Ravin Rev, 02/16/19

Our call is to connect to God, to connect to each other, and to connect to the “Other.”
–Heartland Presbyterian Church Mission Statement

“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief—for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?”
–Johann Hari

Recently I shared our mission statement with visitors and friends of our church in order to explain a little about how we see our calling at Heartland Church. As we were talking about the meaning and importance of connection in today’s world, one of them shared with me the title of a book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari. I have only just begun to read the book but have found Hari’s insights to be profound and challenging. He argues much of the cause of depression and anxiety is less about chemical imbalances in our brains and more about a pervading sense of loneliness we all experience in our society today. We are not broken machines but humans in need of real connection.

I was reminded of another conversation I had with a social worker who oversees a number of the mental health services in our county. I asked her what ways churches could help with the current crisis of mental illness in our communities. She replied it was as simple as embracing people with mental illness and welcoming them into your church. Too often, people with mental illness are isolated and alone without the healing power of a supportive community. There is a simple power in just connecting that heals the mind and soul.

This coming Sunday, February 17, following worship, we will be starting a new Mental Health series as we explore how we can understand and respond to mental illness. This week’s theme is how to be with emotional pain. A light lunch will be provided. I hope you can participate and lend your presence to this important time of connection.

Grace and Peace,

Ravin Rev, 02/01/2019

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.”

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

-Mary Oliver

The “Kindom” of God is like a dog park. I know my friends who self-identify as cat people are already apoplectic at this comparison, and my friends who puzzle over my love of dogs are likely rolling their eyes. Dogs at a dog park seem a silly thing to compare with God’s “kindom.” Yet I find a kindred spirit in Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer prize winning poet who died in January of this year. She even wrote a book of prose and poetry titled “Dog Songs.” If such a poet as Mary Oliver can see the wonder of Creation in our canine companions, then maybe I am not so crazy as some might suspect.

The ‘Kindom” of God is like a dog park. Mary Oliver wrote “You may not agree, you may not care, … you should know that of all the sights I love in this world — and there are plenty — very near the top of the list is this one: dogs without leashes.” Until the recent “polar vortex” here in Iowa, Teresa and I would take our two dogs to the dog park just about every day, let them off the leash, and watch as they blissfully bound away. It is the sheer joy that makes me think of God’s “kindom.”

And each dog expresses that joy in different ways. There is the dog who runs continuously and non-stop around the park. There are the barkers and the inappropriate sniffers; the shy ones and the squirrel chasers; small dogs and large dogs; dogs of every breed and personality.  And they all share a joy of being together enjoying the wildness and preciousness of life. I wonder when I lost that simple sense of joy or if I really every glimpsed it.

One of Mary Oliver’s poems captures this “kindom” of God:
“I had a dog who loved flowers. Briskly she went through the fields, yet paused for the honeysuckle or the rose, her dark head and her wet nose touching the face of every one with its petals of silk, with its fragrance rising into the air where the bees, their bodies heavy with pollen, hovered—and easily she adored every blossom, not in the serious, careful way that we choose this blossom or that blossom—the way we praise or don’t praise— the way we love or don’t love— but the way we long to be— that happy in the heaven of earth— that wild, that loving.”

The “kindom” of God is like a dog park. My prayer for us all is that we will know the wild and precious and loving grace of God each and every day!

Grace & Peace,

Ravin Rev, 07/13/2018

One of the most impactful spiritual experiences of my life growing up in the church was a gathering every summer sponsored by the Synod of the Sun where youth and adults would gather on the campus of Trinity University in San Antonio for a week-long workshop of play, worship, and small groups. As the years have gone by (too many years!), I have come to realize that what made this a deeply meaningful event was the simple experience of community together.

All of us could likely identify those spiritual highs in our life as being connected to an experience of community in some form or another. It is in community that we are accepted and loved for who we are. It is in community we are accountable for extending this same acceptance to others. In other words, community is where Grace comes alive for us all.

I am more and more convinced that the root of our dysfunction and disillusionment in our politics and society today is a loss of community and a sense of the common good. In 1985 Robert Bellah in his book “Habits of the Heart” foreshadowed these struggles in our hyper- individualistic nation to find and build community. In 2000, sociologist Robert Putnam in his book “Bowling Alone” shared the alarming decline of social participation in the various communities/groups/institutions that undergird a connected society (Kiwanis Clubs, Bridge Groups, churches, bowling leagues, etc.) This collapse of the common good has been coming for quite a long time.

To be clear, I am not trying to evoke a sense of community rooted in some mythology of the past where we imagine our society in the good old days. The truth is that one of the underlying dysfunctions of community in our past has been the intentional exclusion of women and people of color. True community does not simply tolerate diversity, it embraces it!

The challenge in these divided days is how to create and find community. Our trust in the “Other” is almost nonexistent and we find ourselves feeling unsafe in our conflicting disagreements about the common good. One strategy has been to adopt the age-old strategy of not talking about religion or politics. This might get us through the day without the discomfort of disagreement, but it doesn’t really lead to the common good we all yearn for in our society.

Peter Bloch describes community as a conversation. Maybe the way forward is to start by having a conversation together as risky and challenging as that may seem. Maybe the first tentative step towards the realization of the common good comes by simply staring to talk with each other. If we don’t start, then who will?

Grace and Peace,
P. Alex Thornburg