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Soul Wise, These Are Trying Times

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

With these words, Thomas Paine opened the first of his 16-pamphlet series, “The American Crisis.” His text was dated December 23rd, 1776, still relatively early in the Revolutionary War – 240 years ago, this month. He wrote at a time of upheaval and division – we often forget that the War of Independence was opposed not only by troops from Britain, but also by many of the American colonists themselves. He wrote to encourage his fellow future-countrymen, to lend them courage in a conflict which would take nearly a full decade more to resolve.

Many years later, after Paine’s opening line had gained a rarefied status as an example of stirring rhetoric, the stylist E.B. White offered several counter-examples, to illustrate the sorts of phrasing that fail to inspire. His most egregious offering – “Soul wise, these are trying times” – seems to me a fitting summary of the moment we find ourselves in, as a nation. A time of upheaval and division, once again, but also a time marked by a particular ugliness of thought, word, and deed. I know from talking with many of you that you have deep fears for our country, and as one who has pledged to speak the truth to you, I must confess that I share many of those same fears. But in times such as these, when the soul of our nation is troubled, and so troubles each of our souls, the role of a church such as ours becomes all the more pressing, and all the more clear. It is simply this, friends:

To provide refuge, from the dangers posed by the most coarse and cruel elements of our society. To aid and protect those most at risk, and to offer shelter against harms both physical and moral. Shelter for the body, and shelter for the spirit.

To offer replenishment, to anyone and everyone who gives of themselves in the service of others. To renew and refuel, revitalize and restore teachers and healers and activists and organizers of every possible sort. Offering physical and spiritual sustenance to sustain them in their work, on behalf of the common good. Whether they be professionals or volunteers; no matter how great their efforts, no matter how small their contributions.

And to nurture revolution. For what is the great calling of religion in the human heart, but to challenge us to examine with profound honesty our own selves and the world of which we are a part, to notice how vast is the gulf between things as they are and things as they ought to be, and to demand of us our highest efforts in closing that gap. Revolution is not merely a synonym for armed insurrection, but rightly labels any true transformation in a person, community, or culture. And across long ages and wide continents, the struggles to upend oppression, colonization, exploitation, and tyranny have, in an uncountable number of cases, depended upon the catalyzing energy of spiritual community. This month, we celebrate two such revolutionary, anti-Imperial movements, from long ago and far away, in the festivals of Hanukkah and Christmas.

In truth, I believe this work was just as much called for and just as much our calling on November 7th as it was on November 9th. Only it seems there is now a greater urgency for it, in our hearts and in our world. This holiday season, and every month and year that comes after it, let us rededicate ourselves and our community to these three, great purposes.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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