Without a doubt, the most important local event this past year is the recovery effort following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. In the days immediately following a natural disaster, the area is swarmed with emergency personnel, people trained to remove the damaged property, government agencies and the media.
Then volunteers come in to help remove property that can't be recovered, sort it according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's standards and salvage what they can. Many of those volunteers are work teams from churches that also bring meals for those affected by the disaster, who often forget to eat when faced with the overwhelming task in front of them.
Sometimes pastors walk the streets to listen to and be present with those affected. Sometimes they pray together.
Once all of the homes are mucked out, potential mold avoided and after the media leave, people who volunteered forget about their neighbor's need and go back to their lives. As we read stories of government grants, we think we are no longer needed because people can afford to hire people to rebuild.
The truth is, the longest physical stage will begin in the spring: rebuilding. Many of those impacted didn't have flood insurance and the funds from the government aren't enough to repair or rebuild their homes. Many of the homes will only be rebuilt through efforts like the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams, who work for free for a week and are replaced by another team the next week.
But there's a shortage of volunteers. Contact your religious leader to get a team together. Maybe you have to work with other religious institutions in town or even ask anyone in your town if they want to join a team. It doesn't matter who you work with, it's the people you help that are important.
Statewide, the biggest issue was the approval of same-sex marriage. For the record, religious people supported both sides of the issue. For Christians, it's a matter of how we interpret the Bible that divides us. Those who use a literal method of reading believe the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God with no human intervention, so when they read in Leviticus that homosexuality is an abomination there can be nothing clearer. For literalists, marriage is defined in Genesis 2 with the second creation of man and woman. These two taken together make it clear that God would not approve of same-sex marriage.
Those who read using modern methods of criticism, sociohistorical context and current scientific and psychological research dismiss Leviticus as what the priestly authors of that passage believed at that time.
Genesis 2 is among the early attempts to understand why two people who love each other become a new being. And we ask what it means to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved. In short, would we want someone to deny us the right to marry because of how God created us?
I don't think we're going to find agreement on this issue until we can find ways to respect and understand our different ways of reading. Unfortunately, we're doing a lot of shouting at each other and little of the type of reconciliation that is called for in Matthew 18.
Nationally, our biggest issue is the Affordable Care Act. It doesn't matter how you read the New Testament, there are more examples of Jesus healing people who were outside of the established health care system than other types of miracles or signs.
We've become distracted by claims that it will lead to socialized medicine and the fear of all things socialized that remains from the Cold War. Or we think people don't "deserve" it.
In the healing of the 10 lepers, Jesus heals 10 people who were ejected from society because of their leprosy or skin affliction. They are physically healed and sent to the priests, who would check for sores and admit them back into society where they would be able to support their families again.
One of the lepers _ a Samaritan _ turns back and thanks Jesus for the healing. This one is healed spiritually as well as physically. When we deny health care to those on the margins, we're forgetting the Samaritan and all of those who converted to a religion because they were physically cared for and were then able to spiritually heal.
Internationally, we need to prayerfully remember all of those who have stood up to oppressors this past year -- all acts of courage such as speaking out so we become aware of injustice around the world. If they have inspired you, then write your Congressperson and encourage him or her to pursue justice.
Rev. Lisa Jo Bezner is a licensed local pastor at Otego and Sand Hill United Methodist churches.