Friday, November 19, 2010

Wear it As Long as Thou Canst

Full Death Moon

Full Death Moon 2008: Full Moon in Taurus

Full Death Moon 2009: Moving from the Season of the Dead

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Winter is here:

A large pale moon above a frosty field in the morning sun.

Big wet snowflakes drifting through the light of a street lamp.

The complex, geometric beauty of frost edged leaves in my garden.

The thud of frozen leaves hitting the shed roof as they fall off the fig tree.

The shock of cold when you open the door, the ache in your feet by the end of Meeting.

Seriously, winter is HERE.

Usually, in Portland Oregon winter is more about dark and wet than it is about actual cold. Sure, what cold we have is that bone chilling damp cold, but the thermometer rarely shows truly frigid temperatures. This week, though, we are experiencing a rare arctic blast with hard frost and ice, a little snow and a high of only 30 degrees. Winter is not joking around.

Winter is a time when we become very aware of our needs. We are in extra need of warmth, shelter, food, light and friendship. Resources run thin and the elements take their extra toll. As we become aware of our own needs we are often nudged to be aware of the needs of others. The plight of needy people in our own communities seem to loom large over us as well during this time of the year. My morning commute often takes me past people begging for money on street corners and I sometimes drive past the crowd of men and women outside Portland Rescue Mission on my way home from work. When I say my evening prayers, or give thanks to god for the warm and dry places in my life I am often reminded of these people who lack what I am so grateful to have.

These unmet needs of others can feel so overwhelming if we let them. This last weekend the pastor at my Quaker meeting gave a typically irreverent and witty message, this time about our responsibilities to our community. He used the terms diffused responsibility and shared responsibility to illustrate the difference between those burdens we all pick up together and those we leave to others to pick up. He said most of us are like zebras who flee when the lion comes out of the tall grass hoping it will be someone else's responsibility to become dinner.

We Quakers, though, like many other people who feel the presence of god in their lives, try to listen to what responsibilities god is calling us to address. There is a famous Quaker story about the time William Penn asked George Fox for his advice about something that was bothering him. George Fox founded the Quaker movement after receiving his vision on Pendle Hill and forming his convictions regarding the light of god in all people. William Penn was a young aristocrat who had converted to Fox's upstart religion and was concerned about his sword. All noble men wore swords in those days but Quakers were pacifists and believed in not carrying weapons so as not to provoke violence. Penn asked Fox what to do about his sword, most likely hoping for some rule or guide to follow. Fox did not provide him such an easy answer and instead said "I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst."

Living in the wider world of ours with all of its issues and problems also requires us to choose to take responsibility or choose to leave responsibility for someone else to deal with. Like Penn we are allowed to wear the sword of our own lives and our own needs, leaving responsibilities to the poor and needy for others for as long as we can. Eventually, though, we need to set down our sword, pick up those burdens we are able to, and do what we are can with them.

  • My Meeting held a food drive during the months of October and November and we raised over 2000 pounds of food for Neighborhood House, a non-profit community group in our neighborhood. As part of our community celebration during that time members of our congregation created a labyrinth out of boxes and cans of food.
  • I also recently joined an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance, a group using imagery and language from the books by J.K. Rowling, plus a healthy dose of competition, to organize people to fight real world problems. The current campaign is a petition to get Time Warner to use all fair trade chocolate in their Harry Potter merchandising. They call it the Starvation Wages Horcrux and hope to raise awareness of fair trade issues in chocolate production and get a large corporation to make the responsible choice with its products (p.s. Click on that link, sign the petition and Hufflepuff as your house. We have a chance to win the house cup!).
  • This week my sister felt compelled recently to solicit donations from our friends for New Avenues for Youth, a homeless youth shelter in Portland. They are asking for donations of warm clothing to help kids who are living on the street stay warm and safe this winter. We have two giant garbage bags full of sweaters, socks and tshirts to be dropped off.

None of these actions alone are going to solve the problems world hunger, economic justice or crushing poverty by themselves. They might, however, make life a little better for one person somewhere in the world. We can't take on all the world's problems alone but we can, however, cultivate our habits of gratitude and giving, fill our hearts with stories of people who have given more than seems reasonable to others, and encourage others to give what they are called to give. Together, perhaps, we can change the world for the better.

What responsibilities have you been feeling called to shoulder as winter closes in? How do you connect with god as she is found in other people? What organizations do you support as they work to help poor, sick or oppressed people? How is winter showing itself in your neighborhood?

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