My church newsletter article this week:
By almost any measure we are living through a stretch of difficult times. The economy is stalled. People around the country are losing their homes to foreclosure. Gas prices and food prices are rising. So is the unemployment rate. Natural disasters have hit close to home in Hugo, MN, and around the globe in China and Myanmar. We are continuing to pay the price for a human made disaster in Iraq. This is the short list off the top of my head. If you are looking for ammunition to be pessimistic about the future, there is plenty to be found.
I am not pessimistic, though. I am realistic. We are living through difficult times. People we know and people living far across the globe are hurting. For many of us, a way of life we have taken for granted is being challenged. We will almost certainly need to simplify our lives and make changes in the way we consume resources. We will almost certainly need to make some sacrifices now if we care about the future of our children, and if we care about the enormous suffering of many in our world.
It is for such a time as this that our spiritual practices and connections prepare us. Prayer and meditation and scripture reading and community building and acts of service do not solve the problems of the world. They connect us with the deeper truths of our existence. Among them: There is no substitute in life for love and friendship. If we want our world to be more peaceful a good place to begin is with ourselves and those we are closest too. There is very little in the world that we can change but the one thing we can change is how we see and respond to the world around us. There is usually a vast difference between what we think we need to be happy and what we really need to be happy.
There is no guarantee - there is never any guarantee - that the world is going to get better. It is inhabited by humans like us, after all, and we have a great capacity for making a mess of things. This is where that misused and misunderstood notion of original sin comes from.
But there is also reason to be hopeful about our future. I am just old enough to remember living through another very challenging stretch of history in our nation: the 60's. Forty years ago this week Robert Kennedy was assassinated. 1968 also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The decade say us mired in the midst of another war entered under false pretences. It also saw runaway inflation and riots in the streets. And yet...
Spiritual practices and connections made a real difference then. Martin Luther King, Jr. drew upon the spiritual resources of his faith and the practical teachings of Ghandi to lead an army of peaceful protesters in the street who turned the other cheek in the manner of Jesus: they resisted injustice and just as importantly resisted the impulse to strike back violently. The short-term result was the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts that marked the legal end to discrimination against blacks. If ever there was a better example of the power of spiritual discipline to effect inner change that leads to outer change I can't think of it.
And it gets better. This past week the sacrifices made 40 years ago paid an enormous long-term dividend. For the first time in the history of our country a black man will be on the ballot for President of the United States. Barack Obama is a very gifted politcian. But he is standing on the shoulders of those of a previous generation who did not despair in the midst of trying times. They dug deep into the well of their spiritual resources; they made personal sacrifices on behalf of their children and future generations. And today one of their children is running for President.
May we draw from the same deep spiritual wells and have the courage to make the same kind of sacrifices for the future.