It was a difficult week in the life of our church. After long battles with illness, two vibrant members died. Both were much too young: Richard, who filled a room with his music and an indomitably joyful presence; and Andrea, devoted mom to her four-year old daughter, generous spirit to her extended family, lover of God’s magnificent creation. Both were surrounded by members and friends of our congregation in their final weeks.
I’ve spent virtually all of my career in the Church and have often been critical—sometimes harshly—of its policies and priorities. But it is in times like this—when a community gathers time and again to share in sadness and solidarity with those who struggle—that the church exemplifies the very best of what religion has to offer. By bringing solace and hope to those in the end stages of life and comfort and support to those left behind, people of faith model the tender mercy of a compassionate God. This week was one of those times for our New Jersey congregation.
In worship services where each was remembered, our pastor, Rev. Dave Shaw, used the phrase “precious and precarious” as particularly relevant for those moments where life and death intersect and to remind us of life’s fragility. The task before each of us is to always cherish those who are close to us, and let them know how we feel, in light of the vulnerability of life’s journey.
In the journalism world, TIME magazine built a reputation for creating stories that flow from specific events in individual lives to more universal truths that are more difficult for readers to grasp. For example, it is hard to fathom a trillion-dollar deficit, but a dollar increase in the price of gas is something easily understood—so lead with the impact of the price increase. Both things are related.
Likewise, in the Prologue of my book, Beyond the Comma, I write, “if we live in touch with both our deeply personal realities, while at the same time engaging the global forces that surround us, our sensitivities are heightened and our potential for becoming more creative, sensitive and productive (human beings) is enhanced.” Attentiveness to this “personal/universal reality” that we all experience can lead to a both a better world and a more fulfilling life.
So, I have thought a lot about Dave Shaw’s “precious and precarious” concept as it relates to this week’s events in Ukraine. The menacing sight of heavily armed troops poised for invasion is unsettling at best. It is soul-shattering if we consider the true cost of all-out war. Peace is precious. How often do we take the time to realize it? How devastating is it to contemplate the alternative? Sure, American society is riven by partisan divides. Sure, we are stuck in stubborn patterns of elitism, misogyny, racism, economic disparity and political dysfunction. But we have not had to begin our days wondering if today will be the day that a foreign army storms into cities and towns across our land.
And while we watch Vladimir Putin play his mind games—will he invade or won’t he—and watch the White House struggle to match his moves, we know that any ill-considered phrase or unexpected move could unleash incalculably destructive power. Such a global reality coupled with the events this week in my faith community, I am reminded in stark terms that whether it is in our most intimate relationships or on the international stage, that in the realities we confront each day, all of life is interrelated and it is all simultaneously both precious and precarious.