Dear Friends in Christ,
As these summer months come to a close, I’ve heard a lot of expressions of tiredness from various people across our society. People are tired of Covid, tired of masks, tired of fighting about masks and vaccines. People are tired of the arguing about all matters of things in our nations, communities and world and across socio-political spectrums. People are tired of making decisions, adapting, change and we are tired of feeling all the feelings that come with these changes and the calls to change. People are tired of feeling fear or anxiety, sadness and grief, anger and outrage, suffering and pain. People also seem to be tired of hearing about others’ pain (it’s called “compassion fatigue”) and dealing with the consequences of how others’ express their pain in unhealthy ways.
It seems we are running out of endurance. As I watched the marathons during the Olympics, I wondered with awe at the runners’ endurance and resilience as they pushed through pain they were experiencing especially in the heat and humidity. Those who were able to finish, even if they came in last, were winners to me because they just kept on going, one grueling step at a time, one shuddering breath at a time, reaching the finish line having given everything they had. What an expression of resilience and endurance!
Paul and other writers in the New Testament mention endurance several times in preaching the gospel to their fellow followers of Christ. Perhaps the most famous comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rm 5:3-5) Here Paul lifts up the reality that our suffering and how we respond to it can make us more resilient in facing future suffering. Like a runner suffering through her training, she is building up her endurance to run another race.
But I would also say to Paul that not only does suffering produce endurance, it needs endurance to get through it. If we don’t have the endurance in the first place, it’s hard to move through it. And without the emotional and mental resilience to move through our sufferings, we often seek unhelpful and unhealthy ways around it or try to avoid it which can often do more damage than the suffering itself.
During my vacation, I read a book entitled Building Resilience When There’s No Going Back to the Way things Were by Alice Updike Scannell (Episcopalian Priest and Chaplain). On the surface, it’s a small simple book but the ten skills (attitudes and behaviors) she offers on building radical resilience in the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical aspects of our lives when everything has changed are not simple. The 10 skills she lifts up are 1) Mindfulness; 2) Courage; 3) Perseverance; 4) Flexibility; 5) Reframing the situation; 6) Creativity; 7) Realistic Optimism; 8) Hope; 9) Physical Activity; 10) Faith/ Spirituality.
These are skills we need to continually need to practice, training in them throughout all the circumstances of our lives. We do so to build resilience so that when we’re feeling tired of just about everything, we have the endurance to push through, one step at time, one day at a time, one breath at a time.
Of course, for we who follow Christ, the central aspect of our practice and training is continuing to open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in us to form and grow our faith in the God who loves us, empowers and strengthens us, equips us through many of these practices. Indeed, it is Spirit’s power that enables and equips us to engage in these practices.
However, our participation in the Spirit’s work matters. And it’s here that Scannell’s practices can guide us in a training regimen toward greater endurance and resilience. These don’t take the tiredness and suffering away. But they can help us move forward into something better, into something closer to the abundant life God wants for us.
As we enter into these fall months, still facing the realities of Covid and turmoil and change, I encourage you to pick up Scannell’s book or a similar resource to help you develop your endurance and resilience as you try to find your way through these unstable times. Scannell’s book could actually serve as a helpful devotion, either as an individual devotional or in a larger group book study.
But even as you explore entering this practice, always remember Paul’s words of pure gospel, also in Romans, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rm 8:37-39)
You are not alone. God is always with you, strengthening you for every step, every day, every breath.
May God bless you always!
Freedom run amok.
That is what this image symbolizes for me.
This picture was captured the moment immediately following a major crash on the first day of the Tour de France this year, a crash caused by a single spectator who put her own freedom to do what she wanted above all of the bike riders, the spectators and the many people whose livelihood depends on making this race happen. For whatever reason, this fan felt the overpowering desire to be on TV and say hello to her grandparents, so she created a sign and then as the riders were racing her way at speeds well over 20 mph, she stepped into the road and turned her sign toward the camera and away from the riders.
Unable to swerve or stop, one of the riders crashed into her causing him to go down and to take out the entire peloton (large group of riders) behind and around him. This image shows the mayhem that ensued.
We live in a society where individual freedom is prized above all things; where it’s not only acceptable but even encouraged to put our own individual freedoms above the needs of others or the whole community. “Have it your way!” we hear again and again in advertising and from politicians and the wider culture, each teaching us in a variety of ways, “you live in the land of the free so you are of course free to do or say whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want and however you want no matter the consequences to anyone else or to the whole community.”
And when we do that, when we exert our own freedoms without considering how it might affect those around us, we create mayhem and pile-ups and destruction. This image portrays the carnage that happens when we place our own personal freedoms above others’ freedoms. Notice the tangled pile of bodies and limbs, bicycles and gear as more and more riders continued to crash into these from behind. All because one person insisted that her freedom to be on TV was more important than protecting the safety of the riders and the enjoyment of the spectators.
For too long, too many of God’s precious children have been damaged by freedom run amok, human beings who’ve been left behind, damaged or dead on the road. It happens so easily and often without our realizing it, so focused we are on seeking our personal freedom.
But Christ’s freedom is different. Certainly there is freedom in Christ, a freedom from sin, death and the power of evil. A freedom from the injustice and suffering that emerges from our individual and communal sin, our worship of death, and the evil that infiltrates our social systems and our lives.
But Christ’s freedom that is given to we who would follow him is always a freedom for loving others. Christ’s gift of freedom is centered on the death and new life of the cross, in which Christ gave up all freedom and then claimed it all back again so that the whole world could live a new abundant life in the freedom of God’s love.
It is this divine love we have been freed to share with those around us. All gifts of God’s grace – freedom, healing, salvation, redemption, new life – all these and much more, Christ gives for love so that we can love one another instead of fighting for our personal freedoms at the expense of others. “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.” (1Peter 2:16)
This week, once again, we celebrate the freedom of this nation from the autocracy and tyranny caused by people long ago who demanded their own freedom to do what they wanted at the expense of others. We still face such threats of autocracy as individuals or groups try to claim all power and freedom for themselves, not caring who is harmed in the process.
Also, two weeks ago we commemorated Juneteenth, the day that all the slaves who suffered under the lash of chattel slavery in this country were finally freed from that form of oppression. Of course, it wasn’t long before new ways were devised to deny these same people freedom so that others could have all the freedom for themselves.
As we who would follow Christ consider these days of commemorating the freedom from that which would oppress us, let us remember first that we are called to use our freedom for love. And, as a part of that love, we are called to seek justice for all those who have been damaged by the freedom run amok in our world. For finally, by the Holy Spirit’s power, true freedom is found in our love for all.
As Paul reminds us, “…you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.” (Gal 5:13)
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod