March On

During my years in Washington, D.C., I participated in several rallies and marches.  One occurred at Ward Circle, just outside the American University campus where I was completing my final semester as a sociology undergrad.  For a class activity, I stood with Professor Barbara Kaplan, waving a sign which read: “Peace Now.”

Times were calm.  People drove past, waving and honking sporadically.  No one much cared about some college students protesting in the nation’s capital.  When my picture appeared in the school newspaper, I felt honored.  Professor Kaplan patted me on the back and winked: “Well done.  Now you’ll have a file at FBI headquarters.”  I wasn’t concerned.

A few years later, I marched with a group of women along Constitution Avenue to a rally at the Supreme Court.  We waved signs supporting women’s rights, especially for equal pay and affordable health care.  On the Supreme Court steps, as I awaited the keynote address, another woman approached and started talking.  At first, I thought we shared similar views.  Then she barraged my friends and me with statistics about abortion, birth control and infant mortality.  I attempted to shout her down, but to no avail.  Eventually, I became hoarse, muttered something like, “Whatever,” and moved away.  But not before I heard her say, “They’ll get you for this.  You’re going to hell.”

For a while, I felt nervous, not about hell, but about what my employer might think.  Or other friends and co-workers who didn’t agree with me.  Then, I remembered: I’m an American with freedom of speech, who can stand on the Supreme Court steps and declare my beliefs.

Nowhere, on those occasions or any others, do I remember any violence.  The usual Washington, D.C. security systems functioned properly, and we marched peacefully, albeit loudly.  No one fought or feared the “other side.”

I reflect upon those times, as the liberties our founding fathers and mothers, immigrant ancestors, and spiritual wayshowers established for our well-being are threatened.  I think about how each generation is called to stand up, to step out in faith — yet again — to transform our world so it becomes a better place for generations to come.

I also notice tremendous anxiety, dread and tension.  I pastor to people who fear for their safety, security and livelihoods, including some young adults concerned about what might happen to them if they’re arrested.  Others who campaigned for various causes still look forlorn.  They hang their heads with downcast eyes.  All express their concerns about the future and strive to realign with their faith.

Everywhere, it seems, we seek an encouraging word.  So, to all who march, wherever they may be, I offer this ancient assurance, passed from generation to generation:

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you [and within you] wherever you go.”   (Joshua 1:9)

Lift your gaze, raise your heads high, and march on, Blessed Readers.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Courageous, Strong and Free

This week, if she were still alive, my grandmother would have celebrated her 112th birthday, or her 115th, or possibly her 120th.  The truth is: No one in my family knew Grandma’s exact age.  As she told it, she changed her birth certificate to make herself older so she could emigrate from Eastern Europe to the United States.  She hoped to join other family, already in New York, although she didn’t know exactly how to find them.

When I think about her journey, I’m awed by her faith and spiritual strength, and especially, her trust in God.  What courage it took for a teenage girl, whatever her age, to leave everything she knew behind and sail alone to the promise of a better life.  When she spoke about that journey, she admitted that the obstacles and uncertainty were daunting.

Her journey reminds me of what Jesus tells the disciples (Matthew 17:20-21):

“. . . If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

With faith, nothing is impossible for us.  When we remember that we have an infinite supply of faith within us — we never need pray for more — we can nurture this precious gift and use it to transform ourselves and our experiences.

Just as my grandmother did, we sometimes find ourselves travelling without a clear road map.  Whether literally or figuratively, we may get thrown off course or need to leave a place we once called home.  Yet, as we go forward, one faithful step at a time, we realize: We are free.   Free to choose what is best for us, even when the choices aren’t our favorites.

The truth is: Only when we relinquish our power to choose, do we believe that we’ve lost our faith.  As we travel, we can remember: Events and circumstances have far less power over us when we exercise our freedom to choose who we truly are, what and whom we truly love, how we want to live, and how we want to share ourselves with the world.

I know that was true for my grandmother.  When she arrived, she found her brothers in New York.  She worked as a milliner, making ladies’ hats at a famous department store.  She met my grandfather and had two children, my father and my aunt.   She lived 88 years, give or take some birthdays.  In all the years I knew her, I saw a woman centered in her faith.  Even when she didn’t like what was happening in her world or the world around her, even when she succumbed to the pain of cancer.

Faith the size of a mustard seed.  That’s all it takes to move forward, with strength and courage, trusting that transformation is unfolding before us.

A Blessed Independence Day to All!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

After Thoughts and Prayers

On Sunday morning, June 12th, I prepared to give a sermon I titled, ironically, “Put Feet on Your Prayers.”  I was nearly out the door when I heard the news that a group of people dancing the night away in Orlando, Florida, practically my backyard, were held hostage and gunned down.

As the congregation sang the opening song and I stepped into the pulpit to speak the opening prayer, I began as always by saying, “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and rejoices in the Spirit in you.”  As always, I looked at the congregation, so many beautiful, vibrant faces before me.  Men and women of all shapes, sizes, persuasions, personalities.  Each one a divine child of God.

As news unfolded and we continued to pray for our Orlando brothers and sisters, one congregant asked whether we were going to “do something.”  Another was furious that this had “happened again.”  Later, a friend requested an encouraging word.  Another expressed sadness and wanted comfort.  Still another expressed shock and dismay.  We prayed, but it wasn’t enough.  We wanted to “feel better,” whatever that means.

Still later, I reflected on my sermon: That after we pray, we need to move our feet, get off the couch and go out into the world.  Because it’s true: Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.  After we pray, we also can act, remembering that God is where we are.

After we pray — and as we pray — we remember: Our prayers don’t change God or current events; our prayers change us.  So we can transform ourselves — and our corner of the world.  So we remember the presence of God, both with and within all of us, no matter where we live, how we look, what we believe, or who we love.  Then, with that recognition, we can choose to act courageously, centered in faith and trust, and do what is ours to do.

After we pray for those in Orlando, and remember those in San Bernardino, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colorado, among many other places, we can put feet on our prayers by:

  • Writing and/or calling all our city, state and federal legislators continually to express our outrage, opinions, hopes and beliefs, as well as working to change current legislation.
  • Registering to vote for the candidate of our choice and working to support that candidate. Then helping someone else register and agree to take them to the polls on Election Day.
  • Boycotting businesses and establishments which condemn and refuse to recognize the humanity and divinity in all people, including those who choose to live differently than we do.
  • Supporting, with our money, talents and time, the key local agencies within our cities and towns which advocate for the unheard, clothe the naked, educate the unlearned, feed the hungry, heal the sick, nurture the abused, remember the forgotten, and shelter the homeless.

After thoughts and prayers, we act, transforming ourselves, then transforming our world.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.