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Upside-Down Faith

The story goes that when I was a toddler, my favorite view was to put my head between my feet and look at the world upside down.  Apparently,  I spent much of my early life in this position and there are several family photos of me seeing the world from the wrong side up.  (I suppose this tells too much about me.)  I have thought often these days of trying that pose again.

The world feels upside down, for sure.  The news is painful of fires covering the west with danger and destruction.  Injustice persists, even seems to strengthen in our culture.  People are sick.  Death and sorrow abound around us.  It all might make better sense from the perspective with our heads down at my feet. Or not.

The Hebrew Bible prophet Jeremiah lived in a time that seems parallel to ours. It could be described as a very turbulent and dangerous time.  He shouted, wept, raged, cajoled, but got nowhere. He walked around naked, covered himself with dirt, to demonstrate how desperate were the times in which he lived.  I can imagine that he may have turned himself upside down to get the attention of those he was trying to reach.  But he could not change the minds and hearts of those around him to whom he prophesied.

He was a very emotional prophet, to put it mildly.

(I am purposely simplifying the story. Jeremiah’s word from God was that the people had forgotten God and needed to repent and turn away from their sins.  A few days before the Jewish High Holy Days, and for all of us, it is always a good move to turn away from what keeps us far from God and our own wholeness.  But I would not go so far as to say, with Jeremiah, that we have brought all this on ourselves, although some would certainly argue that we have. But, this is not my point.)

In the end, Jeremiah heard of a field for sale.  He bought it, with precious money, in a moment when everything was wrong.  He meant it as a symbol of faith in the future, in the return home from exile to their home, in the restoration of the faithful. It was an upside down move.

Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  That is an upside down idea.

Giving up on the world, giving in to the hardship, being hopeless is too easy.  I hope and pray for us the faith to plant trees, to buy property, to invest in the future.

It is clear that many things are wrong.  Some we can fix and some we cannot.  We wait, doing our best to hang on, to have faith for the future.  We work, doing our best to create systems of justice, or at least the longing for such a world.  We do what we can to repair the earth, the human community, the systems that govern our living. We care for each other, wearing our masks and being careful.  We do the “next right thing.”  We vote.  We work to create what we need, at Elon, in our local communities, in this nation, and in the world.

Sometimes when the world seems upside down, we have to think a little upside down too.  It may seem crazy in the moment, but it is a sign of faith and hope that things will be well, that we will be restored, and that we are not alone.  

Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011. She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect.Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary,a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness. She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.

Contact: jfuller3@elon.edu

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