Shining by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Welcome to 2018! I don’t know how 2017 was for you, but I think it’s safe to assume that the coming year will bring even more social change and political madness -- so let’s take a moment to pause and brace ourselves in anticipation of the coming mess.

But for all that we must remember that the future belongs to Christ, and as much as we are in Christ the future belongs to us, too. All these seismic shakeups in the foundations of how the world works are opening cracks, little opportunities for God’s light to shine in. Even apparently negative changes can bring positive backlash, as we have seen!

In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that as carriers of God’s light our example can shape how even the most aloof and powerful people behave. He talks about how the church, by uniting Jew and Greek, (people that hated, misunderstood, and even killed one another) makes known “the wisdom of God in its rich variety” to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Our job is to make peace with our personal, tribal, and national enemies. God will make sure that our example gets noticed by those in power. So as we consider 2018 and all that may happen in the next twelve months, let’s not forget the part we have to play; to find someone we fear or disagree with, and turn them into a friend, calling them to be fellow heirs of the Kingdom through Christ’s love.

My heartfelt blessings go out to you all, that this year be easy and inspiring,

Praise Gives Perspective by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

Well, the cold has finally come in earnest. On days like these my heart goes out to those who don’t have a warm place to sleep. It seems incredible that anyone or anything could survive when the temperature remains below freezing for days, even weeks, on end.

But as harsh and inhuman as the cold may be, Psalm 148 reminds us that, along with all the other seemingly chaotic and destructive forces in creation, it exists to praise God. “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!”

What does it mean for the Psalm to call all things, even deadly and dangerous things, things indifferent or frankly hostile to humanity, to praise God? Do we imagine that stormy winds and the vacuum of space have choice or intelligence in the human sense of those words? I don’t think that’s the point the psalm is making; instead, I think it teaches us something about what “praise” means.

Yes, praise is something we humans choose to do, an act of will and voice and body. But in Psalm 148 praise is also something much broader and more profound -- it is the glory that is given to God whenever anything, human or nonhuman alike, acts in accordance with God’s word. On a clear, cold night when we look up and it seems that the stars are singing, we are to join with them; doing the dance, living out the dynamics of a beautifully ordered creation, appreciating the life spun for us on the Master’s loom.

This kind of praise gives us perspective, reminds us that God’s will goes beyond peace and goodwill among people. It re-centers us on the Creator and gives us a sense of camaraderie with the moon and sun, the waves and mountains. Even the cutting cold is able, in its proper time and proper way, to be part of giving praise to God, whose glory is above earth and heaven.

May all our lives reflect that praise.

Blessings of broad perspective be with you all as we survey the past year and look to the next,

Strength for the Season by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

I hope this finds each of you in high spirits and peak health, but if your December has been anything like mine then you may be feeling a bit run down right about now. The holidays are certainly a wonderful time but they can also be a lot of work -- ever feel like you need a vacation after coming back from vacation? Not to mention those of us who are battling illness or dealing with conflicts… for many people, “the happiest time of the year” can be pretty rough!

So I came to this week’s lectionary scriptures looking for something to bolster and empower, and my eye fell on Romans 16:25-27, Paul’s final words to the church in Rome. It’s a prayer of praise - giving glory to God - but you have to fight your way through three verses of Paul’s famous word salad to figure that out. In fact, it took me a good long while to figure out that Paul is offering praise for how God strengthens us, individually and as a church.

We are strengthened, says Paul, by four things: By the good news shared by Paul; by the teachings of Jesus the Messiah; by the revelation of a mystery (presumably the mystery of God’s self-sacrificing love); and by the command of God. 
How do we know God will have our backs, will be with us even when we are bent out of shape by stress or fear or frustration? Because we know the story of Jesus and we have seen that story replayed in our own lives: God is on the side of those who suffer. 

So in the midst of your celebrations and feasts, don’t forget to remember the brokenhearted. And if a low moment comes to you, too, try to pause and let yourself feel the Lord there with you in a special way. Such moments are an opportunity to remember the deep wellspring of strength that lies buried in each of our hearts because we are acquainted with Emmanuel, God With Us. 

God’s strength be with you this and every day,

Bright Sunshiny Day by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

What a clear, beautiful day after the swirling, bitter cold. There was a point last night when it seemed like the snow would blow forever. You’d think that after a decade or two of riding the ups and downs of life we’d finally get used to how quickly and profoundly things can change, but there’s always that part of us which still thinks that whatever we’re experiencing at the moment is all that matters.

But no darkness lasts forever, and when things change it can be with wonderful speed. I thank God for the moment of national repentance that we are passing through with the #MeToo movement, a movement begun ten years ago to help lower income women of color band together and deflect the shame of sexual exploitation and harassment from them and back onto the perpetrators. Now their courage and hard work are paying off for our whole society as the silent plague of daily harassment is lifted in one workplace after another.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.” We have heeded the Apostle Paul’s words; we have finally listened to some of our prophets.

But just as the blue skies and bright sun today won’t last forever, this moment of clarity is already under threat by a backlash. Some of the backlash is reasonable; yes, we don’t want a humorless world, nor one where single people aren’t free to flirt. And of course we have to be wary of false accusations, as always. However, the vast majority of the backlash against #MeToo is a plain attempt to go back to the old ways of silence, complicity, and constant abuse.

Just because the night is coming doesn’t mean we have to meet it unprepared. We can do work in the day that will make a permanent difference, no matter how bad things get. Certainly there’s reason to hope that #MeToo has produced a lasting change in what we consider acceptable behavior. As the Apostle says,

"May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The warm rays of God’s truth be with all of you this week,

Finding God's Fight by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

It’s been almost two weeks since I promised to follow up on your brainstorming about how to effectively fight, using the weapons of Christ, for the coming of God’s Kingdom. In particular, I challenged all of us to look for ways to put our money where our mouth is, to think about how we can use economic action like strikes and boycotts to put backbone in our symbolic and spiritual acts, our protests and prayers.

I’m glad that I waited to hear Sam’s message last week on “Embracing the Messiness of Peacemaking” before getting back to you because her message is an important part of this; as you may have found if you tried to research the issues that God has placed on your heart, this stuff does get messy fast. As soon as you start talking about using money to pursue justice you step into muddy, muddy waters.

We’ve got to accept that. Mistakes will be made and barriers encountered, but we muddle along and do our best because for those walking in Christ’s way doing nothing in the face of so much suffering and destruction is impossible. Of course we try to find as much clarity as we can, and one good way to do that is to look at local issues and local power players, to call for local action.

So what have you seen? What do you know? It doesn’t have to directly relate to preventing warfare, although of course that is a hugely important concern. Is there a gas station famous for ignoring its leaking fuel tanks? Is there a hospital famous for overcharging and hidden costs? Is there a nursing home where people are mistreated? I invite you to reply to this email with your knowledge and your concerns. Together we can make a difference here in the New River Valley. If we find the right tipping point, if God is with us, even a small stone can start an avalanche.

May God bless us with the awareness and the eagerness to be that small stone.

God’s peace be with and through you all,