Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Hurricane Irene: support, solidarity and the gift of God's presence

Hurricane Irene blew through the Northeast leaving a wake of destruction that individuals, families and officials are still trying to assess. In our diocese, from what we have learned so far, two churches have been significantly affected. St. Andrew’s in Newark had a tree limb pierce the roof of the sanctuary. The Church Insurance Company and Jim Caputo, our property manager, have been on the scene and have reported that no structural damage has occurred. On Sunday afternoon, St. Stephen’s, Millburn had a veritable river on the street in front of the church. At one point the parish hall was inundated with four feet of water; and the rectory -- which had been completely refurbished through the expert sweat equity of dozens of parishioners in anticipation of the arrival of their new rector, suffered thousands of dollars of water damage. Insurance-ordered remediation efforts are already underway.

There have been other reports of water in church basements, and in some rectories, but for the most part our church buildings have been spared lasting damage.

Not so with many people in the diocese -- and beyond, who are waiting for power to be restored, safe water to drink or damage to be repaired.

The storm has passed -- and we give thanks for that. Its ferocity was less than expected, but its legacy will long be remembered. The storms of life -- whether they carry the name of Irene or are anonymous cloudbursts that erupt in the soul, are not what we want but are what we can expect. Other storms will come. And through it all we can give thanks for the intangible but life-giving elements that help us weather the storms -- the support and solidarity of one another, and the abiding gift of God’s undying presence.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scarcity, Abundance and Faith

The stock market is in free fall. The economy is a mess. The only certainty that public officials are able to muster is the insistence that it all is someone else's fault -- which are hollow accusations at best, and display verbal violence at worst.

And what has been stirred up is a cauldron of fear -- with scarcity as its main ingredient. And the scarcity is real. Unemployment is up, a credit rating is down. Assets are shrinking, along with collective confidence. With the growing fear, there is a tendency to hoard -- or to hide.

The scarcity is real. But so is the abundance. You just have to dig down a bit harder to find it; and a bit further to trust it. Jesus was no stranger to scarcity. In the economic system of his day, Jesus and his fellow Jews were no more than sharecroppers to Roman overlords. They had few rights, and fewer freedoms. Talk about scarcity.

And yet Jesus preached abundance. Over and over again. About mustard seeds, pearls of great price and demonstrating how a few table scraps can feed 5,000 people. He was not a first century Pollyanna, nor was he offering some sort of economic panacea. He was pointing people to another, more abundant reality than the scarce circumstances that surrounded them. It required -- and requires, faith to see the abundance.

Faith requires our participation. Belief refers to something that we think. Faith takes us beyond belief; faith is something we live into. Faith leads us to hope -- and hope can trump fear. It is often said that we need to think our way into a new manner of living. From a faith perspective, we live into a new way of thinking.

I have a friend who tells me that whenever she feels the strains of scarcity she gives some money away. The more the fear, the more she gives. Hers is an act of faith. And she says it works. It may not move mountains, nor solve her economic problems. But it does point her back into the direction of God's freeing and life-giving abundance. And away from the culture's menacing mantra of scarcity.