Advent 4: Learning from Fear

advent-4Children at play are pulled into fright and then run out screaming in pretend terror. Fear shows up in many places inviting some of us to pretend as we watch scary movies, and at other times, it forces us into an uncomfortable or even intolerable place.

One time I was scheduled to be with my spiritual director at the end of a particularly exhausting day. I called to cancel. He said to me, “Please, if you can drive safely, come. When we are tired, we are more vulnerable and open to honesty and growth.” I went and had an amazing and frightening time walking into moments of vulnerability and healing.

Our internal fears often come to us in vulnerable times. This is a challenge because being vulnerable is one of our fears. We fear it for good reasons. We live in a culture where we are expected to be “right”, to lead by giving answers and rarely if ever saying, “I don’t know.” Our first “go to” when we have been wrong is to blame another rather than to admit the mistake. When we are hurt we hold it inside. Showing our raw feelings makes us vulnerable. Being vulnerable is often seen as a weakness. Who wants to risk being seen as weak and incompetent?

What if they don’t respect me? What if they don’t want me around anymore? What if they don’t love me? I’m scared to be lost and alone.

After my husband died, I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I was going to die during the night. Part of me wanted to, but a deeper voice wanted to spare our children from the trauma of grief upon grief. Yet even the desire to protect my children, didn’t erase the deep fear of loss and pain and looking at my own mortality in the stillness of the night.

Heightened fear is within us and all around us. We can’t turn on the news or read articles or listen to the radio without hearing the realities of fear.

“ ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ These words of FDR spoken to a Depression-era audience, sounded reassuring at the time. But on closer inspection, this statement exemplifies the fear of fear in our culture. Actually, life presents us with many fearful things. And it would be good if we learned how to experience our fears mindfully rather than to deny them.” p. 177, Healing Through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan

Naming and experiencing our fears depletes their powers. What fears do we need to name and experience?

Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Advent 3: Learning from Fear

advent-3
To witness from the safety of a television screen, the fear in the eyes of families struggling to leave Aleppo, brings not only tears and heightens my own fears but also releases rage.
 
How can we as the human race participate in such lack of love and care for the lives of others?
 
How can we fear others so much that their lives and hopes and dreams don’t connect with our own love of our families and friends and hopes and dreams?
 
How can we experience our own fears and see the same fear in the bodies and souls of people around the world that some want to call “the other” and not respond? How can we watch an elderly woman bent over with crutches hobbling in an attempt to honor her fears to flee from the threat of death and not scream:
 

NO MORE!

No more fear driven wars.
No more fear promoting leaders who want to feed their power.
No more domestic agendas that hurt vulnerable people.
No more children dying.
No more senior citizens scared to death that their only source of income may be threatened.
No more, no more, no more!
No more fills my soul. I feel empty and powerless.
I’m tempted to honor the voices of powerlessness. I’m tempted to remain in my cocoon of inertia.
I am only one unheard voice in the midst of millions of voices of power.

Then I remember the homeless people I see every day and know that more people must use the church’s food pantry.

I see the fear in the eyes of the children who speak a different language or wear different clothes.

My husband’s prophetic question replays in my heart, “Is fear really becoming our norm and casting out love?” Once again I scream: NO!

This time I hear my biblical sister Mary say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”    

May we be so honored and humbled to hear and heed her words.

Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Advent 2: Listening to Fear

Advent-1 When fear enters our hearts and minds there is little room for anything else. Fear keeps us from feeling safe. Yet, ironically, when danger comes, fear seeks to keep us safe.

Fear has saved many lives. Since the beginning of time fear has sounded the warning cry for fires, storms, and dangers of all kinds. Just this past week we have heard how fear drove many survivors to safety from the Tennessee fires. These fears help us. They give us strength to escape to safety. We instinctively listen to these fears and act upon them for our survival.

But other kinds of fears may not give us overt direction for our behaviors. These are fears that may remain unknown to us. They may even be unconscious. Often these unnamed fears divide us. They fulfill the message that, Perfect Fear Casts out Love

Still these fears are real. They become hurtful to us and others if we don’t see them and name them for what they are. When they remain unconscious we may act on them with divisive, hateful, or uninformed behaviors. We can see this happening in our country today. But if we name them, perhaps they can give us wisdom, grace, and dispel division.

Thus one of the gifts we may receive from our fears is the opportunity to face them, to name their power, and to realize that they can be our teachers. We may choose to ignore them, but we can also be open to receiving the gift of the information they are beckoning us to learn. It seems that Mary did just that.     

The angel said to Mary:

Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:28-30)

What fears do I need to ponder?

What fears do we as a country/world need to ponder?

Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Advent 1: Listening To Fear

Advent-1My husband died before he had a chance to write several books that were in his head and heart. I know many of these” lost publications” are written on the hearts of his students, colleagues, and his own children for which I will always be grateful. One unpublished work came to me recently as many of us are learning how to live with a heightened sense of fear in our country and our world. It is from I John 4:18a, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

As my husband witnessed the hatred that killed TreyvonAnchor Martin shortly before his death, he began lamenting that fear is becoming the norm and love is getting cast out. Thus the title of his unwritten book was:  Perfect Fear Casts out Love.

Advent invites us to listen to our fears just as the characters in the Biblical narrative experienced fear. When Gabriel came to Mary, she was told not to be afraid. Fear came over Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors when his speech returned. The shepherds were terrified when an angel of the Lord stood before them. Fear was as much a part of the human experience then as it is for us now.

In her book, Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, Miriam Greenspan says,  

“Almost any phobia or fear you can name, at its core, gets down to these six:  fear of pain, loss, death, vulnerability, isolation, and chaos. To a large degree we live with these basic fears without paying much attention to them. Few of us walk around saying, “I’m scared of pain, loss, death, vulnerability, isolation, and chaos. What about you? …But there are times when fear comes knocking on your door and walks right in uninvited.”

These next weeks of Advent, I am going to step out in “fear and trembling,” to meditate on the fears inside of us and around us in our world.

Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

Being Connected

Sustainer's CircleMy big brother loved baseball. I thought I’d get more of his attention if I, too, loved baseball. Thus my love of the game began. In the late 1960’s I moved to Chicago and immediately became attached to his beloved Cubs. The Cubbies have taken many of us on the journey of loving them no matter what.  

What fun to hear friends’ baseball stories of connection and faithfulness. Perhaps I’m pushing this too far for some, but if something as simple as baseball can remind us of the gift of sharing a common purpose and a connection, then so be it.

It feels right and good to be connected. Connecting pastors with trained mentoring pastors is the heart and soul of Ministry Mentors.  

The Chicago area educational event opened the door to explore another important connection. Dr. Eboo Patel and a panel composed of a Muslim Iman, a Jewish Rabbi and a Christian Pastor shared their stories of common understandings and explored the ways we might connect and learn more about each other for the good of our communities.

From Dr. Eboo Patel we learned that we have the choice of being people who build barriers, bunkers, and bludgeons or people who build bridges.(See pp. 63-65 of Interfaith Leadership, A Primer.) As spiritual leaders may our choice be to build bridges.

Traditionally, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs are arch enemies. The day after the Cubs won the World Series I wore my Cubs shirt everywhere and was greeted by one 88 year old Cardinal fan who said: “I am so happy for you. I celebrate the Cubs. This is not time to be your enemy.” I hugged her and she hugged me back. In this, perhaps some might say insignificant moment of time, we knew that shared stories and joy could never be defeated by separation and hate.

Thank you panel. Thank you Dr. Patel for helping us learn the same lesson about loving our neighbors, loving God, and serving justice, mercy and compassion.

May God increase our connections with each other.

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President

The Art of Interfaith Leadership

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with Dr. Eboo Patel
founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core
was held on Thursday, October 6, 1:30–4:30 p.m.
at Winnetka Covenant Church, 1200 Hibbard Road, Wilmette, IL
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Dr. Patel’s presentation was followed a panel discussion with leaders from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, including Imam Hazim Fazlic, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago, Rabbi Wendi Geffen, Senior Rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel, Rev. Peter Hawkinson, Sr. Pastor of Winnetka Covenant Church, and Dr. Hal Edwards served as the panel moderator.
 

The ART of INTERFAITH LEADERSHIP

One of the beauties of Dr. Patel’s work is that he not only shares personal stories, outlines the areas of growth for faith communities, but he also offers practical action plans. 

In his second book, “Sacred Ground,” Dr. Patel notes the difference between diversity and pluralism and suggests ways to actually work toward a common good.

“Harvard University scholar, Diana Eck, makes a crucial distinction between diversity and pluralism:  diversity is simply the fact of people from different backgrounds living in close quarters.

“Where diversity is a fact, pluralism is an achievement–it means deliberate and positive engagement of diversity; it means building strong bonds between people of different backgrounds.

“America is among the most religiously diverse countries in human history and by far the most religiously devout nation in the West.  How are we doing when it comes to bridging our religiously diverse social capital?

“Social scientists measure America’s religious diversity in three basic ways: Attitudes, Relationships, and Knowledge”

Understanding can be achieved by looking at our attitudes, seeking relationships outside our social and religious communities, and working together in service for the common good.

What a privilege to have Dr. Patel and panel participants, Imam Hazim Fazlic, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago, Rabbi Wendi Geffen, Senior Rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel, Rev. Peter Hawkinson, Sr. Pastor of Winnetka Covenant Church, and panel moderator Rev. Dr. Hal Edwards, lead us in exploring how interfaith leadership has a great opportunity and responsibility to learn from each other, work together, and to affect the lives of others seeking wholeness. 

Shalom,Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President
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