The Rev. David Brown of Tacoma’s Immanuel Presbyterian Church said it perfectly: “2016 was a year when America’s politics became coarser and more polarized, when winning and being right was more important than the common good.”
This past year was difficult for many in America and around the world. Amid the violence, hate and fractured communities, where can we find hope? We asked several South Sound faith leaders to share their thoughts.
Rev. David R. Brown, Immanuel Presbyterian Church:
How do we maintain our hope, our faith in that light and our belief in the direction of “the arc of the moral universe”? I wish I could offer magic words or a twelve step program. I can’t. Let me suggest three ways to nurture hope and a belief that the light is stronger than darkness.
First, I think it begins by being in community. We can’t do it ourselves. Find a community of shared values, a community where you can be honest about doubts, a community that laughs and plays, but also works hard for the social good. This is a faith community.
Maintaining hope for me involves being intentional about spiritual practices; or for those that shy away from the word “ spiritual” practices, find a time to nurture your soul and love for the world. A spiritual practice may be as simple as intentional silence or yoga or walks or reading a poem every morning or night. It could be committing to a meditation group or journal writing. Finding a soul friend to share your intention with can help keep you focused on your desired spiritual practice.
Remember and pay attention to the fact that even in the midst of harsh realities and dark times— and our time feels harsh and dark— this life is pretty amazing. There are friends, lovers, and tender caresses. Mount Rainier is on the horizon, whales leap on Puget Sound. There is cold beer, new books, wine, great coffee, laughter, films, hikes, fireplaces, music and children’s innocence.
We need to remember the simple gift of being alive on this earth and embrace that gift not as an escape but as a source of energy for doing what we can do to make things better for our sisters and brothers.
As Bruce Springsteen sings, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” It ain’t!
Rev. Canon Janet Campbell, Christ Episcopal Church:
In the Episcopal Church and among our ecumenical partners, we promise at our baptism to "love our neighbor as ourselves, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."
May we all renew our efforts to live gently with one another, to look with kindness on all whom we meet, to reach toward each other with respect across differences of race, culture, belief, politics, seeking common ground and desiring not what is best for us individually or as a group, but what is best for the common good, the good of all.
Let us listen carefully and speak and post and tweet even more carefully, let us seek unity of purpose even in our disagreements about ways and means, let us advocate with the powerful for those who are powerless, let us stand and strive for economic, social and environmental justice. These are the fertile ground and seeds of the peace God desires for God’s Creation.
In God we do trust, and in God and one another we find the hope and the strength and the endurance to live that trust.
Gregory Christopher, Senior Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church:
All over the world fear has overwhelmed so many of us: what is going on in Israel, Palestine and Syria, what is going on with President-Elect Donald Trump and his administration, the possibility of exiled immigrants especially Hispanics and Muslims, the fear of losing or not being able to afford Health Care, and last, but not least, how do we sustain healthy relationships within our cities and local communities?
The real million dollar question is how do we overcome the perceptions of fear and fear itself? The answer is faith. We surmount the perception of fear by our faith in God, by our faith in each other and by the faith in our love for our nation, state, city and communities. Our love is stronger than the perception of fear and fear itself. Put your faith in that.
A wise person once said, “Our greatest enemies are not the wild beasts or deadly germs, but it’s fear that paralyzes thought, fear that poisons the mind, and fear that destroys our character.”
Lloyd Douglas wrote, “If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.”
To the City of Destiny, Tacoma, let’s all be proactive with our faith and position ourselves for whatever the perception of fear and fear itself throws at us. As Mr. Harold Moss, our former Mayor has said over the years, we will not be victims to fear, we will be victors over fear, no matter what.
Rev. Linda A. Hart, Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation:
The window next to our dining table looks west to the Olympic Mountains. In the early morning, when the sky is clear and there is snow on the peaks, they emerge from the darkness in tones of deep blue and pink. Every time I see them while drinking my tea, my breath is taken away.
I say to my husband, “The mountains look beautiful this morning.”
He, of course, agrees.
And then I remember. The mountains look beautiful every morning. It is only that I see them rarely in the winter. They do not desert me, they are always there and always beautiful.
Hope is kind of like that for me, too:
▪ It emerges from inner wells of strength and care
▪ It emerges when we put ourselves into the work of making the world more fair
▪ It emerges from the motion of our hearts reaching out in love.
In these days, I will remember when I look into the bank of clouds where the mountains hide or look for Mt. Rainier and find only blank grayness, the mountains abide, and are beautiful. And I’ll remember hope each time, too.
Rabbi Bruce Kadden, Temple Beth El, Tacoma:
Looking back at this past year, it is tempting to give in to despair. We see millions of refugees who have left their homes because of war and conflict. We look at how Syria is being destroyed and how conflicts in the Middle East and Africa seem to defy solution.
In this country the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, police shootings of unarmed African Americans in many cities, retaliatory shootings of police officers in Dallas and elsewhere and a presidential campaign full of hate-filled rhetoric make it is easy to despair.
But despair leads us nowhere; we must continue to hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain, distinguishes between optimism and hope. “Optimism,” he writes, “is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.”
I pray that in the coming year we have the courage to hope: for a more peaceful year, a year of welcoming refugees, a year of working toward justice for all, a year of speaking truth to power. And may our hope inspire us to stand as one against hatred, evil and injustice and for love and peace.
Manidha Oyadomari, Tacoma Buddhist Center:
The Buddha distinguished between two kinds of suffering. Primary suffering is inescapable. It’s the physical pain or raw sensations we experience in the body when we stub our toe or someone cuts us off on the highway - tightness, contraction, pressure, warmth, etc.
Secondary suffering is the emotional anguish and mental proliferation we add onto primary suffering when we react to it. Thoughts like “What if this gets worse?,” “I’m not a good person,” or “I’ll never be able to...” It’s a negative downward spiral.
The most compassionate act you can take is to start with yourself. Try something different in 2017. Explore whether it’s possible to bring more peace and less harm to the world by learning how to respond instead of react, and to live with more kindness.
Bring your own secondary suffering to an end. Many of us are doing this and I’d like to end by sharing a story about what members in our community are doing.
Just last week on Christmas day, Billy, Elisha and their two grown children drove around Tacoma, offering blankets, gloves, and food for people without homes. They wanted to help those who were in need and alone on Christmas day. Real connections were made on the streets. Billy described the warmth and brightness beaming from his daughter after a veteran she served left with a smile on his face. As he said, “You cannot wrap that and put it under a tree.”
Sometimes, only kindness makes sense anymore. Perhaps this is a key to the human dilemma.
Fr. Nick Wichert, Pastor of Holy Rosary and Visitation Catholic Churches:
There is always hope in our world in the midst of all the darkness and hatred we see surrounding us. In the United States we cry out against the violence that we see around the world and even the hatred that we see right here in our own country. We cry out for peace, but can’t get beyond our own hatreds and disagreements. When that happens, we become a part of the problem rather than the solution.
The solution is found in a God who is love Himself. The more we seek to push God out of our lives and out of our world, the more hatred there will be that enters our world, for God does not force Himself upon us. The hope for peace, unity, love and joy is found in God.
Not all Christians have acted in accord with this throughout history either, nor lived up to the standards God has placed before us, but just because some Christians in their lives have not lived up to those standards does not mean the standards are wrong.
We are all, Christians and non-Christians, called to a place of conversion and of love, a love that embraces the Truth. The Truth is who we just celebrated this past Christmas and He is the one who seeks to restore peace in our broken world. It is why He came into our world in the first place.
It is Christ who seeks to heal the brokenness of our world. We can do our part to cooperate in that healing and restore hope by seeking to work together rather than fighting against one another. The conversion of our world has to begin with us.
Imam Ahmad Saleh, Islamic Center of Tacoma
While 2016 posed many challenges to both Muslims and other faiths alike, part of our faith is to always search for the silver lining, and see the good within the bad.
The negative events that took place in 2016 highlighted the golden nature of the people of Tacoma. When some individuals made hurtful statements about Muslims, we received unprecedented support and solidarity from our beloved friends and neighbors of Tacoma and surrounding areas.
I will never forget that day when I gave a presentation about Islam and Muslims at the University Place Public Library, and the most frequently asked question was, "How can we support your community?"
Looking forward to 2017, we hope for bigger and better things to be accomplished. As a faith leader, I look forward to working with other local religious leaders to bring together the community to work for the benefit of society.
In the Quran, it states, "O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted." [Quran 49:13]
The emphasis of this verse is that we must know one another, and despite our differences, we are all created equal and we must learn to get along with one another. God willing, moving forward to the new year, we can all live in peace together, and work towards a better and brighter future.