Five Minute Friday: Stay

Gentle Reader,

It’s been roughly half a year since I’ve participated in this weekly writing challenge. I read that sentence a few times, hardly believing it. Tonight I intended to join in the chat and reconnect with dear writer friends, but caring for a blind wiener dog whose puppy sisters smacked him in the face yesterday distracted me. So late I am, but here I am. Ready to pick up where I left off.

Kate says: stay.

Go.

There are four young African-American women in the youth group. Each is full of potential, promise, and an incredible amount of sugar. (Youth ministry and candy do go hand-in-hand). As I watched them play games and eat all that sugar last night at our first physical gathering in months, I felt a profound sense of gratitude at God’s allowing me to be in their lives. They teach me much. They make me think.

And Church, we have got to start thinking. We have got to start coming to terms with the fact that some of the positions we have taken in regards to political affiliations and the treatment of marginalized populations in no way reflects the Gospel. Yes, I say we, even if these are not positions that you personally take, because we are in this together. When one of us clings to classism, nationalism, racism, or sexism, we are all impacted. We all, frankly, suffer. In turn, the world around us suffers, because the message of grace and truth is obscured by elitist, entitled, and false beliefs.

Church, Black Lives Matter. I shouldn’t have to follow that with an explanation, but I will: Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not equivalent to saying that no other lives matter. It’s not a no-reservations-or-disagreement endorsement of a political organization. It is saying that we have a deeply-rooted, evil problem in this country, one that must be clearly labeled and confronted. People are being murdered, and it’s captured on camera for all to see. No jumping in with some other argument here, some “what about…?” People are being murdered. Men and women who bear the image of God are having their lives taken from them, and those doing the taking must be held accountable.

Church, to say “Black Lives Matter” is to look into the face of our brothers and sisters and say: “You matter.” It is to watch those four young women, so full of life, and determine to do and be better, for them.

Church, we must stay in this discomfort. We must stay engaged in this process of confronting our cherished biases. We must stay standing alongside our brothers and sisters, ears open as they lament. This isn’t about choosing Democrat or Republican. We’re way beyond that. And the truth is that it never was political in the first place. All that is, is a distraction. This is about choosing what is right and just – even if it makes us squirm.

Stop.

Image Credit: Maria Oswalt

Love in the Time of COVID-19

Gentle Reader,

I stayed home from church today. I feel completely fine, but took the opportunity to get some extra rest as my pastor made the decision to cancel second hour discipleship groups (aka Sunday school). I didn’t have to be there to teach, or to do any administrative work, so it was sweats, a cup of coffee, and tuning into the livestream for me.

And you know what?

It kinda sucked.

I appreciate that my church streams its services. This has been important for me in the past, when I’ve been stuck at home for weeks at a time due to illness or surgery. But there really is nothing like being with people who have become part of your family. There really is nothing like hearing your voices blend in a not-always-pleasing harmony as you worship God together. I missed seeing my friends. I missed hugging my students and listening to them talk about things completely unrelated to the lesson I prepared.

So, I get it. Social distancing is annoying; who wants to remain six feet apart from friends and loved ones? Choosing to go beyond that and stay at home when you feel fine seems stupid. Go ahead and complain.

But do it.

Some of you want to roll your eyes and flip the bird at me. It’s no big deal. People are overreacting. It’s just the flu. I’ll do what I want.

And that, my friend, is unloving.

That, my friend, communicates to vulnerable people – those with underlying conditions that make catching “just the flu” far more complicated, the elderly, those without financial resources and medical insurance, and those with crap immune systems – that you don’t care what happens to them.

To us. Because I fall into that vulnerable category. My liver wants to kill me and my immune system sucks.

I know that I am responsible for taking care of myself. I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to hurt. I’m checking my temperature twice a day. I’m not hugging anyone. I’m allowing myself to take naps as often as I need to, because it’s vital that I don’t become run down. I’m drinking lots of water. I’m eating good foods. I’m figuring out a good exercise routine, because I need to stay active, but, again, I can’t become run down. As to going out in public, I’m taking that moment by moment, asking God to give me wisdom as to when to brave the wider world and when to stay tucked away at home. A lot of this, I do all the time, because I have to be vigilant; I can catch anything at any moment and be knocked down.

I’m not asking you to do any of this for me. I’m not asking you to bear a burden that is only mine to carry.

What I am asking of you is that you take a moment and think. While you may contract COVID-19, have a mild case and recover quickly, or even remain asymptomatic, that’s not the reality for everyone around you. By being flippant about it, you can easily spread the virus among people who are not as naturally equipped as you are to fight it.

That said….

Some of you are in panic mode and you’re buying very strange things in large quantities, like all the toilet paper in the land.

STOP IT.

Over-reacting, my friend, is just as unloving as under-reacting. Yes, it is good and wise for you to take care of yourself and your family. It’s not wrong to have some extra supplies around. But you do not need to hoard. Your hoarding means that the vulnerable population mentioned above does not have access to the things they need to take care of themselves.

Arrogance and ignorance are plagues upon our ability to love and reason well in the best of times. We cannot afford to indulge either during this crisis. Yes, it is a crisis. It may not seem so to you right now, but the truth is that our medical system is not equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of people flooding the hospitals, whether they actually have COVID-19 or they’re just afraid they do. If we do not all practice caution, we will end up as Italy is at the moment: doctors without necessary tools, leaving them in the anguished position of choosing who to treat and who to leave to fate.

It’s annoying and crappy and weird and unsettling. Nobody ever expects to live through a time like this. But if we all choose to exercise caution and love our neighbors, we can flatten the curve. We can get through it.

What does loving our neighbors look like right now?

  • Accept the fact that you won’t get to socialize as much as you like. It’s okay to feel annoyed or depressed about it while you process the situation. But you have to reach the point of accepting it, otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. Take it from one who’s been on medical house arrest before: it’s much easier to get through if you choose to look for the good and the joy, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do or have.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.
  • Check in on people, especially those who are vulnerable. A text or phone call means a lot to someone who’s worried or stuck at home.
  • Pray. For others. For yourself. Ask God for both peace and wisdom.
  • Listen to the experts. They actually do know more than you do.
  • If somebody needs soup or toilet paper or Oreos and you have some to spare, share.
  • WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • DON’T. TOUCH. EACH. OTHER.

Love is going to look a lot like common sense and compassion. It’s also going to look like making decisions you’d rather not make, like canceling group meetings and vacations. But that’s what the people of God do. We don’t just think of ourselves. We think of others.

With apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for the riff on the title of his novel,
Love in the Time of Cholera.

Five Minute Friday: Rush

Gentle Reader,

It’s the last day of the semester.

I don’t know what I feel. Exhausted. Elated. Hungry for caramel corn.

Vanilla- and cinnamon-scented candles flicker, flames casting oddly-shaped shadows on the walls. The wiener dog snores softly next to me. All the schoolbooks are put away. I can read whatever I want to for six weeks. I might spend a good bit of time reading the inside of my eyelids. Someone said that grad school tired is a whole different kind of tired. It’s true.

Kate says: rush.

Go.

Today is leg day.

I loathe leg day.

I’d rather go for a run than do squats and lunges, and that’s saying something right there.

But I laced up my shoes, grabbed my weights, and pressed “play.” Forty-five minutes later, I was a sweaty mess – but a happy one. Happy because I recognized the progress. I’m stronger than I was when I first decided to take fitness seriously. I don’t enjoy the squats and lunges, but I can do them. I can also throw a mean cross punch and hold a solid plank.

But that didn’t happen overnight. There was no rushing the progress. No shortcuts. We all want the magic pill and the quick solution, but they don’t exist. You have to put on your tennis shoes and do the thing.

That’s got me thinking about the rest of my life. I think I somehow manage to over-complicate and over-simplify, often simultaneously. But maybe all that’s ever required is to show up, willing to do the work, one little bit at a time.

Maybe there’s joy and purpose to be found in the slow, steady, and sweaty.

Stop.

Weary with Moaning

Gentle Reader,

Check me out, writing something that’s not for a seminary class.

I decorated the house for Christmas last week. A sign reading “all is bright” sits on the cabinet, just beneath the television. I can’t escape the words. All – everything. Bright – light.

That’s not Advent.

This year the darkness of Advent settles around me. Candles and tree lights pierce the gloom, pointing to the joy of Christmas day and the hope of Christ’s return. But just as I can’t escape the words on the sign, I can’t escape the tension of the season. Longing. Waiting. Wondering. For what, exactly, I think cannot be defined. Something – a peace, a fulfillment – that is just beyond the brush of our fingertips.

Humanness, aching for ultimate reconciliation with the Divine.

Words swirl together in my mind:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

– Psalm 6:2, 6-7; Matthew 26:38-39 (NRSV)

Are you tired? Do you find yourself thinking that you should (terrible, soul-sucking word) be feeling a certain way – joyful, energized, ready – but instead you feel drained?

That’s okay.

Really.

Let that out, in the presence of God.

I can’t get the image of Jesus in the garden out of my mind. I understand that these verses speak in multiple ways. They record: Jesus wanted His friends to be with Him in His hour of need. They point: us needing to be watchful and waiting, eyes fixed on Heaven. But they also instruct, something I have not picked up on until today: Jesus calls us to stay awake not only to and with Him, but to and with each other.

So when we’re feeling tired, when we’re weary with moaning, when the darkness of Advent threatens to snuff out the candles and the Christmas lights, we don’t only need to express that emotion in the presence of God. We need to express that emotion to each other.

Be watchful, for how God moves in these days.

Be watchful, too, for shadows of grief on the faces you see each day.

The movement of God and the movement of the shadow come together in an opportunity for you and me and us together to love – really love – as we are meant to.