Simple Practices for Tough Times

These have been and are tough, trying times. On an international level, need we say more than “North Korea” and “Syria”? Nationally, to name but a few things, there is the refugee/immigrant crisis, climate change, changes that make people uneasy (with good reason) about their health care coverage, threats to LGBTQI rights, and this list could go on at length. Locally, we’re impacted by everything that happens on the global and national levels, to which we can add the Muncie Public Schools situation and the FBI carrying files out of City Hall. Our own beloved community hasn’t been immune to conflict, either, with tensions evident regarding the proposal to move to two services and concerns recently lifted up by our secular humanists. Denominationally, we’ve seen the resignation of a President and increased concern over how well we’re dealing with racism at the highest levels of staffing. Individually, too, hard times inevitably arise. It’s vitally important to do what we can and what we feel called to do to help take care of the myriad challenges we face. It’s equally crucial to take care of ourselves in such times (as in all times). Self-care means care of ourselves as whole persons. That includes caring for that deepest core of our being, where we find and/or make meaning and value, the dimension that some people call “soul.” Most of us don’t have the time or the flexibility in our schedules for a lengthy retreat, and many of us also don’t have the desire for that
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Ambiguity and Paradox, Mystery and Language

In my previous role as a hospital chaplain here in Muncie, I was with a family gathered at the bedside of a dying family member, keeping vigil as families do at that point. The conversation and associated emotional tenor changed back and forth, sometimes quite rapidly, between sadness, grief and mourning their loved one’s impending death, and laughter, sometimes deep belly laughs, as they brought to mind humorous anecdotes from his life. At one point, one of the daughters looked at me and said something to the effect that “You must think we’re nuts by now with all these conflicting emotions.” I assured her that I thought nothing of the sort, that what they were experiencing was quite common and indeed healthy. Another example, closer to home for me: My late husband’s death was one of the most crushing blows life has dealt me. However, it also made it possible for me to be a part of this wonderful community of faith and connection, and to be in ministry, both deeply meaningful aspects of my life now. When I think about ambiguity and paradox, I immediately think of mystery as well. Both ambiguity and paradox invite us to step out of our certainties and the comfort they may provide into the unknown. They ask us to look at what we do not know, rather than what we do know. Both call us to hold the tension of (seeming) opposites and not rush to choose one over the other. Both ambiguity and paradox,
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Identity, Names, and Stories

My relationship with my own name, or, more accurately names, is something of a saga. It mirrors the relationship between name, identity, and story as it has played out in my own life. It’s a story I’ve not told often. I hope it encourages you to reflect on story, change and continuity in your own life. In the beginning (don’t all good stories start this way?), I was born Julia Kay Sheridan. Sheridan, of course, was my father’s name; in the 1940s, what else would it have been? The whole process of naming kids was pretty automatic. When I married (at the tender age of 19, but that’s another story), I never gave a thought to doing anything other than taking on my new husband’s name: Kinschner. In my mind, we women were still properly identified with our husbands, and adopting his name legally embodied that identification for all the world to see. It never occurred to me to do otherwise. It was the 1960s, but I was stuck in the 50s alongside June Cleaver. Fast-forward through several years of marriage, one child, the rest of college and then seminary, and the (very) faint rumblings of greater consciousness. Oh, and graduate school. When my first husband and I divorced during my graduate school years, I kept his name, in part because it seemed easier if my daughter and I had the same last name. But then he remarried, a lovely woman who was the new Mrs. Kinschner. That felt odd to me,
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Commitment to Humanity: Now More than Ever

Many of us continue to feel frightened and vulnerable in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. We’re fearful for the values we hold dear, the vulnerable populations we are committed to protect, what shape our own lives may take, and for the future of our nation itself. There is reason to feel that way: Muslims, people of color, women, the entire LGBTQ community, immigrants (particularly but not exclusively Middle Easterners and Mexicans), those who “look Middle Eastern,” are all threatened based on who they are rather than on anything they might have done. Now more than ever, we need to stand together against the forces that seek to divide us. All of us—each and every one of us—stands to lose if the forces of exclusion, oppression, and division prevail. Humanism and religion are fundamentally in accord on this basic point. Many people equate humanism with either secularism or atheism. While some humanists are either secularists or atheists, not all are. Some humanists are anti-religious, but not all are. Humanism is a thread that has been woven into the fabric of religion for centuries, and continues to be. Christian humanism was born in the Renaissance. Today there are vibrant humanistic emphases in most of humankind’s religious and spiritual traditions. It’s worth reviewing both our Sources and our Principles in this context, since for many of us in our beloved community, neither remains in the forefront of our minds a lot of the time [I’m including myself here.]  
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Belonging in a BSU Stairwell

I’d met a friend on campus for lunch. I’d parked in the Emens Auditorium parking structure because it was close to where we were meeting. My emeriti faculty hangtag doesn’t allow me to park there unless I park as a visitor. On this crowded day, that meant parking on the very top deck. When I was ready to leave, that, in turn, meant walking up four flights of stairs. I later learned that there is an elevator, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve been moving quite slowly and with great difficulty of late due to a worse than usual time with chronic hip and leg problems. As I began to make my way up the stairs one slow step at a time, I became aware of a young woman behind me. I turned and smiled at her, and invited her to go around me. What happened next surprised me. She declined, willingly keeping pace with my slowness. We had an absolutely delightful conversation all the way up the stairs, and parted with warm wishes and smiling hearts when we reached the top. We both belonged in that brief encounter. I’ve been thinking a lot about what being able-bodied, or not, means in our culture. Rich Harris, who worked with what I believe was then called “disabled student development” before his retirement from Ball State, often said that we are all “TABS,” his acronym for “temporarily able-bodied.” I’ve clearly lost my TAB status, and that’s had me reflecting on the
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Life in the Time of Warfare

I was born in 1945. My daughter was born in 1968. My two older grandchildren were born in 1995 and 1999. The younger three came along in 2012, 2014 and 2016. This means that neither me, nor my daughter, nor my grandchildren have ever known a time when the United States was not at war. Some were major wars that involved coalitions of many nations—World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and the current war on ISIL. Others involved only the US and one other country. Some, we said we “won.” Others, well… Most were military engagements that involved US troops and firepower with or against other nations. There was also the Cold War – that persistent state of tension between the Western Bloc, the US and its allies, and the Eastern Bloc, composed of the USSR and its allies – that followed WWII. While military historians disagree on its exact dates, 1947-1991 is typically accepted. What I personally remember most about the Cold War Era is huddling in a terrified ball underneath my classroom desk in grade school when the sirens howled and we had air raid drills. I was certain that the images I had seen on jerky black and white newsreels of Nagasaki and Hiroshima would soon be images of the small town where I lived. Not necessarily logical, but kids’ fears often aren’t logical. A recent report indicated that tensions between the United States and Russia are now at a level not seen since the Cold
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Embrace the Joy

One of the privileges of ministry is that I get to officiate for weddings. Recently I had the honor and pleasure of officiating for the wedding of a couple, both of whom are in their 70s. Both had previous spouses who had died from cancer. My husband Tom and I are in the same situation, both of us having lost spouses to death. One man who attended the wedding mentioned to me that he and his wife had also married late in life following the deaths of earlier spouses. As the chalice lighting I used for the wedding says, the light of the chalice reminds us that “love is a living thing, dancing like a flame, waiting within each of us for an awakening touch.” Marriage is always a daring step, a committing of ourselves to the mystery of life itself, a leap into an unknown in which there are, and can be, no guarantees. It calls on us to risk what is for the sake of what can yet be. Late in life marriages are even more so. Those of us who marry, or marry again in the autumn or winter of our lives do so knowing perhaps more clearly than do the young that it won’t always be smooth sailing. We are keenly aware that there will be both unbounded joy, and sorrow that will threaten to shrivel our souls. And we choose to embrace the joy, to forge ahead into that mysterious unknown, to entrust ourselves to each
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Humility: Yes and No

Our relationship was always a rocky one, marked by misunderstanding, mistrust, ambiguity, and quarrelsomeness. Other people said we were perfect for each other, a match not only made in, but blessed by heaven itself. But somehow or other, I could never quite relate. Something always seemed “off.” That was pointed out to me as evidence that I reallyneeded this relationship. I went along with it for many years, and then somehow found the courage to simply end the relationship. It was over between Humility and me. Over. Done. I really don’t recall when Humility reappeared in my life. There were occasional contacts, intermittent flirtations, very sporadic at first. Part of it had been that I didn’t like the crowd Humility hung out with—humiliate and humiliation, for example. There were others, too—shame, abase, debase, demean, degrade, belittle, cause to feel small, and some other unsavory characters. When Humility reappeared, though, the cohort had broken up. The Humility I had known was in fact a mean-spirited masquerade, slightly if at all related to true humility. Curious, I ran a background check. I’d had a philosophy professor in grad school who sent us off to the library with a weekly assignment. He gave us each a word, and we were charged with looking up its origins and history in the massive Oxford Dictionary of the English Language. I always enjoyed that assignment, and I’m still fascinated by word origins and how their meanings and usage evolve over time. Humility, as it turns out, has an intriguing
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Change Happens: So How Do We Deal with It?

I admit it: I’m more likely to be bothered by change, or the prospect of change, than to be enthusiastic  about it. It’s instructive that the first version of the preceding sentence read “the threat of change” rather than “the prospect of change.”  ‘Nuf said.  Change makes me uneasy; it tends to ratchet up my anxiety.  Major changes that affect me directly call out the four horsemen of my own little apocalypse: clammy, queasy, sleepless and shaky. Even if it’s “good” change, it’s far easier for me to see the possible risks inherent in it than to whole-heartedly celebrate its promises. Not always, to be sure, but typically. Sometimes, for some of us, change can’t come fast enough. I recall how much my daughter, when she was a middle-schooler and even into high school, disliked her unusual first name (“Hinda,” named after her four-greats grandmother). She let it be known repeatedly that as soon as she was old enough, she was going to court to have it changed. Then she graduated college and got her first job in the public relations field, which would become her lifelong profession. She soon discovered that having a somewhat unusual name, one that people remembered easily, was quite an asset. Those who are dissatisfied with the current administration are eager for the November elections with the possibility of inaugurating a new era in American government. Others, however, are concerned about what such a change might bring. The secular humanists in our own congregation want change, while others
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