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Whispers of the Divine

As I was cleaning one of my bookshelves, a notecard fell off the bookshelf. It was from a time when I would write quotations on notecards from books I had read to remind myself of the way those words had spoken to me. This one was from Thoreau’s On Walden:

The surface of the earth is soft and impressionable by the feet of [humanity]; and so with the paths the mind travels. How worn and dusty then the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.

As the reality that our world is changing all around us and we will not be returning to the “normal” we used to know, I see this more and more. People are digging in their heels white-knuckled from holding onto what they used to know with a fierceness that threatens violence towards those who would remind them of the changes that are happening.

What if instead, we taught our minds not to cling to tradition and conformity, but instead to look down at the impression we are making on the earth and indeed on the world and wonder if that’s the impression we want to leave behind? What if we taught ourselves wonder and awe at each new day?

I want my steps to tread lightly, disappearing as the wind and rain nourishes the earth. I don’t want my steps to be preserved in concrete reminding the world that it was more important that I walk the way I always had rather than step around the wet concrete with awareness and intentionality to reroute my steps.

Perhaps you would say there is no real significance to the notecard “appearing” at this point in time and space and it’s more a testament to my bookshelf being too full. Perhaps you are right, but for me this is the whisper of the Divine nudging me to remember to tread lightly, to notice everything around me, and to step intentionally into this day.

 

Why We Can’t Open Communities of Faith or Schools

This week the stark contrast of what we have valued as a country has become crystal clear.

We concentrated our initial reopening efforts not on opening the communities where our children learn and people gather together to be in the community together to gain hope and healing, but instead restaurants, bars, and beaches. Our top priority was getting back to entertainment, not education.

To be certain, America is an entertainment-driven society. Our economy depends on our desire to distract ourselves. The average teacher makes $60,477. The average NBA player makes $6.7 million. The average MLB $4.4 million. The average well-known actor makes $15million. The average clergy makes $32,000-$48,000.

Now that we have reopened, our numbers are climbing nationwide. The number of cases is climbing. The number of hospitalizations is climbing.  As we approach the end of the summer, suddenly our collective attention is directed on opening schools. We understand that if schools can’t open if we end up with virtual schooling, we are going to have overtaxed parents and families. We realize now that we focused our reopening efforts on entertainment over education.

As the weight and the toil of living in the midst of a global pandemic and a racial reckoning bear down, we realize that we need hope. We need spiritual guidance because we are mentally, spiritually, and psychologically exhausted from all the uncertainty and living with collective trauma and grief. Voices are calling out for churches to reopen because we know that we need each other. We know that we need hope. Even as some voices call out to reopen, other voices recognize where we are. We are at a place where we have valued escaping from our reality for a trip to the beach and a night out at a restaurant or a bar over coming to terms that we will not return to “normal” in the foreseeable future. We have valued escapism over compassion.

And so here we are.

Government leaders are threatening to remove funding from schools if they don’t open up. Government agencies are threatening lawsuits if schools don’t reopen. This is after political leaders ordered churches to open. As we get closer and closer to the fall, we are realizing that when we value entertainment over education.

We are left without the covering that schools offered as they fed the one and nine children who live with food insecurity every day, twice a day, and sent food home. We are realizing that without schools, we don’t have low-cost, reliable childcare for working parents. We are realizing that we have put the pressure on schools to be the savior and stopgap of a broken system for far too long.

As numbers continue to rise numbers and the possibility of having a loved one die alone in the hospital and the fear for our lives for much longer continues to live with us, we realize that we value escapism over compassion. Churches and communities of faith, driven by their moral codes and caring for those in need have guided and challenged our culture of consumerism.

As churches are deemed a major source of COVID-19 exposure, we realize how important coming together each week reminding ourselves that this one life that we have to live is not about gaining more stuff, a bigger house, or a cruise around the world, but instead about caring for each other. We are in a religious awakening.

Our eyes have been opened.  As a society, we value entertainment over education and escapism over compassion.

The question is now that our eyes have been opened, will our hearts be?

Blackout Day

Today July 7th, 2020 is Blackout Day. Today those who are co-labors in the fight to protest racism and preach the gospel that Black Lives Matter are encouraged to only buy from Black-owned businesses and boycott all others. What the leaders who have organized today realize is that in our capitalistic society, things won’t change until big business begins to feel the hurt of losing income.

Joining in today to support Black-owned businesses and to boycott other businesses and systems puts your money where your mouth is. If you have been calling out that black lives matter, but haven’t taken action, this is a very good way to join in.

Austin Channing Brown in her recent podcast with Brene Brown explained that saying you are an ally or listing the number of Black people that you are friends with or even work with really doesn’t make you an advocate. Sometimes these things actually impede you from doing the work that you need to do and risking your privilege to fight for Black lives. Instead, she suggests that if you are working towards social justice, you will find yourself working beside Black people. You will find yourself working alongside those who have been oppressed by capitalistic interests and pursuits. You will find yourself learning and growing alongside those who are listening to other people who have been oppressed and silenced.

The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

We are building and planting something beautiful.

 

On Feeling Stuck

Yesterday, our seventeen-month-old walked into the kitchen with a slinky stuck on her foot. She was picking up her foot and putting it back down, again and again, trying to loosen her foot from the entanglement but she couldn’t quite get loose.

I had to laugh (and maybe take a short video before freeing her) because there have been so many times during this time of quarantine that I have felt the exact same way. I feel stuck in uncertainty and fear. I feel like I can’t get a good stride going because it’s so hard to plan ahead when there is new information every single day. I feel like there is something around my ankle that is holding me in place.

And maybe this is exactly where we need to be in order to remember how much we need help. We need to help each other stay safe. We need to help each other because so many people have lost their jobs. We need to help each other by checking on each other because the mental stress and anxiety of completely changing our lives so quickly while also constantly mitigating risks and managing a myriad of responsibilities are exhausting.

We need help to ask the Divine how we can continue to offer hope and life to each other during these strange times. We need to ask the Divine to help us not get stuck in fear and uncertainty. We need to look at what is holding us in place and ask for help finding a way out of that stuckness so that we can create and imagine a new way of being community together.

On Holidays in a Pandemic

It’s supposed to be a holiday weekend. It’s supposed to be a time and an excuse to take it easy, spend time with family, and rest.

Except we are in the midst of a global pandemic.

As we watch cases numbers rise, hear about travel bans, and testimonies that the case numbers are only going to rise, it seems like there is no time to rest. There is no way of avoiding or getting away from where we are. The pandemic is not gone. The cries of protest to examine systemic and historical racism have not stopped.

It’s getting more and more difficult to escape into distraction and avoidance.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God that we can’t hide from our role and our responsibility to take care of each other, to fight for equality, and to work to bring the ecosystem of God here on earth. Thanks be to God that we are being challenged again and again to consider the way our decisions impact others. Thanks be to God that we are having to pause and reflect on the choices we make. Thanks be to God that capitalism is being brought into questions. Thanks be to God that we can’t live the way we used to live.

May God watch over all the essential workers who are bearing the burden of our attempts to hide and distract ourselves.

On Figuring It Out

This week has been marked with our four-year-old learning how to pedal a bike with training wheels. The first day and the first tries were frustrating especially as he accidentally reversed his feet and brought the bike to a complete stop not knowing there were foot brakes on the new bike. I watched his face as he tried to push the pedals down. He was trying his very hardest and wanted to figure it out so badly.

Now more than ever, we are trying to figure out how to be community together, how to be family together, and how to be church together in a way that keeps each other safe. It is frustrating when technology doesn’t work and when we know that we will have to continue in this struggle for a longer period of time as we watch case numbers rise. It is a struggle to teach our brains new patterns. It is frustrating to continually create, innovate, and imagine each and every day.

Figuring it out is exhausting, but this struggle is teaching us not to take each other for granted. This struggle is teaching us to adapt and to believe in ourselves. This struggle is making us stronger.

Even before breakfast, our four-year-old was asking to get back to his bike. By the end of our time outside yesterday, he was able to do a loop without stopping. He woke up ready to confirm to himself that he had figured it out.

I pray that we will find that four-year-old confidence within us as we figure out new ways to be church and be community together.

Turning Into Something New

Over the course of our e-learning, we found a lot of things that we could turn into new things. Used toilet paper rolls turned into binoculars. Use milk cartons turned into bird feeders. Pillows turned into rocks to jump through rivers of lava that were threatening the side of the boat which the ottoman turned into. Putting away laundry turned into trips to Mars, the Moon, and the Sun the laundry basket rocketship transporting us to the different destinations.

Creativity and imagination guided our learning and changed my eyes.

There is so much in the world and in our lives today that is limiting. We feel restricted because the life we use to know was taken from us quickly and swiftly. We feel angry that local leaders are telling us that we must wear masks in order to keep other people safe. We feel overwhelmed that the things we used to do like going out to eat or gather with friends and families now require risk assessment and the constant monitoring of our own bodies and our loved ones to see if those gatherings were dangerous.

In the midst of trying to manage so much, our creativity and imagination have been switched off. Our survival instincts are on full throttle.

It’s not until we reactivate our imaginations that we will be able to reimagine what life can be. It’s not until we access our creativity that we will be able to switch from being defensive about all the changes to seeing those challenges as invitations to experience a completely new way of life.

I remember the times when a letter of acceptance to college, a summer program, and a scholarship to teach overseas came in the mail. My heart started racing and my breath shortened because this was a doorway leading to a completely new experience.

So too is this time and this place a doorway, not a closed door. The question is will we step through to create a new scene, a new chapter, and a new story of what it means to be family and community together?

Walking in the Backwoods

Yesterday, we took some time to go to Croft State Park. This was always a place that provided retreat and respite because it was so close to where I grew up. Also, I knew that this is where my grandfather was during World War II. There was even a desk from the administrative office at our family business growing up.

As we walked the trails by the lake, I found myself imagining what it was like a training camp. The number of soldiers who came to train in the woods or backwoods as some may call it. So much of the landscape and the foliage was familiar to me. It felt like my backyard, but to those soldiers coming from around the country, the heat and humidity and bugs must have been surprising.

I knew where we were going and I knew the significance in my own story of that place.

This is a significant point in our history personally, culturally, and societally. This is an invitation to stop and to decide how you are going to participate. What conversations are you going to have with your family? What conversations are you going to have with your kids?

In Exodus chapter 35, we find the reminder that when Jacob was fleeing for his life, God appeared to him and after God appeared to Jacob, he built an altar to remember that God appeared and that God was with him.

Jacob built an altar there and called it “God of Bethel,” because that was the place where God had appeared to him

How are you going to mark this time in a way that you will remember? What will you build to remember? This is indeed a remarkable time to be a part of history and to be a part of much-needed change. May God grant us strong memories to remember and courage to continue the work of change.

Entering Eastertide: Hope

We are just days away from Pentecost, which marks the end of the fifty days of Eastertide. In the season of Eastertide, the church calendar follows the stories and journeys of the apostles who have received the Spirit of Truth and have preached this good news all over. This is where the story of the life, death, and resurrection spread so that we are still talking about it today.

If you follow the book of Acts, you’ll find that there is a pattern where Paul goes into the synagogue to teach and is the message of hope is received by the Jewish people. Then after a day or two, the Jewish leadership gets involved and they either run Paul out of town of beat and imprison him. This is when Paul is often taken in by a Gentile and the message of hope transforms whole households.

Our congregation was already studying Acts before the pandemic and before the Eastertide season began and now as we study together, I am amazed at how much we need these words. We need the hope of those first apostles. We need the courage of those first apostles. We need the imagination of those first apostles.

Because we are creating church together in the most unusual ways. We are spreading the message of hope to new communities in new ways. Thanks be to God for the Spirit of Truth that leads and guides us on our way.

Entering Eastertide: Going Back

On Saturday, we walked to the park and playground where we have gone innumerable times with all of our kids. The playground still isn’t opened, but the park is opened for walking and moving activities. I thought it would be a way to “return to normal.” It wasn’t. It was strange.

The playground equipment still had yellow caution around it. There was a school group gathering in the parking lot for some sort of end of the year drive-by parade. The kind that have become the way we celebrate birthdays and big occasions.

After we had done one loop around the park, we kept moving and headed home, not lingering or playing there. It was nice to have an option for our walk that wasn’t just a neighborhood loop, but it didn’t remind me of the way things used to be. It reminded me of how different things are.

I can understand the desire to do the things we used to do. I can understand wanting to do things that we normally do in the summer and on holidays. Some of these things can be done, but they can’t be done without a certain amount of risk involved. This is a great article for deciding which risks to take and what level of risk the activity you are considering is.

We can’t pretend that we aren’t living with a deadly virus. We can choose activities that meditate the risk of spreading and contracting that virus for ourselves and for others.

There’s no going back. There’s only learning to live with the virus and the risk it brings with it.