Mentors of Hope

Mentors of Hope

Visits with my best friends typically include the question, “what are you reading?”  Sometimes I am embarrassed and tongue-tied because I don’t want to admit that I can’t even remember the name of the author or the title of the book in that moment.  I know it is a good book and can even tell you the color of the cover or quote several passages from it.  But the name of the author? — Ah, the joys of being 70 keep coming!  Still, I am grateful for this question and for these friends as they are asking a deeper question, more fundamental question.  It is “who is teaching you these days?”

Good reader, who are your teachers?  This is not asking you who were your teachers? Rather what is informing you today?  No doubt lessons from the past are critical to shaping who we are.  I do remember elementary school teachers like Ms. Kerns, Ms. Schindler, Ms. Williams, Mr. Glass all offered lessons that still shape my living.  Occasionally I hear echoes of Ms. Schindler, third grade teacher saying “Philip, you are too good not to be better!”  What an enduring word — her legacy on my life.

Lessons from today are even more essential — essential to shaping who we will become.  Who teaches us now?  In a time when ignorance and falsehood is the trademark of one Donald Trump, the question “what are your reading?” is critical.  If you find Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy troubling, “what are you reading?”  What gives you perspective beyond the same ole talking heads on television?

So, here are a few folks who are shaping my thoughts today for the future:

  1. Sara Wenger Shenk is president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  In her blog “Practicing Restoration” Sara recently wrote of Beauty in the Borderlands (Wenger Shenk, Practicing Restoration).  Very nice — and full of wisdom like the importance of “caring for the institution you are trying to heal.”
  2. President Wenger Shenk mentions Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save the World and I am reminded of another wonderful teacher for these times.  I have only started the book but find it so compelling, I can even remember the name of the author!
  3. Then there is the work Connected by Nicholas Christakis and James H. Fowler that points to the power of our networks of friends and their friends who touch our lives in ways that shape our worlds for benefit or disease.
  4. I would mention the daily meditation pieces from Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation – see Richard Rohr meditations.  He has recently challenged my tendency to think too often in binary ways and reminded again of the powerful benefit of paradox for us if we are to find more hope-filled ways forward.
  5. Lastly, I would mention Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History at Revisionist History podcast.  He has just completed the first ten podcasts for this summer season.  They are richly rewarding and will make you think!

In a period of history when the temptation is to watch my favorite news channel (Fox or MSNBC or CNN or…. you name it) our communities and our body politic deserve our efforts to think more clearly and not find ourselves trapped in our limited cul de sacs of narrow analysis.  Read on good folks — think more broadly.  Our world deserves the best we can know, even if we can’t always remember the name of the author or the title of the work.  Where do you find hope?  Who mentors you in that direction?

It is all too easy to focus on some issue of discontent.  Okay, I hear your complaints.  What I want to know is where do you find hope — where do you see folks coming together?

I write trusting that in some small way I can act as a mentor of hope today.  I will have my issues of disagreement with others, of course.  I challenge you to join me to read more widely, think more broadly, our world needs you to do so.



Good News for the Embarrassed

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Picture this — my most embarrassing moment, well most embarrassing for this week, at least.  I am in worship.  It is holy communion.  The liturgy begins and bread and wine are set before us.  The Great Thanksgiving proceeds: The Lord be with you.  And also with you.  We respond.

The sacrament is being made ready for the congregation.  Just as the Sanctus is to be spoken, “Holy, Holy, Holy…” I recall that I have not silenced my phone.  Quickly I retrieve it from my pocket.  Earlier that morning I had been turned into a nearby NPR radio station, listening to the news.  Earphones on, I had walked my daily path.  The news was about politics and the latest incendiary language from the campaign trail during this extraordinary and troubling year.

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My intention on Sunday morning was to make certain the phone was silenced.  By now you have guessed what happened.  Somehow, instead of placing the phone on silent mode, I turned it on.  Let’s just say the reception was excellent in that chapel.  Loudly, across the pews and bouncing off the stained glass, one could hear the broadcaster say and “And now, we have this breaking news…” 

I fumbled, I pushed every button I could find on the phone.  Nothing seemed to silence it.  Beside me Elaine persistently whispered, “walk out, walk out.”  However, I was certain just one more button would end my terrible, awful, horrible, embarrassing moment.

Words from the newscaster about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spilled across those who were in prayer preparing to receive the sacrament.  A few nearby chuckled.  Some turned around staring with considerable displeasure.  Finally, after what was only a few seconds, but seeming like an hour to me, I silenced the phone. Too late.  I was outed… an NPR listener!  Someone too decrepit to know how to use a cell phone responsibly.  At any moment I was expecting to be escorted from the chapel or to be charged with a religious felony — perhaps for disrupting the sacrament.

I hurriedly received the communion elements when our aisle went forward but I did not stay for the closing hymn or benediction.  My embarrassment was too great.  The holiest of moments for many that morning were disrupted by my clumsy fingers.  As you might guess, I have dozens of other stories about embarrassing moments during holy communion.  However, none of them are so blatantly self-inflicted — well, there was that time I downed an entire cup of wine during a Lutheran liturgy several decades back, but I digress.

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Broken for All the Breaking News

Such embarrassment could not be redeemable, I was certain.  And, there you have, good reader, the nugget of awareness, the first stirring of the good news I realized that day.  Of course my clumsiness was redeemable.  It took a few hours for me to consider it.  By lunch time, I was chuckling at my plight and regretting the foolish desire to run away from the table and congregation.

I was aware of the significance of “breaking news” being layered on top of the breaking bread of the eucharist.  Breaking news is precisely what needs to be addressed by the of breaking bread.  We remember even as we are being re-membered.  We remember as we are made whole again at the table of the Lord.  As we remember we are re-membered in community with others who may differ in hundreds of other ways.  We remember and are in this action again demonstrating that we are made one in Christ.

Where can we better find a way to understand and move through these troubling times than at the table of the Lord?  Breaking news is best heard in the context of breaking bread.  To my fellow worshipers, those who had sacred time and space interrupted by my mistake, I apologize.  Not only for the interruption but more for my running away.  I received only a part of the body of Christ that morning.  To any of you who think I am belittling or diminishing the sacrament of Holy Communion, please know that this is NOT my intention.  It remains that remarkable mystery of faith that continues to inform, guide, and yes, stand as a saving ordinance for my faith.  

The embarrassment is passing — the remembrance continues.  It is good news above and beyond all other breaking news.