Tag Archives: sharing

Valuing Connections, Finding Joy

Valuing Connections, Finding Joy   —by Jinny Batterson

The corona virus pandemic has impacted every nation on earth, few more severely than the United States of America, which has rarely seemed less united. Many of us, especially if we are older, have mostly hunkered down in physical isolation at home (assuming we have a home), venturing out rarely, masked and sanitized, for shopping or medical appointments. It’s easy to feel disconnected.  

An American friend who’s widely traveled and now makes her home in France sent me a link to a lengthy article by Colombian-Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis. His early August 2020 commentary is titled “The Unraveling of America,” and includes this quotation: 

“In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.”   (You can read the entire article at https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206/?fbclid=IwAR1STn3hp2VywUqvGxjPpSUqMItAGBnF7oEPorxsZ1OeUZERQbrTpSHEe78.) 

Some of us Americans are still involved in blaming each other for the mess we currently find ourselves in. Some are foolishly conflating “freedom” with the license to spread harm via a tiny airborne pathogen none of us can see. Some, though, are also remembering glimmers of our underlying interconnectedness, even while physical distancing remains an important tool for reducing the spread of illness, misery, and death. 

Earlier today, I attended this week’s “Friday Action Parking Lot” event at our mostly distanced congregation, a sort of modified “tailgate party.” Since March, Sunday services and most weekday meetings have gone virtual, but we’ve adapted some of our sharing practices to fit our changed circumstances. Before the pandemic, we participated, along with other religious groups and non-profits, in various feeding and affordable housing programs. Hosting an in-person group luncheon is no longer practical, but food still needs to be provided. Lengthy in-person visits to affordable housing complexes are not advisable, either, but families whose children may soon continue “virtual” schooling in apartments lacking air conditioning could really use donated portable fans. Each week a virtual call goes out via email for items especially needed—this week, in addition to fans, there was a premium on face masks and reusable grocery bags.

If few in our congregation are among the wealthiest, few are destitute, either.  It’s important to maintain connections with others who may be economically challenged at the moment, for a whole host of reasons. One of the strongest is that we are all inevitably interconnected, so generosity helps maintain health and brings joy. 

Recently I picked up some books ordered online from my favorite local bookshop, which now has “book take-out.” As I’d ordered a different book by a favorite author, another book he’d co-authored came up as a possible selection: The Book of Joy. The title was especially appealing. Once I got my treasures home, I found the book jacket cover of two famous octogenarians broadly smiling at each other worth the price of the book all by itself. Created from notes and insights garnered during an in-person 2015 meeting between Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of South Africa and  convener of that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Tensin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy chronicles some of these two Nobel Peace Laureates struggles along the way to developing abiding senses of joy. It examines “eight pillars of joy:” perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and, finally, generosity. 

Tutu speaks from his religious tradition about the importance of generosity: “I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way … you give and it then seems in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.” 

“And there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. …And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”   

Of Loaves, Fishes, and Miracles

Of Loaves, Fishes, and Miracles   —by Jinny Batterson

One of the earliest Bible stories ever read to me was an account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I remember thinking how special it was that thousands of people could be fed from only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. My knowledge of Biblical lore is not as deep as I’d like, but I’ve recently revisited Biblical loaves and fishes stories, of which there are at least six (Matthew 14, Matthew 15, Mark 6, Mark 8, Luke 9, John 6). Online sources explain that the miracle of loaves and fishes is one of few mentioned in all four Gospels. In all the stories’ variations, Jesus interacts with his disciples, with a spiritual force to whom he gives thanks, and with large crowds. Literalist interpretations stress how many baskets of leftovers were collected at the end of the meal. More metaphorical explanations of the miracles concentrate on the possibility that it was not Jesus’ direct intervention that multiplied the available food, but his unleashing the generosity of members of the crowds who had enough food to share. 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about loaves and fishes stories, as the global covid-19 pandemic spotlights and sometimes worsens inequities in our access to material resources.  I’ve been reading the words of former Congressman John Lewis, a champion of principled action and societal equity. I’ve been marveling at the life of this man who was so often told that there was not enough, that HE was not enough, but persevered to blaze a path of non-violent protest and public service. I’ve been thinking, too, about a woman colleague from a couple of generations ago and the lessons she imparted to her daughter.

I’ll call my former colleague Susan. Susan was a single mother. She’d struggled hard to provide a decent living for herself and her daughter. Susan never talked about the child’s father. I never asked. They lived in a very conservative neighborhood. Despite disapproving looks and hurtful comments, Susan insisted on taking her daughter to church and to Sunday school. Over time, Susan saved up enough to provide a summer trip to Disney World, every young princess’s dream. Planning the trip was almost as fun as the actual event. Once Susan returned to work, she was full of stories about the marvelous rides, about the great service at the hotel where they’d stayed, about how thrilled her daughter had been to meet Mickey Mouse.  

“Do you have any special memory that stands out?” I asked her one day. 

After a pause, she told me, “Actually, it wasn’t a ride itself, but something that happened while we were waiting to get into one of the most popular attractions. It was a hot day, and I decided to spend a little extra money to get my daughter a popsicle—nothing fancy, just one of those water ice contraptions with two sticks. When I next looked at my daughter, she’d broken the popsicle in half and given a piece to the little boy in front of us. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I didn’t say anything. The line moved fast, and we all enjoyed the ride. That night at the hotel, I asked my daughter why she’d done what she did—didn’t she like the popsicle?” 

“It’s not that,” she told me, “but I could see that the little boy was just as hot as I was. I remembered my Bible school lesson—‘Jesus wants us to share.’” 


International Day of Peace, September 21

International Day of Peace, September 21    —by Jinny Batterson

For nearly a decade, I’ve received annual reminders of a celebration of an “international day of peace” on September 21, around the time of the equinox (autumn in the northern hemisphere, spring in the southern).  I relish these reminders to refocus during what too often can be a harried and hurried time, with back-to-school events, work crises, health check-ups, omnipresent political campaigns.  So this year’s reminder was especially welcome—2016’s politics in my home country, the United States of America, appear even more ugly than usual. The timeframe for this year’s peace celebrations has expanded, I learned, now encompassing the eleven days between September 11 and September 21. This year’s celebrations focus on global development goals. 

As nearly as I can tell via online search, the United Nations began issuing annual proclamations for a day of peace in 1997 as part of a broader global effort to advance a transition to a culture of peace. Their initial resolution called for a “transformation from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence.” The resolution defines the culture of peace as based on “respect for human rights, democracy and tolerance, the promotion of development, education for peace, the free flow of information, and the wider participation of women,” in addition to disarmament efforts. This year’s events include several in the area of central North Carolina where I live. I hope to attend at least some of them: http://www.paceebene.org/event/cnv-actions-raleigh-areanc-peace-week/.

My understanding of peace continues to evolve from an initial aversion to my fiance’s draft status in 1969 near the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Over time, I’ve come to believe that peace is much more comprehensive than the absence of armed conflict, whether among nations, among non-national groups who use violence to try to further their aims, or between individuals. It seems increasingly clear to me that peace needs to exist at all the same levels in which violence can incubate, from a single person to the entire global community. Peace grows best in an atmosphere of abundance, based partly on sharing, and partly on our inner conviction that we have, and, more importantly, ARE enough. 

One group that I support whose peacemaking involves a transition to abundance is Heifer International. First started in the wake of World War II as a way to restock farm animals to war-ravaged areas of Europe, the program now exists in 30 countries on five continents. Heifer conducts long-term efforts to alleviate poverty and promote peace through both donations of farm animals and education in sustainable farming practices. The autumn 2016 issue of their magazine, World Ark , includes an extensive interview with author/activist Frances Moore Lappe, first known for her seminal work on global food resources, Diet for a Small Planet (published in 1971). Lappe has gone on to publish fifteen more books, and to become a global activist for peace and development. Her take on what may be needed to transition toward peace and abundance resonates with me:  “While scarcity can be a lack of the physical resources that we need to thrive, such as food, water and energy, it can also be a presumption of the scarcity of goodness in human beings. Unfortunately, our media largely offers the most frightening and horrifying news, reinforcing this sense of lack of goodness in us. As you know, there are many fewer stories about our nobility, humanity, and our natural desires to help, to share and be compassionate, than there are about our brutal side.” 

Part of my individual effort this season to cultivate peace is to minimize my media exposure, while at the same time staying informed enough to function in our increasingly interconnected, interactive world. Another practice has been inspired by one of the more heartening reactions to September 11, 2001: a musical setting to a breathing meditation by a Georgia-bred songwriter who reacted to the airplane-mediated suicide bombings by creating a melody and chorus:  “When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace, when I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”  (The entire song, including verses, is online at http://www.sarahdanjones.com/music-1.html).

It turns out that the equinox here this year will not be until September 22. Peace activities in my town won’t culminate until Saturday, September 24. Still, I urge all of us who breathe to try today, as the simplest, smallest step toward peace, to take at least a couple of breaths using the “breathe in peace” refrain.