Kernels of Hope

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Referring to the current world scene, one magazine writer used the phrase “rise in hate, kernels of hope.” I don’t deny the rise-in-hate part: it’s everywhere! But I prefer to point to the kernels of hope wherever I see them, particularly because some kernels become seeds that sprout and grow as others pick up the idea and adapt it to their situation, with a surprising ripple-out effect.

Often the hopeful kernels sparkle more in a local setting. Like 11,083 turkeys that Sacramento (California) television viewers donated. The givers drove to one spot to personally deliver their turkeys. Later, local families who otherwise couldn’t afford a Thanksgiving dinner arrived to receive the gifts. What was stunning was not just the number of turkeys, Turkey, cookedgiven within a two-week period, but the appreciative smiles and radiant faces of those who gladly stood in line to receive the food. The recipients included children, adults and grandparents of every background, many of them dressed in clothes that would not have distinguished them on the street. Hunger is real and pervasive. But so is “lovingkindness,” one translation of the Bible word hesed, covenant faithfulness and loyalty. The Scriptures use it in reference to both God and people.

Yes, there is plenty of hateful stuff to deal with in the world these days. But even in the midst of it, person-to-person giving and receiving can bring hope to one family at a time.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

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Animals Know

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I’m one of the honored few. Our horse Tuxedo greets me regularly the way trusting horses meet one another: by coming nose-to-nose, breathing in each other’s breath. It takes trust, especially for a human being: one push of his head against my face could knock me silly. But it’s trust on his part, too – an affirmation of kinship that has nothing to do with dominance.

Tux and Gunner CROP at grinding rockAnimals know a lot more than many human beings do. Some new friends of ours came to our property today especially to meet our horses. The wife carries a portable oxygen tank and does very well with it. When she came close to our other horse, Gunner (my special guy), he rested his nose on her chest, as if he knew her need for healing in her lungs. It was a God moment for all four of us human beings.

When we steward our relationships with others, we begin by paying attention, listening, watching and learning. And when the animals we care for are teaching us, there is a lot of compassion to learn.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

A New Look at Hebrews

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scrollWhat are rituals, anyway? My Quaker husband uses that term for symbolic outward actions in worship. I prefer the United Methodist description of sacraments: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” This is true when we prepare ourselves for worship, anyway: for Holy Communion or baptism, or really any time we gather for worship together. The Quakers call this a “gathered meeting.” But whatever words we use, it is amazing when God is truly present and we’re open to perceiving it!

Enter the Book of Hebrews. I’ve always found it theologically dense, no doubt because it begins with the former Jewish Temple worship of animal sacrifice. That’s anathema to me. But it ends up revealing Jesus Christ as both the greatest High Priest and the ultimate sacrifice, a channel for God’s forgiving human sin and ending the necessity for any further sacrifice for all time.

But here is where today’s surprise reading came in. While I hate anything related to sacrifices, I value highly any outward actions that reflect the “inward and spiritual grace” that God has done and keeps doing on my behalf and on behalf of us all. Using classical Christian terms, these grateful-for-grace actions are the “sanctification” that follows justification – however we live our lives in response to God’s overwhelming love, compassion and forgiveness.

Wait a minute. That’s stewardship, isn’t it?

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

All Saints Day

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ICandles in glass jarst was a moving act of worship on Sunday, All Saints Day. People chose to come forward to light votive candles in memory of those who have inspired and helped shape their lives. I thought of my parents, mother-in-law, grandmother, two teachers and two mentors, all of whom have tried to “tame this wild beast” along the way. Each one of them shared powerful, positive lessons by the way that they lived.

Generous-hearted living is like a jewel with many facets. It embraces everything from how a person nurtures caring relationships to his or her fruitful use of time, involvement and advocacy. I’m filled with gratitude when I think about the God-trusting people who have come before us.

They remind me of this passage from Psalm 102: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to G_d;**  and all the families of the nations shall worship before God. For dominion belongs to G_d, and God rules over the nations.” May we live as such saints for those who will come after us!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

** – This term is a substitute for the personal name God gave to Moses, which literally means “He who begets or gives birth to all that is becoming or alive” (so biblical Hebrew linguist Frank Cross). Our Jewish sisters and brothers do not write or pronounce the name, to honor God.