Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Ten Suggestions

    This may come as a shock to you but that list of ten rules given to Moses around 3,000 years ago were not technically commandments, per se. They were utterances. At least that’s what the original Hebrew words meant. Of course one could guess that it if came from God, even a mild suggestion is probably worth serious consideration. The “Ten Commandments” as a term, however, is not the fully appropriate translation of the actual Hebrew words used in the Old Testament, aseret hedevarim. It means the ‘ten words’ or ‘ten utterances.’ Even the Greek and Latin did not call them commandments, but ‘sayings.’ That’s important to remember. At some point in history someone decided to present these important suggestions as demands. It appears that it was in the moment of its translation into English, but I invite correction. Suffice it to say we have not been commanded by anyone to do anything. We have been given sacred words as encouragements, not threats. Advice. Hope.
    It’s helpful to view the Ten “Commandments” in this way because it helps get us around some of the difficulty we have with being told what to do. These words are not meant to instill fear. They are meant to be advice on how to get along with each other. It’s a primer for a relational practice.
I suspect it was the power structures who began to refer to them as “commandments” because it’s easier to control that way. They were afraid of losing power and passed that fear down to us in the form of indoctrination. But we can look back now and compare notes.
The summary? We are being asked by God to just get along. We are being asked by God to use our powers for good. The metaphor of the “Kingdom of God on Earth” is about peace. It is about relationship. Peace on Earth is not the final destination, it is only the beginning. The Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus, along with those of our other spiritual prophets, are primers for establishing a peaceful society over time. What might we do with a peaceful existence on this planet? What problems might be solved if we only turned our cheek away from fighting and focused our creativity, our abundance, and our ingenuity toward building instead of destroying?  To a warring and enslaving humanity God gave a series of principles and teachings by which we might, through the use of free will, gradually nudge ourselves toward that peace. We can be as prodigal sons whose value in returning to relationship is so much greater for having once been astray and through the exercise of our free will, restoring it.  Get out the fatted calf, folks, it’s time to party.

Wil Darcangelo is the Spiritual Coordinator at First Parish Church of Fitchburg and a MDiv/MAGIL candidate at Andover Newton Theological School. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - January 21, 2017 - The Orientation of Self

    The Islamic midday call to prayer rings on my phone every day when the sun reaches it’s highest point in the sky. Yes, there’s an app for that. Today on January 21 it will be at 11:59 am. It is the Islamic call to prayer for the entire Muslim world. It is a beautiful Arabic chant calling the faithful to their third of five prayers for the day. “Haiya ‘Alas-salah!  Haiya ‘Alal-falah! Allahuu Akbar! Laa ilaaha Illal-Laah! (Come to prayer! Come to success! God is Most Great! There is no God but God.)
    I am not a Muslim, however. I am a Christian. Yet, at midday every day I turn and face toward the east at the same time as my Muslim brothers and sister do and pray with them. To pray when they pray, beside them, in solidarity with them. I pray my own prayers for peace in the Middle East while they offer their Dhuhr prayers. Muslims are not terrorists. Terrorists are not true Muslims. Just like the early Crusaders and the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition were not true Christians, our modern day religious extremists are not the true messengers of their faith either. Talk to a Muslim and you’ll see. The truly faithful of that tradition are kind and friendly and hold family in the highest regard. They welcome strangers and serve the poor. They also wash their hands more often than any typical Christian I know.
    But why pray with them? Because it’s wrong that terrorists have made us afraid of a third of this entire planet. If a third of this planet wanted to take over the rest of it, they’d have already done it. Islam is not a threat to this planet. Extremism is. So with them all, the truly faithful and the terrorists together, I orient myself toward Mecca and I pray. May peace exist in the Middle East. May peace find its way into the heart of all terror. May wisdom find its way into the cracks and crevasses of the world’s leadership and all its workings. If there truly are angels may they intervene on behalf of us all to help clear the turbid waters of our deep unrest. Amen.
    Do I think my prayers make an impact on the world? I guess I don’t really know. But I believe they do. One thing I know for sure, however. They make an impact on me. They remind me that we are all in this together. They make me feel less uneasy when I pass by the local mosque. Not uneasy because I fear them, but because I wonder if I’m welcome. Even while knowing for a fact that I am. Praying with them, whether they know it or not, makes me feel like their neighbor. And if I can feel a bit more like their neighbor, maybe they will feel more like mine. The safest neighbor is the one you have coffee with, not the one you fear.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - January 14, 2017 - The Power of Belief

The "Placebo Effect" is a medical term for an effect produced by medication which the patient believes will occur. In other words, if someone gives you a sugar pill, and you truly believe it will cure your cold, the chances are likely it will actually help. In one study people were given placebos and told they were a stimulant. Their heart rate, blood pressure and reaction speeds increased as if they had actually been administered a genuine stimulant. The opposite occurred when they were told they were being given a sleep aid.

We've heard things like this before. We call it "mind over matter" but is that just something we say to brush aside the deep implications of recognizing that belief actually does matter to our general well-being? At what point will we start to integrate into our daily behavior the bumper stickers of wisdom we feed regularly ourselves?

There is plenty of science to back up our notions that thought alone makes an impact on our bodies. But you need not look to science for those answers. We prove it to ourselves every day. What happens when someone describes something that is physically disgusting to us? Well, the fact that we even describe it as "physically disgusting" should give you a clue that our bodies are attached to our minds. Feeling nauseous at the description of something awful is a physical manifestation of a thought about something awful. Nothing physical happened to your body. Nothing foreign was introduced. No one fed you a bad oyster. It was all in your mind. But does that make it less real? What happens to your body when you’re only thinking of something arousing?

In my opinion, this is great news. Because we can reverse engineer this reality to benefit ourselves by choosing to think better. We have the ability to improve our bodily function simply by believing we are capable of it. We don't understand electricity, but we know how to use it. We don't need to understand every wheel, belt, or cog in the engine of our cars, but we know how to drive them. We can make good use of our belief.

Spend some time thinking about the implications of the placebo effect. Look it up and question for yourself: How might a change in thinking change my life? How might a shift in my perception shift the way the world arrives at my door? Is it possible that the answer to most of our everyday stresses comes from believing that stress is supposed to be a normal part of our day? What if we started to believe that we deserve have as few stressful days as possible? What if we started to believe we have a right to be happy?

Wil Darcangelo is the Spiritual Coordinator at First Parish Church of Fitchburg and a MDiv/MAGIL candidate at Andover Newton Theological School. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Apocalypse Means Unveiling - Saturday, January 7, 2017

Greetings and Happy New Year! This being my first column I thought I’d write about something nice and simple like the Apocalypse. I love to study word history and meanings, etymology especially. Apocalypse is an interesting one. Of course we connect it with the so-called end of the world. But in the words of the rock band REM, perhaps it’s more like the end of the world as we know it. Not incidentally, sales of that song went up 62% the week the world was predicted by the Mayans to end in December 2012.

We have a morbid fascination with the end of the world. Religion has had much to say on the subject of global annihilation. Some use it with great skill. But it in many ways that thinking is a conspiracy. Our cultural understanding of the End Times has been encouraged to think of itself as a destruction into nothingness. But there is little to theologically support this. All prophetic readings describe a recalibration, an end to the old ways of doing things. Not an end of all things, but a natural evolution away from the old rules. The prophecies are an expectation that when society reaches a critical maximum one of two things will occur. Both will mean the end of something. What shall we make it the end of? It is up to us to decide.

The word apocalypse is from the Greek word apokálypsis, literally meaning "an uncovering." It refers to the disclosure of something previously secret. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, it is actually a good thing. It is the beginning of the age of peace. But one that comes with a few sizable bumps in the road, of course. In Norse mythology it means the final fate of the elite. Hinduism suggests that we still have another 1,086 years before the humanity again returns to its intrinsic goodness. How much of this is metaphor? How much might we learn from these messages in bottles we left for ourselves so many ages ago?

Seeing behind the green curtain is never an easy moment. But that is exactly the type of moment we are currently experiencing whether or not there is such a prophesied time as the “end of the world.” Thanks to the Internet and our species’ exceptionally clever use of it, we are in the Age of the Whistleblower. Not only that, the Internet has shown us that we literally crave knowing one another. Just look at the rampant popularity of social media. It is the literal digital expression of Humanity, warts and all. But for the first time, we are truly seeing ourselves. Big Brother is definitely watching, but he’s also being seen as well. The view is two-way and they don’t like it one bit.

We will eventually recover from this glaring look in the mirror. Society will decide for itself what it is willing to tolerate and what it will not. Have no fear. All shall be well.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Proposal for Directed Study International Border Crossing: Pilgrimage to Uluru - Engaging with the Opioid Dilemma: Aboriginal Perspectives Abroad and at Home

The following is the formal proposal to Andover Newton Theological School requesting that this journey count toward an international travel requirement for both my Master of Divinity as well as a Master of Arts in Global Interreligious Leadership.


Journey dates: January 12-24, 2017

Sydney, Australia
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
The Big Island of Hawai’i
Ithaca, New York

The opioid crisis in my hometown of Fitchburg, as well as the rest of the commonwealth of Massachusetts has reached epidemic proportions. It was not my expectation to undertake this issue in ministry. But my Andover Newton education has taught me to seek what is truly there, not just what I expect to find. Fitchburg is one of only 36 communities in Massachusetts with a methadone clinic. The tired, poor, and hungry have been drawn here. But no one is serving them. Fitchburg has allowed the existence of a clinic, but failed in its duty to serve those whom a clinic would most likely draw.

I briefly drove a cab a couple years ago in Fitchburg to learn more about the people I didn’t know. Cabs in small cities do not drive the rich. They drive the poor. They drive people to methadone clinics every morning. Day after day. Paid for by Masshealth. Perpetuated by a culture that thinks addicts deserve more punishment, when they really need compassion. If we serve them or not they will still be citizens. Perhaps if we truly serve them, they will become citizens who feel inspired to serve in return. If we love them rather than vilify them, they stand a chance of becoming a contribution rather than a drain on society. What best serves my own community is not always fluffy and cheerful, though that is usually what I’m peddling to them.

I feel compelled by my own Christian life practice to learn as much as I can about the issue on behalf of my neighbor as well as the radical approaches to the situation successfully occurring in other countries. I also feel deeply called to understand the indigenous perspective of this world wide crisis in both Australia as well as Hawai’i, our farthest American state. Additionally, I plan to continue my inquiries on an eastward path home, in Ithaca, New York regarding the same.

The 23,740 Mile Journey
On January 17, my husband, Jamie Darcangelo, R.N. (Nurse Manager of the Community Healthlink Addictions Continuum, Worcester, MA) and I are registered to tour a medically supervised injecting center in Sydney, Australia to learn as much as we can about this particular model of compassionate substance use disorder treatment (see information about Uniting MSIC below) and visit the Wayside Chapel which serves that community in Kings Cross. Following Sydney, we will be travelling inward to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to experience Uluru Rock and reach out to the indigenous community in that region for their cultural and spiritual perspective on the opiate problem exacerbated by British Imperialism in the 19th century. Since our travels give us an opportunity for spending several days in Hawai’i (travelling on Hawaiian Air), we have decided to inquire with the social service and indigenous community there as well during our three days on the island on our return leg. We also plan to request a meeting with the mayor of Ithaca, New York, Svante L. Myrick, following our journey to inquire about their proposed opening of the first such facility in the United States.

God is in the Details
Much of the remaining details of the trip, however, are being left to Spirit and our intention to discover as much as we can about ways we may serve our struggling community at home. We will ask questions once on the ground in each of these areas. We have several days to spend and investigate in each location. We will do what we can with the chutzpah we have to discover what Spirit would have us know. We are not shy.


January 12 - NYC to Honolulu (overnight layover)

January 13-17 Sydney, Australia:
  • January 17, 2017 - Uniting Medically-Supervised Injection Centre Visit, Sydney

January 18-21: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

January 21-24: Honolulu, HI
  • The CHOW Project, in Honolulu, HI

January 25-March 15: Post Journey
  • Request meeting with Ithaca Mayor
  • Propose final project/paper to advisor (by February 1)
  • Deliver approved final - March 15

Description of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Facility (from their website)

The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) Kings Cross is a compassionate and practical health service that seeks to connect with people who inject drugs and welcome them in a non-judgemental, person-centred way. Recognising that drug dependence is chronic, with relapse being an in-built part of this, our focus is on harm reduction. This means we concentrate on reducing the negative consequences of drug use on a person’s health and well-being. The Uniting MSIC does not support or promote drug use; it acknowledges that it is part of the community and seeks to provide assistance that is practical and sound.

Description of the Wayside Chapel (from their website)

Today, under the banner of love over hate, The Wayside Chapel creates a community where there is no ‘us and them’ by breaking down the barriers of judgement and providing a safe place where people from all walks of life are welcome just to ‘be’.

The Wayside Chapel draws people out of social isolation and invites them into the healing place of community. People marginalised by homelessness, mental health issues and substance abuse can turn to Wayside for compassion, tolerance and support.

What are Supervised Injection Sites? (from

Supervised injection rooms are legally sanctioned facilities where people who use intravenous drugs can inject pre-obtained drugs under medical supervision. Supervised injection facilities are designed to reduce the health and societal problems associated with injection drug use.

Supervised injection facilities provide sterile injection equipment, information about reducing the harms of drugs, health care, treatment referrals, and access to medical staff. Some offer counseling, hygienic amenities, and other services.

They are also successful in reducing public disorder associated with illicit drug use, including improper syringe disposal and public drug use.

SIFs have been researched and evaluated for years. The evidence is conclusive that they reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission risks, prevent overdose deaths, reduce public injections, reduce discarded syringes, and increase the number of people who enter drug treatment.

There are now actually approximately 100 SIFs operating in at least 66 cities around the world in nine countries (Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Australia and Canada). The first North American supervised injection site, Insite, opened in Vancouver, Canada in 2003.

No US Facilities - yet
No such facilities currently exist in the United States, but the Drug Policy Alliance is advocating for supervised injection pilot programs in San Francisco and New York City. We are working to expand the national dialogue on drug control to include policies and programs that mitigate the harms of drug use without mandating abstinence.

While gaining acceptance for a U.S. facility will be an uphill battle, we are committed to challenging the stigma surrounding injection drug use and introducing political leaders and the public to the health and societal benefits that supervised injection sites bring to local communities.

North American Success in Canada
In Vancouver, fatal overdoses dropped 35 percent in the community surrounding its main injection site in the two years after it opened in 2003 and fell 9 percent citywide. According to Donald MacPherson, director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, the addicts who have availed themselves of the program are 30 percent more likely to get treatment and other health services than those who do not.

Facility Possible in Ithaca, NY
Despite the fact that facilities have been around for three decades in Europe, the city of Ithaca, New York is now attempting to open the first facility in the US. Here is how the city’s mayor described the user’s experience to the New York Times last March:

“Addicts would be allowed to carry small amounts of heroin into the injection center where a nurse would explain treatment options. They would also have access to general health care, an important component,” Mr. Myrick said, “since addicts sometimes forgo medical treatment because of the all-consuming need for heroin.”

“They will have just had their fix, so that won’t be their first priority, and they might say to the doctor there, ‘Actually my tooth has been hurting and I have a puncture wound that has gone bad,’” Mr. Myrick said. “You can begin to treat the other physical things and get them prepared for their moment of clarity.’’

Rate of Unintentional Opioid Deaths (In Massachusetts)
The number of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2000 was 355. In 2015 they were nearly 1,800 and 2016 estimates are already figuring even higher than that.  

Draft Reading List

  • Gillett, Andrew, State Library of Queesland article “Opium and Race Relations in Queensland,” Publisher: Queensland Government, February 2010
  • Document: “The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897”
  • Hari, Johann, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Bloomsbury: London 2015

More will be added during the journey...