Excerpts from “Letter to a Young Activist” by Thomas Merton

The past few weeks I have found myself pondering many things, and as I was reflecting on life today, and my spot in it, the words of Julian of Norwich kept making their way into my head: “All shall be will, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” For me, it is a reminder of Christ’s peace and sovereignty. That Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again, and nothing will stop that. Not me, not the loud shouts of a broken world, nothing.

There is a song that I am still trying to rediscover that puts these words to music, and in the search for those words I started reading through my travel blog, which was mostly from when I served through Young Adults in Global Mission in Palestine. What I ended up being most drawn to and moved by (a Spirit thing) was a post in which I shared some excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist”. These were words I needed to hear. May they be a blessing for you.

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps the results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything. 

…the big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen and we can share in them, but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which, after all, is not that important.  

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself and identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you, but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think on this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it. 

The great thing, after all, is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth; and we can turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion. 

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in the process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand…enough of this…at least is is a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers. All the best. In Christ, Tom.

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The Blessing of Animals

I love animals. A lot. And sometimes I wonder if folks think that I’m exaggerating when I go all “IT’S SO FLUFFY I COULD DIE!” but it couldn’t be more genuine–I *love* animals.

And Ben and I have been blessed to be the caretakers of some great ones. Our dogs Bo and Ollie are two of the most caring canines I’ve ever had the joy of meeting, and our bunny Luna is so chill it’s contagious. It’s nearly impossible to be around these loveable furballs and not feel a little more grounded, a little more cared for, a little more relaxed. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works through these guys to show us love and wholeness and a glimpse into the Holy One’s perfect kingdom.

And that’s not even mentioning our chickens! Four roosters and seven hens that we raised from a couple-days-old chickies, that happily cluck when we greet them in the morning and delightfully provide us with beautiful brown speckled eggs. What a gift! What an honor! That these little feathered raptors that we try to nurture so well offer up their own eggs to our family (and others) that in turn nurture us.

I am constantly amazed by the animals we live among. And tonight at our second annual Blessing of the Animals that three of the congregations we serve hosted, we were able to celebrate many more of the animals that bring joy in our community. Dogs, a horse, hermit crabs, and even some cats– all providing joy and sharing their love (or for some cats, sharing the high privilege of their presence). And among our worshippers were also those for whom animals are their livelihood, from cows to pigs and more. All of these animals offer more to use than we can truly ever give proper thanks for, but tonight we certainly tried.

God created the world–land, sea, plants, and animals– and it was good. Not “meh”, not just there taking up space that could be used in a better way, but purposeful, beautiful, good.  And yet what I find even more remarkable about this good Creation is that God would allow humanity to care for it!

Oh that it is not just a personal inclination but a calling from the Creator that I have the privilege of caring for a small plot of God’s Creation!
The sad, truly painful reality is that I’m not always good at it, and neither is the rest of the world. Recycling is still seen in some parts as a “hippie-esque” pastime and is not worthy of public funding; animals are constantly being rescued from breeders who are more interested in profit than healthy living conditions; and to say that we take this earth, the very water we drink and soil we grow our crops on, for granted is an embarrassingly gross understatement. The Sin that breaks humanity pushes those same splinters into the rest of the Creation we live among. 

But thanks be to God that God has not abandoned that Creation, and that God is constantly working through us to make all things new. Though I may often see evidence otherwise when I see the beautiful mountain tops of home carved and carted away, or when I see that there are literally thousands of animals needing to be adopted and I can only afford and fit so many into our yard, the Divine Creator has a way of sending reminders of how our stewardship of the Creation should be and will be.

As it goes, we are often shown this Light through those younger than us, those who have not been quite as numbed to the amazing privilege of being among that which God has created, redeemed and sustained, those who can stand in awe of something as simple as a praying mantis.

You see, as we were setting up for worship tonight in the field next to the parking lot, I happened to spot a praying mantis on the pavement. There have been a ton this year (one might say a “plague ton”), but having not seen as many growing up I still find myself intrigued by these oddly elegant bugs. I called to two of the kids who had arrived early to check out the tiny traveler, but didn’t think much of it. As I said, there have been a ton this year.

But these two kids saw something I, the animal lover than I am, failed to comprehend. You see, this praying mantis was not just another bug in a parking lot, but a precious part of God’s Creation that was currently at risk for being squashed by a much larger car-shaped predator.

So per the kid’s request we found a stick and they were going to move the praying mantis to a safer location (which I assumed would actually be much closer to  a slightly smaller but equally deadly chicken-shaped predator).

But the younger brother had other plans. This praying mantis was no longer a random stranger along the road but his newest charge. Not only was he going to save this praying mantis from being run over, but he was going to bring it to worship because it too was worthy of being blessed. It was, after all, part of God’s Creation and therefore it was good.

And so he carried this praying mantis, his praying mantis, around on a stick showing his new buddy to everyone who would stop and look.

But the stewardship this little guy demonstrated went beyond merely possessing a praying mantis. It extended to a level of care that flowed from the Holy Spirit, a level of care I believe all of us are called to.

Because my little brother in Christ was both in love with his pet bug and absolutely terrified of it at the same time. I mean, the look of terror on his face when the praying mantis hopped off the stick and onto his arm was palpable. And yet he kept on carrying that mantis. When it fell off the stick he would patiently wait for it to realize its folly and climb back on. When it inevitably started to climb back onto his arm or shirt he would run (again, with the utmost horror) to the safety of his mom who would patiently remove the praying mantis from her little mantis steward and put it back on the stick. It was a beautiful cycle of caretaking because it encompassed the joy and sacrifice of what we are called to as stewards of God’s Creation.

The mantis was blessed and the mantis blessed. And before our young friend left he brought the praying mantis over to our garden and let him find refuge on a cucumber vine, leaving behind the stick that had been his temporary home and salvation, as well as instructions for his Pastor Ben on proper praying mantis care.

Every day we see tons of living things: trees, dandilions, squirrels, birds, rabbits, and maybe even a cow or two (JK, like a bajillion, we’re in Nebraska), and every day we are stirred to remember what they really are: gifts from God that we are given to both enjoy AND take care of. Because at the end of the day, they aren’t ours to possess, but instead God’s that we are honored to care for. Even the cats. Even the bugs. 

And that sounds good to me.

I’m constantly thinking about God’s love for the Divine Creation and my place in and among it. And I can’t help but think that

A Prayer to the God Who Fell From Heaven

I’m just gonna leave this here for you…

From “The God who Fell from Heaven” by John Shea
If you had stayed
tightfisted in the sky
and watched us thrash
with all the patience of a pipe smoker,
I would pray like a golden bullet
aimed at your heart.
But the story says you cried
and so heavy was the tear
you fell with it to earth
where like a baritone in a bar
it is never time to go home.
So you move among us
twisting every straight line into Picasso,
stealing kisses from pinched lips,
holding our hand in the dark.
So now when I pray
I sit and turn my mind like a television knob
till you are there with your large, open hands
spreading my life before me
like a Sunday tablecloth
and pulling up a chair for yourself
for by now
the secret is out.
You are home.

Unworthy

So unworthy.
So unworthy.

And yet…
         Exiled with promise
                 of protection
                 of presence
                 of redemption.
         Sent messages of hope
                 from prophets,
                 from angels,
                 from wild men and women.
         Claimed as beloved, despite all the flaws.
So unworthy,
         and yet, so loved.

Inspiration

The past week in taking my “Media and Religion” course I have been challenged, affirmed, and inspired. Seeing other people’s creativity gives me the imaginative framework to think of new ideas  in how to communicate in new ways. While I thought that I would mainly come away from this course knowing more about how to use media for religious purposes, such as teaching, I learned so much more. I saw new ways that people are artistically proclaiming the good news digitally. Digital media isn’t just for teaching, it’s for preaching, evangelism, encouraging and fellowship.

This type of discovery is so important- when we explore new ways to communicating and inspire one another to take these new creative ideas to new levels. So, I’ve included a handful of videos that have inspired me artistically, spiritually, and intellectually. I hope that they inspire you to try new things as you engage in digital media, for the sake of the Church and for the sake of being creative in the ways God has gifted you.

“Woman at the Well” by lalaland481

“The Power of Creativity” by The RSA

“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke

“Why I love Religion, and Love Jesus” by Fr. Pontifex


And the program Animoto, an online movie maker. Awesome.

Be inspired. Create. Share.

Creativity Breeds Creativity

The is my fourth post in a five-part series for my seminary course at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg on Media and Religion.
————

I am creative. We are creative.

This is the idea behind Jacie Richmond’s post, “The Start of Something New,” where she talks about the idea of creative products having a lineage– they stretch back to what others have created before them. Jacie writes,

While it is true that knowledge is collective (otherwise we would constantly be re-creating the wheel) we are taught to think that creativity is more individual. The point is to think of something that is drastically different from anything else that has been done. The more different it is, then the more creative it is.  Digital media is causing us to redefine this though with more and more people creating parodies of other work. It is also easier to create something which gives a creative voice to many more people than was previously possible.

When we’ve seen the nine-hundreth “Let It Go” parody we may start to question whether there really is anything creative going on, but I would suggest that these nine hundred parodies are actually indicative of something else going on– creativity breeding creativity.

Let’s be honest, just as Richmond points out, our creations build off of other ideas. A quote I heard a while back that has always stuck with me, “You learn based off what you know.” In other words, we aren’t creating anything completely new because everything we do is based off of building blocks that come from something we know.

Did that just deflate your creativity balloon? Did it make you feel like you aren’t the original Picasso you thought you were? Well, stop worrying, because I don’t think this means we’ve lost that spark that comes when you mould clay with your hands or edit video and align it with audio. What I think this really highlights is how important it is for us to be creative in the first place, so that others can see what is possible.

In class we’ve been watching a ton of videos that show different ways of conveying the message of the gospel through digital media, and each one has given me an expanded framework for thinking through what is possible. It’s not that these ideas and their derivative products limit future creativity because they “got there first”, but that they show us ways for us to be creative in the future. Others give birth to our creativity.

It reminds me of hearing stories about how the election of President Barack Obama, an African American man, gave young African American boys and girls the framework to conceptualize what it might look like for them to be President of the United States someday. A similar idea is how the ordination of Rev. Elizabeth Platz, the first female pastor in a Lutheran church in the United States, paved the way for people to understand what it might look like for women to be ordained in the U.S. Lutheran churches. I, myself, think of at least a few female pastors that have spurred me on to think creatively about how I can be both myself and a pastor in ways that I don’t think I would have dared to imagine without their models. Other people thinking creatively give us the space to think about new ideas, and to create new possibilities from that space.

So while the bajillion music parodies we find all over the web may seen like an indication that creativity as gone to the (lol)cats, perhaps it is a sign that creativity is providing even more fertile ground than ever before. In fact, maybe I’m excited to watch another fifty “Let It Go” parodies and covers because each one takes its creative roots in a new direction.

Most of all, this reminds us of our interconnectivity. In the book Click2Save, Pastors Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson describe the richness of digital media to “connect us more deeply to those we know already, and extended real and meaningful relationship to those we may know only indirectly– only as links in the helixes DNA of the Body of Christ” (177). Creativity does not happen on individual islands, but in a web, connected through ideas, observation, crowdsourcing, sharing, and the Holy Spirit that moves through us all.

In what ways have you created because of others? What creative projects have you done that you are proud of and how have they been inspired from other creative people/projects?

Storytime Over Digital Media

Stories are powerful. They help connect us as people and give us the sense that we know someone that much better because we know a vulnerable and quasi-private part of who they are. As our media methods have changed, so have the ways we tell stories and digital media is a prime example of that.

We have the ability to share our stories in new ways. Blogs, vlogs, tweets, hashtags, Vines, mp3 songs, Snapchats, and Instagrams. Online shared prose and poetry, brief sentences in 140 characters or less, songs, videos, pictures, and digital art. Stories are no longer just written and shared on paper or told orally. And because of these new mediums, there are even more stories being shared.

With there being more stories being shared in new digital ways, it also means that we have the ability to be connected to far more stories than ever before. Whether anonymous stories, like those shared on PostSecret or MyLifeIsAverage, or the smattering of Facebook statuses added by those people you haven’t talked to since High School, we have the ability to listen to the life experiences of more people today than ever before. Our communities expand past our street or even state and span the entire world. We can hear about life in different countries, learn twenty different ways to make cupcakes, and that’s not even beginning to touch on the created stories we hear through sitcoms, television dramas, podcasts, and movies. Our ability to access perspectives and opinions different than ours is unprecedented.

And yet, with a simple click of the mouse to close out a window or continue on to the next YouTube video, we have the ability to digitally walk away from stories that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t agree with. Sure this is possible when we are telling and listening to stories in person, but there are certain cultural conventions that make many of us think twice before standing up to walk out of a crowded lecture because we disagree with a point the speaker said. We don’t want to appear to be rude in person, but there is an ability to ignore when there is a screen-barrier between ourselves and the voice we’d rather not hear. It’s why we can watch the news channel of our choice and only subscribe to blogs that support the political and social opinions we already hold.

At the same time, there is a difference in storytelling when someone is physically vs. digitally present. It’s not a good vs. bad thing, it’s just a thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes the digital media can bring a story to life in moving ways that probably wouldn’t happen in person. And other times when the digital medium just doesn’t convey the same emotion. It’s less about one being better or worse than the other, and more about having the right medium to share your story.

So what are some stories that have been enhanced and made more meaningful to you based on the digital media they chose to use?

Some of my favorites have been:

“A Very Potter Musical” by StarKid
This is a digital media version of in-person storytelling through musical theater, but I think the digital life of this musical has a life of its own.

“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
This is a modern adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, set up like a vlog series by the characters. It was developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, so you know it’s probably pretty good.