Friday, May 1, 2015

Bowed down…

I think my least favorite emotion is despair, although arrogance could compete. It’s just that despair, of all the negative emotions at least, seems the least productive. Sadness has a purging effect. Anger holds potential power for good. Even fear can have clarifying impacts. Despair, by contrast, feels like a stubborn, unhelpful partner. It doesn’t offer much healing, inspiration or insight. It’s like crawling in a cold hole, closing your eyes and refusing to don a nearby sweater. At its worst, despair lashes out in ways that fuel a fire needing of water. Unfortunately, and this is despair’s worst quality, it’s often entirely understandable.

I’m pondering despair for several reasons this week. One is news of violent conflicts in Baltimore streets. The precipitating event was the death of a young black man in police custody. I don’t know the full details, but it sounds too depressingly familiar. As in other cases, this week, local citizens publicly protested while police stood guard. Someone lashed out violently. Violence escalated, and the word “riot” replaced “protest” in news reports.

Please pray for nonviolent protesters and police doing the dangerous work of ensuring a safer, better community.
Anyway, it made me recall a small moment I had on the first nice Saturday of Spring. I’d walked Fawkes to the local park, where many teenagers were gathered, mostly African-American. The crowd was larger than normal, but given my neighborhood, its racial makeup made sense. Also, eight police cars were driving around and into the park, which I’d never witnessed there before. The tension was palpable, bit I continued the walk, eventually turning home.

On my block, some neighbors were milling about. I chatted with one young black man, and mentioned the police at the park, saying how it surprised me. He said, “There’s always lots of police there,” and scoffed. We silently each turned toward home. Since then, I’ve wondered what he typically saw that I didn’t, what he expects that I don’t.

I won’t put words in my neighbor’s mouth, but our racial difference obviously influenced that conversation, especially our attitudes about police. Many cops patrol my neighborhood. I smile and thank them when I get the chance. I also see many of my male black neighbors draw back in caution, suspicion or fear. Researchers say that’s a rational act, given the much higher likelihood that, while simply strolling down my block, a black man my age will be detained, questioned and arrested than I will. That’s not because most police officers are intentionally biased or mean, but something’s not fully holy yet in our society, amen?

Which returns me to despair and “rioting.” Here’s something Dr. King said, “It’s not enough for me to…condemn riots…(I)ntolerable conditions that exist in our society…cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention…(A) riot is the language of the unheard.” Conditions have changed for many since King spoke, but many still struggle to eat, work, avoid prison, breathe, and to justify hope. And hope made King’s call for nonviolent change rational. Sadly, hope seems a dangerous deceit, a source of weakness for some of my neighbors, many not so different from Baltimore residents. That doesn’t make violent outbursts morally defensible, just more comprehensible.

Despair is the absence of hope, in social and personal problems. Despair sucks all light from our rooms, our spirits, our communities, inspiring self-defeating lethargy, lashing out or giving up. Fortunately, people of faith have tools to battle despair; not by ignoring it, nor submitting to it. Instead, we’re bold enough to name it, before God, as the powerful, tempting force it is. Lamentations 3:20- “My soul continually thinks of (my affliction and homelessness) and is bowed down within me.” That’s a clear declaration of despair. But never forget the following verses- “(T)his I call to mind, and I have hope. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end.”
In other words, if we rely on our own capacities, ideas, strengths and resources, we’ll fall short, or fail each other. History teaches that lesson too tragically. Fortunately, hope needn’t rely on us to be real and effective. God’s mercy renews every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say, not currently enduring the despair temptation. So I pray I’ll react to others’ pain and despair with compassion rather than judgment. May we all desire understanding. And I pray hope enters those who need it today. May they bow down in supplication, not resignation.

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Stewardship Letter

Growing Forward,

What a momentous time in the life of our church!

It seems like just a few weeks ago that you received a letter about the building expansion with Yellow Brick Road. In it, we asked the church to donate or pledge funds for a construction loan down payment. It was an audacious moment. We’re a vibrant, but small congregation. Time was short. The ask was substantial. You responded, though, allowing the church reach its $50,000 fundraising goal!

Therefore, we’ve sent in our loan application to Church Extension, confident in our building design, construction plan, and financial situation. We’re simply waiting for their consideration and (God willing!) approval so we can get the building going. Then the real work begins, amen?!

That’s why I’m writing again today. The impact this building project will have on our church and neighborhood will be substantial. Seventeen low-income families annually receiving critical child care assistance to change their kids’- and family’s- future paths and dreams! Open space in our building again- finally!- to design new ministry offerings so neighbors can meet, grow and shine with us. We’ll have opportunity to freshen up our hospitality, boost our community profile, deepen our story of helping build God’s Kingdom in our midst.

But what that takes, you surely know, is the ongoing support and financial commitment of Plymouth Creek members and friends. Together, we did something extra and special to lift the building expansion off the ground. Together, we’ll need to continue to maintain or increase our regular tithes and offerings for the church’s operating budget.
We all know that, at first glance, giving to ensure bills and salaries are paid, office materials purchased, mailing costs covered, isn’t as exciting as securing needed services for poor children. Except we also know that nothing else we take pride in here- quality music and choir, a weekly bus ministry for members and guests, a full and poised-for-expansion community garden- can transpire if the annual budget isn’t met. We do that year after year through your generous, courageous giving. And we’re on the cusp of a new chapter where growth in ministry, membership and spiritual depth is before us, if we’re prepared to seize the opportunity.

So throughout May, we’ll think together about that fundamental Christian task of stewardship. Then, we’ll ask that you turn in pledge cards on or before May 24th. The church fiscal year ends May 31. We’ll need a new budget, therefore, to vote on at the annual congregational meeting in mid-June. Building that works best if we know the amount of donations we’ll receive next year. Hence, this letter.

Will you pray about the ongoing support you can provide Plymouth Creek next year? It would be great if you can increase what you did last year. Whatever your situation, though, please fill out the form at the bottom of this letter, detach it and either put it in the offering plate soon or mail it to the church office.

And thank you for your generous commitment to this church, to what God continues to accomplish through our efforts! With your time, treasures, talents and dreams, we are growing forward in pursuit of Christ’s call for us to love and serve and shine.

Grace and Peace,
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