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June 07, 2017, 6:12 PM

The Shaking of the Foundations

The Shaking of the Foundations

URI members gather on the Israel-Syria border as the sounds of battle are heard from below.

In 1948, Paul Tillich wrote a book entitled The Shaking of the Foundations.  His thesis was that on rare occasions, current events are so staggeringly disorienting that it seems as if the very earth is off its axis. I can’t remember the content of his book, but the title has stayed with me.

In 2001, on the day of the 9/11 attacks, at Grace Cathedral, we prepared for the daily 12:10 a.m. service and for the 15 people who would regularly show up.  Instead, 6,000 attended.  We had to quickly schedule a later service, and 4,000 more people arrived.  Why?  Not because we were Episcopalians.  I think that many factors came into play, many beyond my understanding. In their bewilderment at what they were watching on television, people needed the reassurance of others, needed community.  Watching towers fall down made people gravitate to a high arched ceiling that still held up.  Witnessing innocent lives dashed by profound evil, spurred people to gravitate to a place where good was celebrated. Ultimate forces were then in play. Solace and hope were sought above all else.   The Shaking of the Foundations! 

I was reading a URI email the other day and was stopped short by these words:  “Our social media channels are reflecting a 23,000+ increase in the realm of our postings.” A 23,000+ increase? Over 400% surge since May! What is going on? Are the foundations shaking? Invisible but nonetheless real foundations of the soul, are they causing subterranean quakes in the human heart?

Here is my humble guess.  Let’s create a fictional person in the Bay Area.  This representative person sees: North Korea inching toward nuclear weapons that can hit our shores…the President backing out of the Paris Agreement as the waters rise…up in Portland, two men are murdered defending two young ladies from hate crime attacks…our TV screens bring almost daily scenes of trucks deliberately running people down, of bombs destroying innocent folks and madmen with knives stabbing in all directions. Could this drive some locals to search for high ground?  What about people in Yemen or Syria or England or you name it? What about the priest in the Philippines who is held hostage; he is a URI leader in Mindanao? On top of all of the above, we sit in high anxiety wondering if our leaders have made dishonest deals with Russian leaders, to the harm of our country. My guess is that Californians and people worldwide are registering that ultimate forces are in play at this very moment and that foundations are shaking.

Here’s a thought!  We’ve been hearing about how young extremists became radicalized through social media.  Well, on the other hand, thousands of young people, through URI’s social media, are discovering a world of peace-making.  Isabelle Ortega-Lockwood, Director of URI’s Global Communications recently wrote “…people are looking to their own communities online for support. The messages that (URI) puts out – hopeful messages of continued peacebuilding work around the world, messages of condolences – are resonating with social media users.  In times of tragedy, URI is now being recognized as a place to receive comfort and good news for our growing community.”

For me, URI’s social media, provides one clear way, among so many other ways, for people to find strength in a global family of all faiths.  A place where the center holds when the foundations shake.

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