If you talk to anyone who went to last month’s Solidarity Shabbat service at the M.V. Hebrew Center, they’ll likely tell you how beautiful it was. They might also tell you that despite the circumstances surrounding the special service (the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27), they also felt hopeful. I decided to reach out to Island clergy and others with this question:
How do you preach about God’s hope and love when everything around us seems so full of hate and violence? Has your preaching, your work, changed over the past few years in order to address this?
The Rev. David Berube, pastor of the Federated Church: Because there is so much hate and violence in the world, we must preach about God’s hope and love. If we lose our connection to God’s hope and love, it is far too easy to give ourselves over to the temptation to become what we oppose, and respond with malicious retribution rather than righteous justice. Or, on the other hand, to give in to despair and simply give up. By remaining centered in God’s hope and love, we can live into the future even in the midst of distress, struggling right along with the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Psalm 42:11). It is especially important for me to lift the consistency of God’s love and our need for that hope in times such as ours.
The Rev. Chip Seadale, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church: It seems to me that any clergyperson, monk, or any deeply spiritual person for that matter, would say that none of us is immune to the feelings of despair and fear that come with life’s challenges and the suffering every one of us must endure from time to time. Some of these things can be literally earth shattering. And yet somehow there is a strange hope deep within us that we might recognize, even in the hardest of times, that almost seems hardwired into us. Even in those times when I find myself personally “low” and doubting my faith (doubt is very much a part of faith), I know in my experience to wait — even if I can’t be all that patient — and things ease, things change. I try to spend time alone with God. I read things that inspire me and remind me that I am not separate from God, or others, really — and that that is all an illusion. In my tradition, suffering and death NEVER have the final word. One quote I read a few weeks ago, from the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by government-backed troops in 1980 while celebrating Mass, is this: “I do not believe in death without resurrection.” For those of us practicing our faith, we find (or more accurately, recognize and SEE) God working in our community, through us, as people and children of God. When we do that, we experience holy gratefulness — thanksgiving; remember our connectedness to God and each other; and find hope, solace, encouragement, and power, even among others who care for and help us.
And, just to answer your second question: Of course! My thoughts and preaching continue to evolve over time! What a wondrous mystery God (and life, love, suffering, death, and new life again) IS!
The Rev. Bill Clark, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church: As a Unitarian Universalist minister I do not speak of God’s hope and love. What I do preach is that we (humanity) make God visible in this world — so it is up to us — to keep the violence and hatred as far away from our hearts as possible. This is the work we are challenged to do in this world. As we witness all the violence, hatred, and bigotry all around us, our “spiritual task” is to not close our hearts, minds, and spirits to what is happening, but guard our hearts from letting hatred, violence, and bigotry to enter in.
It is like a reading we have in back of our hymnal by Lao-Tse, founder of Taoism: “In order to have peace in the world/ there must be peace between nations/ if there is to be peace in the nations/ there must be peace in the cities/ if there is to be peace in the cities/ there must be peace between neighbors/ if there is to be peace between neighbors/ there must be peace in the home/ if there is to be peace in the home/ there must be peace in the heart!”
This is what I preach. To keep peace in our hearts.
Sarah Nevin, member of the Island’s Quaker community: Quakers come in two flavors: pastoral, where the Friends Meeting has a minister who leads a service, and nonpastoral, where there is a silent meeting for worship where a Quaker is welcome to share a short message during the silence. Our Martha’s Vineyard Quaker Meeting is nonpastoral, so we minister to each other, bringing messages we have received during our hour of silent meditation. As Quakers, we do not even ask each person to share the same beliefs in Christ, including even a shared definition of God. Quakers are free to accept or reject Christianity as the path to God, so there is no dogma. When a Quaker sits in Meeting for Worship there is a search to find a centered self where answers to questions can be found. But then, each person would have to say individually what Quaker Meeting offers them on this path to love and God from the hate and violence we know is around and in us. This potential is in every meeting every time Friends gather, including the potential to be ministered to by the other Quakers sitting present together creating the magic of love’s healing mystery. It’s within the collective shared silence.
Bruce Nevin, Martha’s Vineyard Quaker Meeting: On that Friday, alluding to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Caryn Broitman pointed to a representation of the Tree of Life (Etz Chaim) on the south wall, which Barney Zeitz had created for the Hebrew Center. Etz Chaim is an image of the body of God, the pattern of manifesting divine will in this embodied world. The silvery doors of the piece were closed, but I could see the Great Glyph in my mind’s eye. Rabbi Brian Walt (Caryn’s husband) was sitting opposite me, and when we all rose to greet one another at the end, he came toward me and asked me that question, What gives you hope? I told him that what gives me hope is Etz Chaim, which I carry in my mind and in my heart, and that I had been a student of what is sometimes misleadingly called Christian Qabalah for 44 years. He then said that what gave him hope in that moment was that I had told him this.
Demaris Wehr, Quaker Meeting: I don’t find much to add, except to say that my experience at the Hebrew Center Friday night was much like Bruce’s. The man sitting next to me shared his program with me throughout the service, and pointed me to the place on the page where they were, since I didn’t have my glasses. My first answer to the question as we turned to each other was, “Your sharing your program gives me hope.” We both thought of other things too; many signs of good going on in the world which the mainstream media doesn’t cover. I think it was our common, shared humanity that night, and the beauty and unity in diversity — not only among Friends, but among that gathering — that gives me hope.
The Rev. Matthew B. Splittgerber, pastor of Vineyard Assembly of God: Having attended the Shabbat service with two of my children, I’m very pleased that this question emerged out of the tremendous respect and support our Island community demonstrated toward our Jewish community on that evening.
The biblical Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ has always been a message of God’s hope and love that is meant to shine like a light in our darkened world by challenging and changing the darkness that lurks within all our hearts. Whether it is suppressed or expressed, that capacity, indeed propensity, for hatred and violence is with us all unless our hearts are changed by the Gospel.
Jesus said, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
Saint Paul said, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Saint John said, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20).
Yes, some may say this message is idealistic rhetoric, but I say that is only because this standard is impossibly high. Which is why Jesus also said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7), and Saint Paul advised us to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Because the needs and problems of the human heart are constant, the relevance of the Gospel is also constant. For myself, I continue to preach the historic, biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ while seeking to apply its truths to specific situations, behaviors, and attitudes in our culture. While many may claim Christianity, they do not reflect the heart-change that is necessary for Christianity when they resort to acts of hatred and violence — whether it is a violent act of terror or merely a rude and bitter Facebook post.
As always, I’m grateful to hear members of the community weigh in on matters of faith. It’s good for all of us to hear from all of them.
At the Federated Church in Edgartown, the congregation celebrates the First Sunday of Advent on Dec. 2 with the lighting of the first candle, the candle of Hope, at the 10:30 am service. Everyone is invited to attend.
Anyone who’d like to share a Thanksgiving meal with friends and neighbors is invited to the Chilmark Community Church at 1 pm on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22. Bring a dish to pass if you like, but it’s not mandatory. For more information, call 508-645-3100.
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