Faith Matters: It’s a small world after all: Understanding our collective oneness during the Canadian wildfires crisis

By REV. CANDI ASHENDEN

Athol Congregational Church, UCC

Published: 06-09-2023 2:55 PM

Right off the bat, I need to apologize for the fact that if you read the title out loud you all now have a song in your head that will be there for days… but maybe I can use that to help you think of something other than Disney World as you sing it repetitively!

As I sat down to write this, the Canadian wildfires were ravaging swaths of the Canadian forest and experts were preparing Canada for what they feared could become the worst wildfire season the country has ever seen. And as citizens of Canada watched uncontrollable flames shoot skyward, citizens in the United States looked up to solidly gray, smoky skies. As I left my church office to return home one day in the late afternoon, just the short walk from the church door to my car across the parking lot had my coughing from the smoky air filling my lungs. Always concerned about an asthmatic response, the next time I ventured outside that day I donned the mask I still keep in my car from “COVID days.”

This experience later gave me pause as I reflected on what a truly small world we live in, and yet how insular we often feel unless and until we are directly impacted by something ourselves. If our skies had been crystal clear that week, would many of us in this part of Massachusetts have given a great deal of thought to the Canadian wildfires, beyond a mild “Oh, that’s too bad,” as we watched a news clip? I suspect not. And yet, walking with a mask on, or limiting our time outdoors because of the smoky air, how many of us began to feel compassion for our sisters and brothers in Canada who must be suffering far worse than we are, some three hundred miles closer to the fires?

Almost all faith traditions promote some understanding of all of us being children of God and all of us being neighbors. The Christian tradition I come from emphasizes not only that we need to offer love and compassion to all, but also that we must recognize that we are all part of the same whole. God created each and every one of us and loves us all. We are brothers and sisters in this world and we are all journeying along our individual paths as part of a community. Yet how often do we consciously think this, and how often are our actions and our compassion tied to this reality?

Every single “ism” in our world today occurs when we see our neighbor as “other” instead of as simply one of us. And every major war and every petty argument arises out of a lack of compassion for the neighbor in front of us.

In this month in our country, there are two major observances that are meant to open our eyes to truly see through color and sexuality and sexual preference. June is nationally known as Pride Month and there are many celebrations and pride parades that lift up those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. A new federal holiday, Juneteenth, will be observed this year for the first time as we celebrate the occasion when the last US state abolished slavery.

Many of us welcome these opportunities to celebrate others and to acknowledge the struggles that being seen as “different” can bring and the havoc it can wreak on people’s lives when hatred grows. Others of us question why these groups need to be lifted up at all.

Well, my faith teaches me that we are all one and that we must treat all with love and dignity. But as a people, we are not living into this reality. And just like the smoke from the Canadian wildfires… unless we personally see and witness the pain of another, we find it too easy to dismiss.

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When we breathe unclean, smoky air into our lungs, we instantly have compassion for those who are closer to the fires and must be struggling even more.

When we hear first hand stories, or watch videos, or read about the struggle and the fear in the gay community right now because of all the laws that are currently being passed that will limit their rights and break apart their families, we begin to truly see and understand. And suddenly they are our brothers and sisters, too.

When we watch documentaries and hear about the lives of those who were enslaved and how people treated others as objects, we begin to take in the horror of slavery in a new way. And suddenly those whose skin color differs from ours are our brothers and sisters, too.

We are all one… one people trying to make the best of our individual journeys through the life we have been given… and it is when we find ways to truly take this into our hearts that we will begin to live as if “it’s a small world after all.”

Athol Congregational Church, UCC is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” We are currently celebrating “in-person” worship as well as offering FB livestream services under “Athol Congregational Videos.” Our pastors and our members are available for conversation on our Athol Congregational Church Facebook page, and through private messages, and we would love to connect! We offer long-distance Reiki through our certified practitioners, are willing to pray with you whatever your need, and want to know you, whoever you are! We are located at 1225 Chestnut Street, Athol, MA 01331. We can be reached at 978-249-6202. Rev. Dr. Candi Ashenden, Senior Pastor; Rev. Cindy LaJoy, Outreach Pastor

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