As I ponder Christmas, I find myself wondering about what it would be like if it had all happened today. Put another way, how are you celebrating Mary’s crisis pregnancy? Are you, like Joseph, questioning love and doubting future plans?
Let’s unpack the above a little.
What does it mean to say Mary’s crisis pregnancy? Do you think that Mary, a young teenage girl, had this planned out all her life? That’s not to say that God didn’t have it planned? For Mary, it was a crisis. Why? Mary was betrothed to be married to Joseph. Betrothed is more than engagement, but not quite marriage. She was betrothed and pregnant and Joseph was NOT the baby daddy. Joseph was going to quietly divorce her. Mary, who was pregnant outside of marriage, was soon to be dumped by the man Mary was going to marry. Things were not looking good for “highly favored” Mary the one whom all generations will call “blessed among women.” Imagine the struggle Mary faced after accepting the word of the Angel of the Lord.
Imagine also the struggle that Joseph faced. All he knows is that his fiancé is pregnant by another, just days from their marriage. Joseph was a righteous man. He did right according to God and God’s Law. The right thing for Joseph to do, upon finding out that his fiancé was pregnant and knowing he was not the father was to quietly divorce her. He could, in fact, have publicly accused her of infidelity and had her stoned (read killed) for her adultery. He instead, mercifully, chooses to quietly dismiss her. She won’t be killed, but the wedding is canceled and people will talk. She will be shamed and abandoned in their small community.
Are there people like Mary and Joseph today? Are there young women today who are struggling with an unplanned pregnancy? Are there men (and women) like Joseph who give only judgement of pregnant women (or girls) in crisis?
If you could help, what would you do? Where would you take a young (teenage) and unmarried Mary in crisis facing abandonment by her Joseph? There are options. One option is the Fyndout Free Pregnancy Center, a place where pregnancy status is confirmed for free and support provided. FYND (For Your Next Decision) helps pregnant women (and dads) in crisis. They’re located at 1402 Wilbur Street, Fairbanks and are open Tuesday – Friday. Their number is (907) 455-8255 and their website is: https://fyndoutfree.com/
Here at St. Paul Church, we support the Fyndout Free Clinic to help young moms in crisis. We support as a church and we support individually. We do this, because we care and it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps we honor Mary and remember Christmas when we do so. Certainly we honor our Lord Jesus Christ in this midst it of all. Please pray for all facing the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. It is always easier to judge, than to help. Take a moment and help. Merry Christmas to all the struggling Marys out there and to all.
The Rev. Stephen Reed
Pastor, St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop next to Mushers Hall
Chaplain, Fairbanks PD
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Faith Section on December 27, 2019
We are halfway through Advent. What is Advent? It is the 4 week season that began on Sunday December 1st and continues to Tuesday December 24. Advent is also the beginning of the Church year. What does all this mean for you? It means that Advent is a time to look back to ponder Mary (an unwed pregnant teenager), Joseph (most famous stepdad), & Jesus (long promised baby messiah) in a manger in Bethlehem. Advent is also a time to look forward to Jesus returning in the clouds. How does Advent affect you? We can go deeper than nativities, shopping, carols, and Christmas lights.
Advent continued this past Sunday with readings from Isaiah, Romans, and Matthew. In Isaiah we heard prophesy of a time when all creation is at peace; the wolf and the lamb, children and poisonous snakes, bears and cows, etc. We live in Alaska. We know bears and wolves, but happily not snakes. We know that bears and wolves are predators to be respected and feared. We know that peaceful co-existence of predator and prey (wolves and sheep, cows and bears) is counter intuitive. Isaiah is powerful to hear and contemplate.
In the reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, Paul encourages the church “…to live in harmony with one another…” Harmony and peaceful co-existence within a church is not always easy. God is again at work in a mighty, powerful, and meaningful way.
In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, we hear of John the Baptist. He is a unique character in the Gospel. He is a rugged individualist who speaks against religious leaders and gathers followers in the wilderness. He survives off the land and baptizes in the river while proclaiming one who is greater. I can imagine him doing well in Alaska.
What do these three readings have in common? They are all examples, to quote from the Lord’s prayer, of “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” Consider the implications of that phrase. Whose kingdom? Is it a kingdom in Fairbanks, Juneau, or Washington DC? Who is on the throne of this Kingdom? Is it an elected official of a particular party? Are you on the throne of your kingdom?
Whose will are you most concerned about? Is it the will of the majority of residents of Fairbanks, or Alaska, or our great nation? Maybe it’s your own will or the will of your family and friends that most concerns you. That’s certainly understandable. What would it be like if we lived a life wherein “God’s will” was more important than each of our own wills? How would that work? What would that feel like?
We are halfway through Advent. Christmas is quickly approaching. We see Jesus in a barn, for there was no room for the Messiah and his family. Do you make room for the Messiah? We also look to the clouds for Jesus’ return. Do you imagine what that will be like? We hear prophesies of a completely different world following Jesus’ return and the coming of His kingdom. Do you ponder how things will change?
I wish you a meaningful Advent and a very Merry Christmas. Ponder the thoughts above as you look back to the manger, forward to the second coming, and all around for God’s Kingdom and Will to be done.
The Rev. Stephen Reed
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Faith section on December 13, 2019
This article is written for all who struggle with suicide.
Imagine for a moment that we were losing 22 servicemen (and women) a day in oversea combat operations (what we call war) in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc. Now imagine that we were losing 154 servicemen (and women) a week in these, and other, areas. Now imagine we were losing over 615 servicemen (and women) a month. Imagine this went on day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. There are statistics that we are losing 22 Veterans a Day to suicide.
This article is written for Active Duty and Veterans and for all who struggle with suicide.
If you are Active Duty, or a Veteran, and are having a really hard time dealing with everything, then stop and talk. Will the person you talk with understand? Did he (or she) see what you’ve seen, hear what you’ve heard, or experience what you’ve experienced? Has he or she felt guilty for living and being while others are gone forever?
No. He or she has not walked in your boots and has not endured what you endured. No.
But, you can still talk! You can still try! Talk!
Why? Because you’re important, that’s why. Because the world, your unit, your brothers (and sisters) in arms are better for your presence. Because when you’re gone, you’re gone. Then only the enemy wins. Live for the ones who didn’t. Only the enemy wants you dead. Talk!
Some fear a stigma of mental health, depression, PTSD, Survivor’s Guilt, and much more. Some worry that seeking help won’t be good for their career. I need to tell you something straight up: Your suicide will not be good for your career. Suicide is career ending. Talk!
Suicide is a taboo subject. If we talk about it someone might commit suicide. People are already committing suicide; not talking about suicide is not stopping suicide and it’s not helping anyone. If you think someone is suicidal, or if you’re reading this and you’re suicidal, then talking about it can actually help. It gets it out in the open. Talk!
Some believe that a person who talks about suicide isn’t serious. Almost everyone who makes a fatal attempt tells someone first. Some keep deadly secrets and won’t tell others when someone has told them that they can’t take it anymore and just want to end it, or that the world would be a better place without them. Deadly secrets have deadly outcomes. Don’t keep deadly secrets. Better to have an angry friend than lose one forever. Talk!
Some believe that talking about or attempting suicide is attention seeking behavior – that the person isn’t serious. When a person says something that makes you think that they are suicidal then listen and take it seriously, it may be their last conversation. Talk!
Some believe that if a person is serious about suicide then nothing can be done to prevent it. Something can be done and that’s listening and getting the person help through the Emergency Room, Crisis Line, or counseling centers. The life you save may be your friend, family, neighbor, or stranger. Talk!
Why do people attempt suicide? There are many reasons including an overwhelming sense of pain, hopelessness, and helplessness. Life can be deeply painful including, but not limited to, losses of family, ability, job, relationships and endurance of abuse at school, work, home, or online. Some who attempt suicide have a prior mental health diagnosis while others have no prior mental health history and seem to act impulsively with alcohol and firepower. Talk!
For a moment let’s consider this – you’re overwhelmed by losses and pain in your life, you’re in a dark and desperate state and you want it to end. Life can be terrible and deeply painful. Sometimes the pain comes from surviving when others did not. Yes, people of all faiths and backgrounds experience overwhelming adversity. Imagine, or acknowledge, that you’re thinking of killing yourself. What are you to do? Suicide is a desperate gamble. Would you gamble all that’s important to you on a bet? I mean what’s really important like your life, family, and everything you value on a bet? Most would say no, they wouldn’t gamble absolutely everything on a bet. Yet that’s exactly what you’re doing when attempting suicide – you’re gambling everything, your very life, that the pain will stop and you’ll be better. What if you’re wrong? Talk!
In a prior job, I used to talk with people every day who were dying, family of people who had died, and people who had attempted suicide. Each and every day. I asked people who had attempted suicide if they wanted to be happy or dead? I would ask if they could recall or describe a time when they were happy and how they could get to that place again. Some described terribly abusive domestic violence relationships. I said that love is neither fearful, violent, nor abusive. People would say that they didn’t so much want to die when they attempted suicide, but that they just didn’t want their circumstances to continue and couldn’t see any other possible way out. Talk!
I have spoken on many, many occasions with survivors of suicide – the family and friends of a person who has taken their own life. Survivors experience tremendous guilt and pain about what could have been done to prevent a suicide. If you’re reading this and you’re a survivor then you need to know that you are not responsible for someone else’s actions. You are not. If you’re considering suicide then please know that people will not be better off without you. You are not a burden. Also know that suicide is contagious. Ask people who have attempted and they will tell you of family, friends, classmates, and co-workers who took their own life. Talk!
Suicide is not limited to one race, income, faith, orientation, or gender. It is an equal opportunity killer. What are warning signs of suicide? There are many and they include, but are not limited to: suicide of a friend or relative, prior suicide attempts, saying that you want to die or end it all, depression, substance abuse, giving away items of special value and/or getting your affairs in order, changes in sleep and/or eating, self-isolating from friends and family, outbursts of anger or crying, failures in school or work, apathy about the present or the future, a sudden change in attitude to happiness from anger and sadness. Talk!
This has been a painful article to write. I felt it necessary due to the prevalence of suicide in our community, state, and nation. Suicide is in our schools, churches, military, theaters, First Responders, families, veterans, and homes. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.
If you’re considering suicide call the FAIRBANKS Crisis Line 24 hours / 7 days at (907) 452- 4357 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Text: any message to 838255
Call Fort Wainwright Behavior Health Clinic at (907) 361-6059
If you’ve lost someone to suicide call Hospice at 458-3090 for free grief support and the Suicide Survivors Support group that meets the 2nd Wednesday of each month from 6-8pm.
A Suicide Support Group meets the last Wednesday of each month the Arctic Resource Center for Suicide Prevention from 6-8pm. Call Jim Wisland at 907-987-6829 for more information.
You can call me at St. Paul Church at (907) 479-7998
Online: http://suicideprevention.nv.gov/Youth/Myths/, https://www.psf.org/
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s Faith section, Nov 15, 2019.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 13:15 English Standard Version)
With this verse in mind, consider First Responders.
Often, a person’s encounter with First Responders begins with a crisis. Someone needs help. It may be something that has happened, or it may be happening right now! The crisis is followed by a phone call to 911. On the other end of the phone call, a trained and experienced professional answers. They have likely never spoken before, but in this fateful moment they meet and the 911 professional is a lifeline for a person, or persons, in crisis.
After ascertaining the situation, the appropriate resource is dispatched to the call. It may be a fire fighter, a law enforcement officer, and/or an ambulance crew.
Consider for a moment each of these First Responders.
Like all First Responders, fire fighters willingly enter life-threatening situations without knowing who they rescue or whose homes they enter. They simply go. Fire Fighters are trained, equipped, and experienced. These professionals not only fight fires, but also respond to calls for medical assistance, constantly train and maintain (themselves and their equipment), and much, much more.
Next are the Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs). Like all First Responders, they respond to calls for service from friends and strangers. They lay down their lives in the service of all, starting when they swear an oath and continuing on patrol. LEOs carry and train with firearms and willingly enter dangerous situations to save lives and engage threats. Sometimes LEOs get a bad rap for giving out speeding tickets. Go to the scene of an accident where a young person has lost their life speeding and crashing, and you’ll understand that you should slow down. Go to notify next of kin that a loved one won’t ever be coming home, and you’ll really understand.
Next are the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Paramedics that make up the Ambulance Crew. These are the people who get down and dirty in bodily fluids, blood-borne pathogens, and interpersonal dynamics and conflicts. They too lay down their lives for friends and strangers.
What do all these First Responders have in common? Each lays down his/her life for friends and strangers. Each has an incredibly stressful and stress filled job and carries the burden encountering people on their worse day or last day. Each go where others fear to tread. All make a tremendous difference in the lives of many! The next time you see a First Responder, stop and say thank you to the very people who lay down their lives for you – whether you be friend or stranger.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s Faith section, Aug 2, 2019.
Happy Lent! Is that an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms?
Lent began on Ash Wednesday, March 6. Many Christians spend 40 days, plus 6 Sundays observing Lent — can’t really say celebrating — by preparing for Jesus’ death and resurrection while remembering Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.
How does one “observe” Lent? Some give up favorite chocolates or other candy treats. To be clear, Lent is more than a diet opportunity. Some fast from meals, recalling Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness. Consult with your doctor prior to fasting.
I am sometimes asked what to give up for Lent. I suggest giving up sin. That sounds nice, or at least Catholic, but how is it done?
Sin is an offense against God and one another. Imagine for a moment intentionally taking time to not offend God or one another. It’s a fairly impossible task, especially online, but it is worth the effort.
If you were, somehow, able to give up sin, would that be enough?
The short answer is no.
Avoiding sin is good, but how does that help your neighbor and community?
What if, while giving up sin, you decided to make a difference?
What if you offered to help? You can make a difference at the Food Bank, Rescue Mission, The Door, Stevie’s Place, Fairbanks Native Association, Love INC, Bread Line, Interior Alaska Center for Non-violent Living, Literacy Council, American Red Cross, Fairbanks Youth Advocates, your neighborhood school and/or church.
There are many, many places where you can serve and make a difference. It says in Matthew chapter 25 that when we help people in need, we are helping Jesus. Where do you start? Start with prayer asking God to guide you. How do you want to make a difference? Who can you help? How can you help? Then make some phone calls, and/or visits and get started.
We are in the midst of Lent. Jesus is headed for Jerusalem. Honor his sacrifice by giving up sin. Start with something attainable like making a list and trying. Lent ends with the resurrection. Celebrate by making a difference throughout Lent. None of this is going to be easy. Yes, you are going to stumble, fall and fail. But you’ll get back up like “Captain Marvel” — great movie! — and you’ll try again. Others will judge you – it’s always easier to judge than to do. God isn’t looking for perfection, just for your heart and soul to be right.
You can do this. You will do this. You are doing this.
This Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish need our help. Everyone does. Pray for our first responders, police, fire, dispatch and paramedics. Pray for our service members, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Pray for all families as they await their safe return.
The Rev. Stephen Reed is a chaplain at the Fairbanks Police Department and a pastor at St. Paul Church on Farmers Loop. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Faith section on March 15, 2019
Married 25 years, 2 kids, 1 cat and 1 dog. Ordained & Chaplain for 20 years. Ministry philosophy - we're all in this together and Jesus leads the way. Hobbies: working in the woodshed, teaching, and competitive shooting