Time for a Change

2007. Nine years ago. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.

I was spending several days at a retreat center in Tucson, Arizona where I was a presenter at a spiritual direction training program. Having some time before my next presentation, I placed a call to my mother who lived near Johnstown, PA. She was distressed. Overnight, she had suffered something like a small stroke which left her without vision in one eye. It was the only eye in which she had vision. I contacted my brother who got her to her ophthalmologist. But it was too late. She was blind.

In 2007, I became a full-time care giver for my mother. We moved to St. Louis, where my partner would study in a graduate program. My life changed radically. I would remain at home, not leaving for more than two or three hours at a time, maintaining vigilant care for my mother. In St. Louis, I had no social or professional network and little time to build one.

It was in this context that I began to consider networking by way of social media. I joined Facebook and began a blog. These were things I could do from home. It took a few months, but I slowly gained an understanding of how social media and virtual networking were different from developing a professional network in a more traditional sense. By the end of 2009, I made the decision to take the next step and launch a web site and blog and to use both Twitter and Facebook for networking.

In January 2010, my weekly blog on spirituality, e-merging, was launched. Each week for the last six years I’ve posted reflections on themes of spirituality, daily life, and social justice. Readers were invited to subscribe to these weekly postings and to comment. With the help of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the traffic to the web site grew. Some months, the web site had between 3500 and 4000 unique visitors. My Twitter follower grew as well to over 16,000 followers. To be honest, I never dreamed that what started as a way to cope with the isolation I experienced as a care-giver would grow to be something so extensive.

My life has changed over the last nine years. While I’ve grown used to being more of a home-body than I was in my earlier life, and while I find writing to be very fulfilling, I find myself drawn to some other projects today. As a psychologist and professor, I am interested in conducting further research on people’s experience of spirituality. I also am interested in writing some longer pieces more suitable for magazine publication.

Starting in 2016, I concluded that in order to engage in some of the things I feel drawn to as a writer and researcher, I need to rearrange my time to accommodate new endeavors. Therefore, I am cutting back on the weekly publication of postings on e-merging. Over the next few months, as I find myself inspired, I will make occasional postings. Perhaps some time later, I’ll return to weekly postings. But my energy will focus on other writing projects — some of which will surely be shared on the blog, e-merging.

I appreciate that so many people have been part of the journey over these last several years. Whether I’ve met you or not, during the times of isolation it was very helpful to see that others connected with me through my written work. It’s been a rich blessing.

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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2016: A Year to Move Beyond Fear

I’m well aware that I’m a white man of a certain age. Like other white men in my age group in the United States, I know that because of my age it would be difficult for me to find full time employment if I left my current job. I also know that many white men my age who have lost full time employment have drained their savings to maintain their families. They’ve also experienced more health related issues and died from premature death. None of those are imagined fears. They are very real.

As 2015 unfolded, in the United States, there proved to be more mass shootings than days. While there has been great concern about “would be” Islamic terrorists since the San Bernardino shooting, far more common are the shootings by white Christian terrorists. Remember that it was white Christian terrorists who killed innocent people at a Planned Parenthood facilty and who participated in Bible study at a Charleston, SC church before gunning down those present. Whether in a movie theater, a school, or office building, a person in the United States could easily become a victim of a mass shooting. This fear is also very real.

I live in a state which passed what’s commonly referred to as a “guns everywhere” law. Georgia residents with a license to carry firearms can bring guns into any setting except certain government buildings and specific churches with a policy to restrict guns on the premises for religious reasons. While no statistics are available on the number of firearms deaths in Georgia since the law was passed in 2014, the last year for which I could find statistics (2013) listed Georgia well above the national average for gun related fatalities. Two or three times a month, gunshots can be heard in my middle class neighborhood. I’m aware that I could easily fall victim to a stray bullet even though I refuse to own a gun. This is another fear that is very real to me.

As I look to 2016, I recognize that there are many things to fear. If I went on with this list of fears, I could include anxieties over health and healthcare, financial stability, and the well-being of our families and communities. But as a person of faith, as a follower of the teaching of Jesus, I refuse to let my fears overwhelm me. Instead, I recall the words of Jesus, recorded in gospels attributed to Mark and to Luke: “Fear is useless! What is needed is trust.” (Mark 5:36; Luke 8:50)

When I bought my home five years ago in Atlanta, I recognized some of the things that were important to me about the neighborhood. My home is three blocks from a grocery store. It’s less than a mile to a freeway. The neighborhood is very quiet and full of trees. Behind my home is a wooded area and stream. Those were things that supported my decision to purchase this house. What I’ve come to learn about my neighborhood (and appreciate a great deal) is how diverse it is. My neighborhood is racially mixed, multi-generational, with families that are traditional as well as lesbian and gay households. Part of our diversity I appreciate is the high number of Muslim neighbors, including the imam from the local mosque. What’s striking is that in all of our diversity, we have a friendly neighborhood where people generally look out for one another. When neighbors have died, collections have been taken for a memorial gift for the family. In autumn and spring, we spend a Saturday cleaning up the neighborhood (because of the lack of such services by our local government). We even party together on occasion.

While the media, some elected officials, and certain political candidates do their best to prey on our fears — particularly the fears shared by white people of my age group — I recall the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As an older white guy living in a neighborhood like mine, I know that there is nothing to fear from people different from myself. We work together for the common good by maintaining a neighborhood watch, cleaning up random debris, and supporting the seniors who live alone.

As I consider the fears I listed regarding safety, violence, financial stability, and other concerns of day to day life, I recognize that all of them are the result of government policies meant to create wealth for the privileged few. Because these fears are created to manipulate the general public, my New Year’s resolution is not to give into them. Instead, at the start of 2016, I commit myself to strive to overcome the pervasive fears by doing what I can to challenge the fear mongers: to support political candidates with well-reasoned positions, to write and call elected officials to advocate for change better social policy, and to champion organizations and causes that work for the common good.

Indeed, fear is useless. What is needed is trust. Fundamentally, I trust that people can bring positive change in society when we work together. I trust that we can hold government officials and the media accountable if our voices are united. Ultimately, I trust that goodness will prevail over the social ills we face for the benefit of future generations. It is my fondest hope that others will join me in working to overcome the fears we all experience by working for a better tomorrow. Together, we can have a happy new year.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Keeping Christ in Christmas, Part 4: Stories of Hope for those Marginalized

As I drove down a familiar street one evening, traffic began to slow….then crawl….then stop and start at a hesitant snail’s pace. I checked the time. It was nearly 9:00 PM. I wondered if there was an accident up ahead. Then I remembered the likely cause of the delay. I should have known to avoid this route home in the weeks before Christmas. At a busy intersection, an Evangelical Church hosts a “live nativity” in their parking lot. From the direction I’m driving, cars must turn left over a couple of lanes to get into the parking lot. Of course, at the parking lot entrance, there are church members asking for donations to support their mission fund. Thus, I’m in the middle of late in the day traffic congestion.

Manger scenes, nativities, crèches: by whatever name they are called, they all have a romantic and tranquil quality about them. Our nostalgia for the perfect holiday glosses over the hardship conveyed in the two stories which tradition presents about the birth of Jesus: one found in Luke and the other in Matthew’s gospel. While the stories bear little resemblance to each other, they are both tales of sorrow and woe.

Luke tells of the unmarried teenage girl who mysteriously ends up pregnant. Because the penalty for pregnancy outside of marriage was death by stoning, the saga tells of Mary leaving town to be with her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. The narrative conveys nothing more of her pregnancy until we learn of Mary traveling with Joseph toward the end of her pregnancy, presumably married at this point in the story.

Unmarried pregnant teenage girls continue to be a topic of gossip and viewed with shame today. How much more terrifying it must have been in this ancient culture to know that any group of men could simply apprehend and stone you if they realized you were pregnant and unmarried? Mary’s pregnancy was overshadowed by the fear of death.

The saga found in the narrative attributed to Matthew weaves the theme of death into the story in a different way. It’s Matthew who tells us of the magi, the visitors from a foreign land who practice a different religion. Among the gifts they bring is myrrh. Myrrh is a resin, much like incense. Most of us would consider the odor to be foul. Among its uses was preparing a body for burial. What a gift to give to a new born child! But remember that immediately after the visit of the magi Herod began the slaughter of all children under age 2. Joseph took Mary and their child to Egypt to escape the actions of a brutal despot. In other words, Matthew’s narrative places the birth of Jesus into the context of brutal, senseless killing.

Implied in chronicles presented by the authors of Luke and Matthew is the message that providential care of the Holy One leads to deliverance from sorrow and death. Through dreams and visions and with the help of their friends and family, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus remain safe even when fleeing as refugees from the despotic ruler intent on killing the child.

The world today is not so much different from the world depicted by the writers of Matthew and Luke. Today, women continue to face challenges to simply receive safe and affordable health care, particularly in regard to reproductive issues. It seems that others insist that they should determine what’s best for individual women and the provision of health care. Women who seek mammograms and other health testing at agencies like Planned Parenthood are often terrorized by so-called “right to life” protestors who work to deny legal and affordable treatment options.

Beyond the scandal of treating women with fundamental disrespect, such as denying access to health service, there is also the plight of refugees today. Each day, the news media conveys stories of the hardship of refugees as they flee from Syria hoping to create new lives in other countries. Syrians are only some of the refugees who flee their homes due to threats of violence and death. People from Congo, Eritrea, Afghanistan and other countries torn by war seek safe-havens where they can simply live at peace with others. Given the practice of religion in their countries of origin, the majority of refugees today are Muslim. However, when Christian refugees attempted to flee Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s, they were not well received in North America.

Again this year many Christians around the world will recount the stories of the birth of Jesus, hear the sagas for the Mary, Joseph, and Jesus who narrowly escaped death, and recall how they fled as refugees at night. These same Christians will return to their homes and share festive holidays with loved ones. Somehow they conclude that it is good and right to make the lives of others more difficult by restricting health care to women and refusing to accept today’s refugees in their communities while singing “Joy to the World” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

The conservative Evangelical Christian magazine, Christianity Today, reported a few years ago that those who regularly read the Bible develop liberal social views. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/october/survey-bible-reading-liberal.html While Evangelic and other conservative Christians talk a great deal about the Bible, often appearing to worship the book itself, I suspect that few of them actually read the Bible and, in particular the Gospels which convey the teachings of Jesus, with any regularity. Instead, they probably listen to preachers who pick specific verses and present them out of context to make a case for conservative views that make life difficult for others. If we really want to Keep Christ in Christmas, we must read the Biblical stories of the birth of Jesus as they are presented and not the way we want them to be. If we take these stories seriously, we’ll understand that before all else Christmas is about giving hope to those who are on the margins of society: the refugees, the homeless, the mentally ill, and all those others who in our comfort we implicitly and explicitly oppress.

The message of Christmas announced by the angels for peace on earth begins when we bring light to those whose lives have become dark because of societal marginalization. Just as Luke and Matthew recount stories of hope for the marginalized in their accounts of Jesus birth, Christ is found in our Christmas when we bring hope to those marginalized today. When hope is restored, we will all have a very merry Christmas indeed.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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