In Theory: Looking back, looking forward

Q. As you look back on 2010, what most affected you spiritually and challenged your belief system? And how will that impact you as you confront 2011?


At this time of year, we often are inspired to make New Year's resolutions. And, in this age when there are many in our society and our world who seem to be pointing to divisions among people of various religious faiths, I believe that the most important resolutions we can make as individuals and members of religious groups are to look for the ways in which we are alike, rather than the ways in which we are different. We may not share the same religious language, and we may not always agree on the methods to use to achieve our goal. But I am convinced that we can still find ways to work together for the good of all, and I am saddened when we fail to live up to that high calling.

With that in mind, I am inspired in this New Year by the following words, written by Unitarian Universalist minister The Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed:

"The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice. It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed."

I hope that as people of faith, whatever our religious tradition, we will all be encouraged to live up to the best that we know and to help make the world a better place for those of the multiplicity of racial, cultural, national, and religious groups in our country and the world. May we work together to live our shared resolutions into being in 2011 and beyond.

Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills


As time is flying, I am moving into a new year of milestones. It does make me sit up and reflect on what's gone on and what will go on.

This past year was an unusually rich time of travel for me, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime rare. I scrambled together every cent and took a package trip with Pilgrim Tours and visited the seven cities of Revelation in Turkey. Where there were once thriving churches, today there are only minarets dotting the landscape.

Afterward, we traveled to Germany to witness the Passionsspiele in Oberammergau, a production of the crucifixion of Christ presented only once every decade since the 1600s. I and some other Christians also hopped a train and went to the Dachau concentration camp memorial. It was quite something, this juxtaposition of Nazi atrocity and the murder of Christ, both presented in the birthplace of the Reformation.

On a denominational trip to Massachusetts, I was able to walk the steps of the witch hysteria in Salem, and imagine the lives of the Pilgrims down in Plymouth Plantation and aboard the Mayflower II.

Touching all these places of faith history have changed me and will forever be part of me.

This past year I also attended a Living From The Heart men's retreat that wrenched my guts out and shoved them back in, spiritually speaking. I could barely contain myself immediately after, but I had experienced a deep sense of God's love for every sinner. It only reinforced for me the needfulness of his grace in salvation.

And Christmas was unusually rich. It was less about "Jingle Bells" and more about Jesus' birth. I stressed less, learned some new carols, and got very devotional as a result of preaching a month-long Advent series.

I don't know what's in store for 2011, but God does, and my New Year's resolution is to draw closer to him for whatever comes.

Rev. Bryan Griem

Montrose Community Church


2010 was a challenging year economically, politically and morally.

I work as an executive-benefits consultant to large corporations and see the economic challenges that they and their employees face. In December, a consulting organization that I was with many years until two years ago announced that it was closing its doors. More than 400 employees were forced to start looking for jobs during the Christmas season. Most were in shock over the unexpected announcement.

As attested to by the 2010 mid-term elections and the political rhetoric surrounding them, this country is politically deeply divided. We have serious economic and social issues that, although apparent, are not being adequately addressed, in my estimation, by politicians, regardless of their side of the political aisle.

After several dances at the local high schools this fall, some of our youth have said that they are not comfortable in attending additional dances because of the inappropriate conduct of their peers at those dances. Unfortunately, I think this is a symptom of a larger problem. Perhaps I am just getting old, but when the youth start complaining, I have to be concerned.

I graduated from college in the early 1980s after the worst of the last recession was over, the Cold War was starting to wind down and opportunity and optimism were picking up. As I looked forward at that time, I was excited about the future.

As I stand at the beginning of 2011 nearly 30 years later, I ask the question, where am I? Hopefully, my age has not made me a pessimist, but I do have reservations about the future. My hope is that we, as a country, can overcome the current economic, political and moral crisis that we face. We have done so in the past.

Spiritually, the challenge for me is, and will always be, to be more Christ-like — to reach out to those in need and to touch lives for the better. With my human frailties, it is difficult to live up to such ideals. But therein lays the challenge.

Rick Callister

Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, La Cañada


To tell you about my spiritual challenges of 2010, I have to share my Greek yacht metaphor. I once chartered a 40-foot yacht with two friends and a skipper. As we sailed the Aegean Sea from island to island, the huge vista of sky and ocean was overwhelming. We were pinpoints of presence in an endless sea. I found this oddly soothing. My mind stopped its usual frantic activity and was still for the first time in years. My friend, on the other hand, was thrown off by the experience, and compensated by focusing on the dishes in the galley sink and the smell in her cabin. While I understood her fears, our onboard conversations began to reveal a frustrating consciousness gap. The trip was amazing. I hope she remembers the beauty more than the discomfort.

The Greek yacht metaphor describes my moments of spiritual malaise. When I find my energy absorbed, for example, by irritation at the neighbors who use the church's front yard as their doggie dumping ground, I know that I have become like the worshipper who cannot praise God if there is a typo in the bulletin. I have lost sight of the magnificent vista all around me and I am focused on something that seems controllable and safe. I might even be using my irritation as an excuse to avoid being overwhelmed by staggering beauty and the conundrum of endless possibility.

I can see when this happens to my church members.

I can see when it happens in our country. In 2010, when some Americans protested mosques in lieu of learning anything about Islam, that narrowness and fear affected all of us spiritually. When certain Christians decided that the veracity and vitality of their faith depended on denying marriage to gay couples, that narrowness and fear affected all of us spiritually. Who are we to limit or ignore the endless vista of God's mercy and goodness?

In 2011, I pray to remember and teach the surprising peace that I found in the beauty.

The Rev. Paige Eaves

Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church


Thankfully, my greatest challenge in 2010 didn't rise from a crisis or from some sudden disaster. It came from the need to persevere through the grind of daily life in a world that desperately needs to be redeemed by Jesus Christ. Until his return, "the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now," says Paul in Romans 8. He continues: "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."

We all struggle with frustrations, faults and failures in ourselves and from others. We all face the challenge of simply putting one foot in front of the other to persevere in God's will for our lives. Going into 2011, I plan to let a few biblical truths guide me. Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary." I will remember that God is sovereign in his plan for my life, as Proverbs 20:24 reminds us: "Man's steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?" I will depend upon God's promise in Psalm 138:8: "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; thy loving kindness, O Lord, is everlasting." God has revealed these encouraging truths for every struggling person to claim through His Son Jesus Christ.

Pastor Jon Barta

Valley Baptist Church 


The year 2010 was, to say the least, a very "interesting" one. The stress of challenging economic times like these can either bring out the best, or the worst, in people. I can thankfully say that I saw the positive elements of humankind shine forth in a powerful way. Much of what I experienced over the last 12 months enhanced my belief in the fundamentally good nature of people, and in the positive effect that religion can have on the individual. The result was that my own belief system, far from being shaken, was exponentially strengthened.

It is no secret that charities such as houses of worship and non-profit organizations are among the first institutions to be affected by an economic downturn. I have seen the levels of donations decrease steadily over the past two years, and this in turn has severely hampered our ability to reach out and assist others. At the same time, however, I've approached various charitable individuals who have been less affected by the recession and asked them to make up for the shortfall. Almost every single person I contacted gladly agreed to double, or even triple, his or her previous financial commitment. Even those who (through no fault of their own) were unable to meet their past commitments were very apologetic and adamant that they support our work in other ways.

These experiences left me with renewed confidence in humanity, particularly in its ability to rise to the occasion in tough times and help those who are less fortunate. Let us hope that this new year provides us with a new set of challenges — such as how to further assist our community with the abundant charitable donations that will result from our booming economy in 2011. And to that I say, Amen!

Rabbi Simcha Backman

Chabad Jewish Center

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