“What Can We Name That Is Ours?” By Fritz Weiss

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 29, 2020, by Fritz Weiss, a member of Portland Friends Meeting (NEYM)

One of the ways I understand the world is through stories.  I am beginning today’s message with two stories.

God’s truck: For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bob owned a small Toyota pick-up truck. It was mostly for bringing in his winter wood, but even after he started having his wood delivered, he kept a truck.  For the twenty years I lived nearby, anytime I needed a truck, I could use Bob’s.  He would buy it, insure it and register it, and I would maintain it, inspect it and keep it fueled.  Bob also gave the church next door a key and they used it whenever they had need, and he gave a key to the family shelter who used it to move families into the shelter or into housing. I think for the last five years of his life, Bob never drove his truck.  He referred to it as “God’s truck”.  It was ours, and it was the church’s and it was the shelter’s truck.

We don’t do that in Sharon: In Vermont, the first Saturday in May is Green-up Day.  Communities organize to clean the roads of any litter exposed by the melting snow.  In Sharon, my town, I was on the conservation commission and we organized a community wide day of picking up litter, sorting the trash, cleaning the riverbanks, collecting scrap metal, used tires, motor oil and electronics.  At the end of the day we had a community pizza party hosted by the local high school.  It could be discouraging as year after year there was so much litter to clean up.  One November morning as I walked into the local store before work, Dustin drove up in his truck and jumped out.  He was excited, and told us how, as he drove to work, he had seen someone throwing garbage over the guard rail.  He had stopped his truck and jumped out and told the driver “We don’t do that in Sharon!” and had made the man climb over the guard rail, pick up all the trash and put it back in the truck.  And then he thanked me for organizing Green-up every year. In our community effort and celebration, we had created a community value that we shared, that was ours.

This summer the FUM mission project was supporting Friends in Turkana, Kenya.  There was no travel, so the support was virtual.  In an FUM newsletter a query for the children was posed. “In Turkana, land is held in common for the use of the whole community, and there are no title deeds for privately owned land in Turkana County. Can you think of some things that are ours, rather than mine or yours?”  This query stayed with me and eventually led me to remember the two stories I just told.  This morning I am sharing some of the thoughts that were prompted by this query.

In the same newsletter there have been excerpts from Howard Thurman’s essays. In one of these he wrote about how Jesus taught at a moment in history when the Roman Empire had taken all that the people of Israel thought of as theirs – their kingdom, their city, their temple – and in that moment Jesus taught a new story  that ours is the kingdom of god, that we all are welcome, we all belong and that there is enough.

What can we name that is Ours?  … the kingdom of god, this meeting, our relationships, shared experiences, God’s truck, shared community values  ..

And then if all this is ours, then how do we forget and begin thinking of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ instead.

What contributes to thinking of “mine” “yours” “theirs”.  What separates us from each other, and in so doing, separates us from the divine;

In our moment in history there is a powerful story being told, that there is not enough and the other is going to take my safety away, it is a story of fear and anger and greed and pride which divides us from each other. It is a story of ‘othering’.  A story that tells us that some of us do not belong, are not welcome that there is not enough.

The query for the children left me with the query, “Are we able to tell the powerful stories of a kingdom that is ours, where we are with and of each other, profoundly connected? Can we tell these stories with power and salience such that minds are changed? Can we respond to the story of fear and anger with stories that connect us?  Stories which convince that there is enough for all, and that each in our own particularity is welcome.  Stories of thanksgiving.  It is one of the challenges of this time for people of faith. To tell the new story again.  As I say this, I realize that this is a call to evangelism! To share the good news.

Last week I joined the program offered by the BTS center (the successor organization to the Bangor Theological Seminary) on “Imagining a new Church”. Each of the two guests cited Wendell Berry’s poem “What we Need is Here” and the program closed with the entire poem read as a closing blessing.  I am closing today’s message with the last few lines of that poem.

“… what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.”