Autumn leaves drift by my window,
Autumn leaves of red and gold.

So begins one of the old standards that I like and always think of this time of year. It seems the older I get the more quickly fall comes around. Only yesterday it was Christmas and we were talking about how early Easter was this year. Now suddenly Worship and Music is planning for another Advent and I don't know how we got here so fast. When I was little my dad used to talk about how quickly time passed. That made no since to me then as I waited for the days to crawl by in school and thought about Christmas coming. Now I join in his lament.

Much has happened in the year since last autumn began, personally, in our congregation, and in the world around us. Nationally we are in the midst of an ugly presidential campaign and watch as Congress tries to deal with a widespread financial crisis which seems to have no good answers. Congress wants to blame this President and many outside of government blame this Congress. But the roots of the problem go back at least thirty years, if not further. Laws were passed over time, sometimes with good intent, which had unintended consequences. Among the results of the bills was a gradual undermining of rules assuring the stability of the credit market. Over those decades our world economy became more and more intertwined which made the crisis, when it came, much more devastating. 
We also are in the midst of a gas crisis. Following shutdowns for the hurricane the refineries and pipe lines had to get back up to full capacity. Since most of our gas in the Southeast comes from the gulf coast we had a severe shortage. People often had to wait in long lines if they could even find a station with gas. Some of those lines got ugly -- though thankfully most did not.

I'm certainly no expert but from what I've read both crises resulted at least partly from, and were made worse by, panic. In the gas crisis some folks would wait in line for a few gallons to top off their tank, or fill up gas cans to make sure they had a full supply while other folks, who were low but further back in line were unable to get fuel. One of the reports about it interviewed a psychologist who attributed the situation to human nature.

Apparently some of that same human nature affected the financial crisis. Reports about what was going on said some of the banks that appeared to be in trouble could have actually survived. It would however have meant a few years of lean profits. In addition the fear about things meant that some sources of short term credit were not available. There was also concern that panic may lead to a run on the banks as customers withdrew their funds. That would create a much deeper crisis. Panic again.

A panic attack is no small thing. It can seem like a much more serious health issue, like a heart attack for example. If it goes from being a momentary event to a chronic state it can actually result in serious damage to the body.
When we look at the world around us we may at times experience that same feeling of panic. Terrorism, economic crises, crime, job loss, technology changes, etc., loom over us. The world is changing so much and so fast that it is hard to keep up. The Church is changing too as it tries to reach out to those who do not know Christ. There are different views on how to be faithful to Christ. But panic is not a productive way to experience the world. It leads to lots of new problems and keeps us from solving existing problems. Panic tends to consume our attention and energy making it hard to focus on actually solving problems or differences.

Panic can make a person withdraw and become distrustful and suspicious of others. The same can happen in the church as local congregations become suspicious of the church at large. As a nation we become more distrustful of other nations. We start looking for the worst. Just as a panic attack can have broader health consequences for the individual so panic can have broader consequences for the church and the country. It can lead to isolationism, a breakdown in communication, or a loss of direction. 
 

There are times when the crisis is real and must be responded to quickly with drastic measures. That led to our governor and mayors working to increase gas supplies and asking people not to panic. A long term solution however will mean expanding the sources of our fuel. Congress is working on an unpopular bill to rescue the economy and minimize recession. A long term solution though will mean new rules and better oversight of the financial markets.

But there are times when the crisis is partly, or mostly, the result of our fears or failure to see the big picture. When we feel that sense of panic rising up in us, whatever the context, we need to step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and say a prayer. Taking a moment to calm down and talk to God can sometimes make all the difference. It may not solve the problems but it allows us to gain perspective and look at all the options. That is true not only in our personal lives but also in the church and as a nation. More important than what happens to us is how we respond. As followers of Jesus we need to keep hope and joy alive as we strive to live guided by the Holy Sprit and God's nature.

In Christ's love and peace,
Pastor Joseph