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7 Principles for Living Bravely: Ageless Wisdom and Comforting Faith for Weathering Life’s Most Difficult Times by Denise L. Eger & Neil G. Thomas

7 Principles for Living Bravely: Ageless Wisdom and Comforting Faith for Weathering Life’s Most Difficult Times by Denise L. Eger & Neil G. Thomas

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These 7 spiritual principles helped us lead our congregations through a pandemic.


A rabbi and a pastor sit down to write a book.

It sounds like the setup to a punchline, but it actually holds deep meaning for both of us.

Ministering to a congregation is a unique privilege few get the chance to experience. Through highs and lows, through good times and bad, rabbis and pastors serve as guides for their flocks, partners in celebration, and sources of wisdom when questions are raised, or hope begins to fade.

The work of a rabbi or a pastor is a joy to perform, but it never has been simple or straightforward. Throw a pandemic into the mix and suddenly you, the faith leader, the one who’s supposed to have a plan and an answer in difficult times, quickly becomes the one in desperate need of a guide.

COVID-19 struck our houses of worship with little warning. We shut the doors of our synagogue and church, we stopped going out to restaurants and stores, we slogged through glitchy Zoom meetings, and if we did leave the house, we put on masks that made it difficult to communicate and stayed 6 feet away from one another just to be safe.

A congregation is a highly interpersonal, human-centered construct. If you were trying to sabotage it, a deadly virus is the most effective way to do it.

Our jobs became more difficult by the day, so we leaned on our friendship more than ever. We found we were having frighteningly similar experiences as leaders of two religious congregations — one of them Jewish, the other Christian. We were witnessing foundational elements of religious life, like security and in-person interaction, come crashing down.

It was clear that if we were having a difficult go of it, then only God knew how challenging it must be for others. What began as regular conversations of comfort gave way to a realization that not only were we learning from one another’s faith traditions in the process, but it might be beneficial to share what we were learning with others.

We confided in matters of faith, Scripture and spirituality and little did we know, through these conversations, we were putting into practice the very principles we had absorbed from our respective traditions. Sometimes it just takes a rabbi and a pastor working through their problems together to flesh them out.

Human beings always have had access to these spiritual principles, but it seems only when times get tough do we put them into practice, much less acknowledge they exist. Through our shared hardship and uncertainty, seven transformative principles rose to the surface: Mourning, Truth, Rest, Love, Prayer, Joy, Hope.

These seven principles speak not to just one season of our lives but to every season, and that is how our book Seven Principles for Living Bravely was born — out of a desire to share these principles with individuals, congregations and communities moving into new seasons of life.

Many readers are picking up the pieces from the pandemic and wondering, “What’s next?” In the book, we start with the principle of mourning because we believe society must begin to mourn before it can move on from traumatic seasons like COVID-19.

As longtime friends, we experienced similar trauma and grief many years ago in the aftermath of the AIDS pandemic. We lost friends, family, loved ones in one of the most difficult eras of our lives, and mourning preceded every other spiritual principle because the magnitude of loss was so great.

Drawing from Scripture, timeless wisdom, scientific knowledge and the deep wells of our religious traditions, we then go on to explore the critical importance of truth-telling, the need for restfulness in a restless world, the many expressions of love, the holistic benefits of prayer, the human desire for lifetime joy, and the life-changing power of hope.

All along we were practicing these spiritual principles together to help get us through the pandemic, and now we get to share them with others.

As religious leaders, we know all too well that faith and spirituality are not popular in every generation or in every location, but they will always be wells that never run dry for those who adhere to their precepts. The principles they teach us demonstrate their true value in horrific times, but they also help us transition into peaceful times and help us process those precious moments of overwhelming joy and thanksgiving.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the AIDS pandemic have taught us we humans are hungry to find purpose in life and to understand the meaning of the deaths of those who perished. Spiritual principles won’t provide every answer or explain everything that happens in life, but they do help us unlock hope in the face of the unexplained.

We are living through a period of transition, and to help us navigate this moment we must put these principles into practice. We must mourn openly, we must be truth-tellers, we must welcome rest, we must love one another, we must lean into prayer, we must celebrate joy, and we must cultivate hope. If we do these things, we will navigate the coming seasons well and turn our grief into dancing.

Denise L. Eger is the founding senior rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif. Neil G. Thomas is senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope (United Church of Christ) in Dallas.

--Published in the Baptist News Global

  • Softcover
  • 140 Pages
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