At a church leadership retreat, a tall man with a mustache and red suspenders stands up and says, “Several of us here find ourselves wondering if our church is still God-centered. It seems to us something’s missing.” At another retreat, a woman blurts out, “But what do we believe?
Tonight is the one service of the year in which many churches practice
footwashing. Others don’t do it at all, despite the fact that after
washing Peter's feet Jesus says, "You also ought to wash one another's feet."
A banner in the Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University features these two statements set off from each other: Do not DESPAIR one of the thieves was SAVED; Do not PRESUME one of the thieves was DAMNED. The couplet refers to the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. The second half of the couplet, which is attributed to St. Augustine, is ambiguous. We could treat it as a command to presume that the second thief was damned. But I prefer taking the word presume as a synonym of assume: we should not necessarily assume that the second thief wasn’t saved. After all, Luke’s Gospel says nothing about his fate.
We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
When Studs Terkel, described by Donna Seaman as “oral historian, writer of conscience and raconteur-on-a-mission,” died on Halloween in 2008, he left a tall stack of books behind him. None affected me more than one called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
Plant a garden. Listen to birdsong. Sit quietly in a park without checking your phone. These activities are examples of ecotherapy, a form of mental health treatment based on the idea that nature has healing powers. “If you hold moist soil for 20 minutes, the soil bacteria begin elevating your mood,” says Craig Chalquist, an innovator in this new field. “You have all the antidepressant you need in the ground.” Chalquist maintains that it helps even more to give something back to nature—not just looking at trees, but caring for them (Atlantic, October).