookings Institution, and others on both sides of the political aisle.

Our UCC denomination’s advocacy demands a great deal of such leaders, and I believe we should be giving OUR supporters more support. For example, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer always mentions political leaders by name. Shouldn’t Central consider adding them to our own Prayer Tree?

Finally, friends, remember Roger Williams’ shouted greeting in 1636, “What Cheer!” even as he must have concealed his fear of those Native Americans who met him in Rhode Island.  We must not allow ourselves to be panicked by unwelcome government communications & tweets – which may even have been designed to create upset.

We should instead identify policies which are clearly unChristian.  Are these not just as much a subject for discussion as, say, the proposed merger of our UCC governing conferences for RI, MA & CT?  Should not Central Church be prepared to answer searching questions, like those my friend Sarah asked?  And to ask them too?

In closing, thank you for sharing my questions and my journeys, which will be available on my blog. Besides those I have named, thanks to:

Our Poet Laureate, who guided me on an unexpected new path, and shared poems with other church members.  Also thanks to Frances for her encouragement of my first Christmas poem.

Thanks go weekly to our Organist & Choir Director, Patrick; along with our Properties committee leader Ed, who reminds us what a treasure we have in this inspiring sanctuary.

Finally, thanks to my stepson Greg and his family – as the Ghost of Journeys FUTURE helps us continue to grow & learn together!

Posted in 2017 Lenten Reflections, Lenten Reflections.