Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19

19
Aug
20

Lockdown Freedom

Covid in jailYesterday kind of sucked.

It was day 4,845,154 of the Great Lockdown of 2020 (not that anyone is counting, of course).

It was another day of wearing our masks in public, another day of super-fastidious hand washing, another day of not traveling anywhere, another day of no concerts or in-person sporting events, and another day of watching our nation’s infection numbers continue to rise because this highly contagious virus has somehow become a political debate rather than a matter of scientifically-considered public health.

What made yesterday different from the other 4,845,153 days before it was smoke, haze, and 96-degree weather. The smoke and haze come from a 12,000-acre forest fire burning some 20 miles to the west of our house. The 96-degree weather comes, of course, from the calendar.

On most days, Joan and I can break up the monotony of retirement quarantine life by getting out and walking the dogs, working on projects in the yard, reading our novels, and doing some laundry. Occasionally I amuse myself by reading and/or writing a blog post or two.

But then, when the Great Outdoors decides to conspire against your skin and bronchial passages all at once, the world suddenly closes in on you. You’re trapped inside! And worse yet… you are trapped inside with all of your inside chores done!

There is suddenly nothing to do, but read, nap, chit-chat, snack and repeat.

Endlessly.

All I can say is, thank God Joan was there for the “chit-chat” part of the equation, or I’m not sure what I would have done!

For those of you who don’t know me, I happen to be a guy with a lot of excess energy zipping around through my cells. Consequently, the skills of sitting quietly and meditating are not skills that come readily to hand. I am not saying that I suddenly knew how prisoners must feel, but I kind of felt like I knew how prisoners must feel.

It was then, in the middle of my anxious thumb-twiddling, that I suddenly remembered the devotion I’d read only hours before. It was a devotion focused on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the folks who comprised the church he had started earlier in the region of Galatia.

The thematic thread that runs throughout the entire six chapters of the book of Galatians is FREEDOM. As Paul says in the first verse of the fifth chapter, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV).

The more I thought about those words, the more convinced I became that Paul was probably not talking about the freedom to go outside and walk your dogs. Or the freedom to go to a movie theater or baseball game. Or even – strange as it may seem – the freedom to go grocery shopping without a facemask.

No. He is more likely talking about an entirely different kind of freedom… something rooted much more deeply inside each one of us. Something not dependent on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It sounds to me as if Jesus’ kind of freedom is the radical kind of freedom. It is probably more like freedom from our pasts. Freedom from our fears. Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from worry about what other people think about us. Freedom from our insecurities. Freedom from our self-doubts.

A kind of freedom – in other words – that nothing and no one can take away from us.

Not a pandemic.

Not air pollution.

Not 96-degree weather.

Not even a completed “TO DO” list.

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
20

“We’re All In This Together!”

Homeless latinosYes, we are.

But in lots of ways, no, we absolutely are not.

This morning on NPR I heard the story of Daniel Garcia of Houston, Texas. (https://www.npr.org/2020/07/18/892593769/texas-man-on-what-its-like-being-evicted-during-the-covid-19-pandemic).

And it broke me.

Garcia is 46 years old. He was laid off from his job repossessing cars in April. Because Daniel’s wife is confined to a wheelchair, he is the sole breadwinner for his household. The Garcias also have a six-year-old son.

As I listened to his story, I found that Daniel also faces another obstacle in his effort to find a new job. He has a criminal record.

Two weeks ago, the Garcias were evicted from their apartment because they could not pay their rent. The housing court judge told Daniel he could appeal the decision, but that he would have to put up one full month’s rent first.

And so, Daniel, his wife and son packed their worldly belongings into a U-Haul and moved out. They were able to afford a few nights at a low-budget motel, but are now living in the back of their U-Haul, wondering what to do next.

My breaking point came when Daniel choked up on air and said, “I feel like I have failed my family.”

Yes, this pandemic has forced some unwanted changes for Joan and me. The Viking River cruise we planned to take in May from Nuremberg to Budapest was cancelled. We were not able to fly to Seattle this month to visit my siblings and 96-year-old stepmother. We have not been able to go to movies, see concerts, or watch live sporting events on television since early March. For a while, we had to use the order online, drive-up pickup service for grocery shopping.

Boo hoo! Poor us.

We still have our house and our cars. We still have food in our fridge. We still have our health. Since we are both retired, our employment status has not been affected by the virus at all. In fact, we both decided that had we each still been working at our previous jobs when the pandemic struck, we would probably have been able to continue working.

The presence of this virus on every continent, in every country, in every state, and in every community on earth gives this moment its shared and universal flavor. In reality, though, there is a wide, wide variance in how the virus is affecting people.

But what if…

… what if this moment helped us realize the vulnerability we share as human beings?

… what if we figured out how to use this moment to rekindle our compassion toward our neighbors?

… what if this moment helped us appreciate anew the quantum advances in the delivery of health care since the last pandemic a century ago?

… what if this moment led us all to a new kind of humility in the face of mystery of Creation?

… what if the “haves” suddenly realized that the “have nots” are actually their brothers and sisters?

… what if the existential anxiety of this moment caused us all to search for a deeper, more timeless, more unshakable narrative about the nature of the universe?

… what if this moment helped us realize that love can be just as communicable as this virus?

What if?

If any of that happened, my friend, we would ALL truly be in this together.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
May
20

The Challenge of Vigilance

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Matthew 24:42, NRSV

Standing guardIt was just a quick little trip into the convenience store.

We needed some ice for our trip back from the mountains.

Just in, “Bag of ice, please,” swipe my debit card, grab the ice, and go.

But, in my haste, I forgot to put on my facemask.

In some places wearing a facemask is optional. In others it is strongly suggested. However, here in Larimer County, Colorado where Joan and I live, it is THE LAW. Fines and jail time are possible for the unmasked.

Usually, I am not this devil-may-care. I am obedient to the rules to a fault. In this case, however, I just got lazy and took my eye off the ball for the briefest of moments.

It made me stop and realize: being vigilant is HARD!

Being vigilant is exactly what is called for as this pandemic continues unabated. We all (well, most of us at least) have been taking extra precautions with our hygiene and social contact for a long time now. And by all indications, we will need to keep doing so for a long time yet to come.

But this is not the time for patting ourselves on the back. Vigilance is still called for.

Vigilance means NEVER taking your eye off the ball. It means being the guy (or gal) standing watch at 2:36 a.m. and resisting the urge to “just rest my eyes” for a bit. It means keeping just as much focus on Day 463 as you had on Day 1. It means seeing the hidden threat in even the most seemingly innocent transactions…

… like popping into the Quikee Mart for a bag of ice.

But can I level with you here for a second? Sometimes I get really tired of being vigilant. Sometimes I just want to go back to being the un-vigilant, lazy slob I used to be and not have to go through a personal protective gear check-list every time I stick my nose out the door.

From the sounds of the verse above, I think Jesus recognized the potential for the same kind of lassitude to creep into our spiritual lives. He knew the strength of the gravitational pull of our habit of sleepwalking through life. He knew that without an on-going commitment to vigilance in actively nurturing our connection with the Ground of our Being (or God, if you will), most of us would probably devolve into talking animals equipped with opposable thumbs.

Jesus recognized that “vigilance of spirit” is absolutely vital.

He knew there is no such thing as being “kind of vigilant.” The evidence of scripture suggests he saw it as a very a binary thing, meaning Jesus would probably agree with the phrase, “If you’re not ON, you’re OFF.”

I think Jesus also recognized that vigilance is hard for most of us. Heck, even his closest, dearest disciples fell asleep on the most climactic, eventful night of his earthly life.

Coronavirus will be absolutely unforgiving if we relax our vigilance during this pandemic. One little slip-up in mask wearing or hand washing is all it takes to become infected.

Thankfully, the One who watches over our souls is not like that. He urges us to vigilance yet forgives us when we falter… giving us another chance to stay awake and pray.

Are you awake?

Are you ready?

04
May
20

Caution? or Fear?

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

Tilt A WhirlLast night I was in our kitchen making a salad. No biggie.

After chopping the tomatoes, I realized I still needed a few leaves of baby spinach for an iron boost. I turned around to the refrigerator, opened the door, and bent down to the open the vegetable-crisper drawer.

All of a sudden, the room started spinning and I became very woozy and disoriented.

Damn!” I thought. “Another vertigo attack.”

I have had these before, so I knew what to do. Joan helped me to the couch where I laid down and immediately began engaging in the Epley Maneuver. (Here is a helpful little diagram of the Epley Maneuver for those who are unfamiliar with it).

It had been more than a year since my last encounter with the vertigo monster. I have undergone countless neurological tests to determine what causes them. However, the best anyone can come up with is a diagnosis of “Benign Positional Vertigo,” meaning that sometimes, when I assume certain positions, little stones of calcium in my inner ear get dislodged and bring on the impromptu Tilt-A-Whirl.

I stop and do a little Epley-ing and the ride stops. The nausea induced by the spinning lasts much longer, but the spinning itself is usually tamed pretty quickly.

I was distressed because I really thought I was done with these. That is until BOOM! There it came… out of the clear blue sky.

As I lay there with the cold compress on my head, (thank you, sweetheart), I began ticking through the “what ifs”.

  • “What if I get a bunch of these back-to-back?”
  • “What if this happens while I’m driving… or walking the dogs… or mowing the lawn?”
  • “What if this is something more serious than misplaced little calcium stones?”

And then – without missing a beat – I began to strategize a whole new life pattern that would help steer me clear of any vertigo-induced mishaps. I probably shouldn’t drive a car anymore. I should probably wear a football helmet while out walking. Maybe it would be wise to pad all the corners in our house with Styrofoam bumpers!

That’s when I knew I had crossed over… from CAUTIOUS LIVING to FEARFUL LIVING.

It made me wonder if I really knew the difference between the two.

We are certainly in a time now when smart (and compassionate) people engage in cautious living. We stay inside unless absolutely necessary. We keep a safe distance from others if and when we go out. We wear face masks and gloves. We wash our hands with ridiculous frequency.

It is good to be cautious when a highly deadly, highly contagious virus is loose in the land.

But when do we cross over from wise caution to unwise (and we might even call it unfaithful) FEAR?

In these global pandemic time, the line between those two is very fine indeed.

The answer lies there in the word “spirit.” Caution might lead us to do exactly the same things that fear would. Fearful and cautious people both wear facemasks, don’t they? The difference is the SPIRIT with which they put them on.

And maybe – just maybe – we can keep ourselves on this side of the CAUTION/FEAR line by exercising some GRATITUDE. Because you see, when we pause and give thanks for the infinite blessings we still DO have, we are too busy to count up the things we MIGHT NOT HAVE should disaster strike.

I tried it last night after my vertigo attack and it was amazingly effective! I said, “Thank you God, for this Epley person… whoever he or she was.” “Thank you that I have this loving wife by my side to soothe me and bring me a cold washcloth.” “Thank you that I was here in my home when this happened and not out on the highway.” “Thank you that this is really nothing more than misplaced bits of calcium.”

Be cautious, yes. But do not fear.

 

… but don’t even get me started on that New York Times article about the arrival in this country of those Giant Asian Murder Hornets!!!

30
Apr
20

It Certainly is Puzzling

“… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV

During this time of pandemic, jigsaw puzzles have caught FIRE!

Not literally, of course. What I mean is, sales of jigsaw puzzles have absolutely skyrocketed in popularity as people search for healthy activities while socially isolated at home.

So Joan and I thought, “Why not?”

Granted, we have not really been big “puzzle people” in the past, but it seemed like a good, harmless, fun family bonding activity and a welcome respite from endlessly cleaning our counters.

Here is a picture of 10 days of our progress on a relatively simple 500-piece puzzle: Partial puzzle

I am proud to report that I am responsible for at least four of those blue edge pieces on the top and three or four of the yellow connections there in the middle while Joan has done the rest.

Sad, isn’t it?

I don’t know… I sit down there now and then with every intention of making some genuine progress. I squint and strain and test out one connection after another. Sometimes my efforts are rewarded with the satisfying “CLICK” of a fit, but most of the time it is just an exercise in futility.

And then I remember that the hedges really need to be trimmed and ZIP! I’m out of there!

I am sure glad that God doesn’t do the same with me.

Because even though I am the product of God’s supernaturally creative power, I’m sure I am a regular puzzle to him. If I listen really closely, I can hear God say things like, “Why did you do THAT, Russell?” or, “Come on, pal… you should be able to figure that out for yourself,” or, “DUDE! What do you need? A big flashing neon sign in the sky??”

And yet, unlike me with that jigsaw puzzle, God doesn’t throw up his hands in frustration saying, “What’s the use? This is just never going to come together.” Instead God hangs in there… patiently working with the material on hand… confident that there will ultimately be a connection.

The key – whether working with jigsaw puzzles or people – is faith.

And in case the meaning of that word “puzzles” you, check out this definition offered by the writer of the book of Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV).

FAITH is what keeps me searching through the pile of funny looking pieces to find just the ONE that fits next to this one.

Faith can see the unseen. It persists in spite of discouragement and frustration, knowing that everything we need is there somewhere, even if we can’t see it.

Don’t be fooled: faith is not a passive acceptance of the status quo. It is the invisible energy that fuels our ability to continue slogging through a difficult passage.

This time – the time of global pandemic when no one really has a good picture of the future and when everyone is frustrated with the lack of progress – is the kind of time that is TAILOR-MADE for faith…

… and jigsaw puzzles.

 

Abundant blessings!

28
Apr
20

It’s a Group Thing

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NRSV)

Group exercise classExercise – even in the best of times – is a struggle for me.

Here in the time of global pandemic it has become a Mount Everest.

Even though I seem to do it a lot, I’ll admit it: I have never enjoyed exercise. My favorite part of that whole process, I always say, is the part where I am FINISHED!

And so, imagine my excitement when, several years ago, I discovered a great way to overcome my inborn aversion to sweating and straining; WORKOUT CLASSES!

A workout class, I discovered, offers many benefits over going and grunting on my own. For starters, there is REGULARITY. The class meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00 a.m., rain or shine, motivation or no.

There is CAMARADERIE! There you are, surrounded by other people enduring the same pain. Yes, it’s true; misery does indeed love company. And if those other folks are the right kind of people, you can exchange snarky remarks and high fives with them as the class grinds on.

But for me, the biggest benefit of a group workout is the HIGHER STANDARD it entails. Here is what I mean by that: every workout class I have ever been involved with is led by an instructor. The instructor is usually (not always, but usually) a person highly trained in the science of body mechanics. The good ones will always demonstrate both the RIGHT WAY and the WRONG WAY to do that bicep curl, or that tricep kickback, or that abdominal crunch.

Of course, I can always choose to either follow or ignore their guidance. But it is good to have that higher standard to measure myself against. Left to my own devices, I would probably just slap-dash it through a few moves on the same old machines I use every time and call it good.

That is why this is such a difficult (i.e., lackadaisical) exercise time for me. The gyms are all CLOSED! Classes are not meeting! I am left to my own so-so devices to keep this Temple in shape.

Oddly enough, I find some of these same observations can be made about my spiritual life. Sure, there are many good reasons for folks to cultivate a solitary devotional discipline. Numerous are the biblical citations of Jesus “going off by himself” to pray and connect with God.  (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12, Luke 9:18, Luke 11:1, to name a few).

And yet, shocking as it might seem, the exact same advantages of a group approach to physical exercise seem also to apply to SPIRITUAL exercise. Group-based spiritual exercise (a.k.a. “corporate worship”) also offers the benefits of REGULARITY, CAMARADERIE, and HIGHER STANDARDS one finds in a typical workout class.

Like most (responsible) worshiping congregations in this time of the COVID-19 crisis, ours has been meeting exclusively in the on-line format since early March. So, unlike my group exercise classes, we can all still enjoy the benefits of REGULARITY and HIGHER STANDARDS in our spiritual pursuits.

But I have to tell you… I really do miss the camaraderie part.

  • I miss handling the printed paper bulletin.
  • I miss singing together.
  • I miss standing and sitting together.
  • I miss turning and offering a sign of God’s peace to my pew neighbors.
  • I miss taking the offering plate from the person on my left and handing it off to the person on my right.
  • I miss standing when it is our row’s turn and shuffling forward to the front of the sanctuary.
  • I miss receiving the broken piece of bread (“the body of Christ, given for you”) and the thimblecup of wine (“the blood of Christ, shed for you”) from the anointed hands of my neighbors.
  • I miss milling around in the foyer after the service, sipping coffee and chit-chatting with folks.

But mostly I miss being regularly reminded that the body of Christ consists of a bunch of odd-looking, beautiful, regular, extraordinary, messed-up, serene, beloved, neglected people just like me.

And somehow, that just doesn’t quite come through on Facebook Live.

Abundant blessings!

20
Apr
20

Take Hope

Sprouting green plant“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” Romans 8:24, NRSV.

Hope is a precious commodity these days.

On some days, it can be harder to find than that ever-elusive toilet paper.

We squint and look at the road ahead and yet see nothing but mist and blur. No one knows with any certainty (even if they say they do) when we can once again be care-free about who we hang out with and in what quantities.

Today we hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

So let me ask: in those moments when you allow yourself a rose-colored glance into the future, what do you find yourself hoping for? My first thoughts about hope are colored in a very self-absorbed hue; I hope for the safety of my friends and family. I pine for the return of restaurants, concerts, air travel, and baseball. I long to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other congregants in church on Sunday. I hope the stock market stabilizes and stops imitating some kind of psychotic carnival ride.

This kind of hope, I soon realize, is rooted in nostalgia. It is a hope for a return to life, “as it once was.” In that sense, it is a very backward-looking hope.

At other times, I catch myself hoping that this present time of crisis will perform a work of transformation… on me and on the world around me. Once the “all clear” has been sounded, I hope I continue to value solitude and times of quiet contemplation as I do now. I hope I will still eagerly look forward to evening walks with Joan and the dogs, sharing thoughts, jokes, and news of the day.

[Just to clarify, I mean Joan and I sharing those things… not the dogs and me.]

I hope – is this too wildly ambitious to put out there? – that we all might continue to call the people stocking grocery shelves and picking up our trash “essential.” I hope that we would continue understanding and applauding the heroic nature of those who care for our health (and the utter insanity of tying healthcare to employment status). I hope we will walk away from this pandemic with a renewed awareness of just how tightly interdependent we are and how much MY well-being is directly tied to YOURS.

I hope people will stop dying from COVID-19 and that our eyes will be permanently opened to the life-and-death consequences of institutional racism and economic discrimination.

I know that some of these hopes of mine will not come to fruition and others will. But even if two out of three of my hopes fall to the ground with a sickening THUD, I will continue to hope. Like an excellent major league hitter, I am going to be thrilled with a success rate of one out of three.

Over the course of the next few days, my goal is to share stories of hope in this space. I aim to share stories that illustrate the power of hope in the midst of bleak and apparently hopeless circumstances.

If you have one such story, I would love to hear it. Otherwise I will be harvesting them from friends, family, and the World Wide Web.

For today I will just wrap up by reminding us all that sometimes – just as the verse at the top reminds us – hope is not terribly rational. Hope is often that seed dropped onto a hard concrete sidewalk that – by God – is determined to germinate and grow.

It is also a good time to remind us all that hope which is rooted and grounded in faith, is one of the most powerful forces in all of nature. As Paul reminded the wayward worshipers in Corinth, I will also remind us: “[Christ] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV.

Abundant blessings;

16
Apr
20

Safe at home?

Guy in a bunkerLet me ask you: how safe do you feel right now?

I will answer first by confessing that most of the time, I feel pretty safe.

My safety, I am well aware, derives largely from the privilege I enjoy as a white, middle-class, educated, middle-aged, (OK, you caught me. As an OLD…) heterosexual, North American male.

Every one of those demographic categories has privilege written all over it. And with that privilege comes an outsized measure of safety… Safety from violence, safety from discrimination, safety from inherited disease tendencies, safety from rejection, and safety from – in most cases – having to earn your goodwill.

All of this “demographic privilege armor” does NOT, however, make me safe from COVID-19. And so, for one of the very few times in my life I can remember, I find myself looking at the world around me as a place of threat and potential danger.

To cope with that threat, I try to stay inside my house, just like the governor told me to. And when I am out and about, I mask up, I don my nitrile gloves, I stay AT LEAST fifteen feet away from other people, and I wash my hands so often that they are now cracked and dry. Yet even with all of those precautions, I cannot free myself from the idea that a microscopic little virus might still fly up my nose and kill me.

I don’t have to tell you; life in the time of the pandemic feels anything BUT safe.

But this all makes me stop and wonder… are any of us ever really safe? Let’s face it; something is going to get every single one of us someday. None of us is impervious to danger, disease, or distress… no matter how big an arsenal of automatic weapons we own.

And what do we mean by the word “safety” anyway? While we are posing these tough questions, let’s ask this one: just how worthwhile is SAFETY as a life goal anyway?

For answers, let’s go to that timeless source of wisdom, the Bible. Interestingly the word “safety” shows up 33 times in the Old Testament, but only once in the New. And that one time is not even a quote from Jesus. The one New Testament use of the word safety comes in this rather alarming passage from 1 Thessalonians: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, NRSV).

YIKES! Reading that passage you’d almost conclude that the pursuit of peace and safety is a massively bad idea.

I am not sure I would agree with that interpretation of this text. Concern for safety is not really a bad thing.

As we know from the studies of biology and anthropology, human beings are wired for self-preservation. We are not born with shells or poisonous barbs as part of our anatomy, but there are countless other ways that our Designer included systems in our brains and bodies dedicated to helping us “live long and prosper,” to borrow Dr. Spock’s phrase.

Our pursuit of safety gets off track, scripture tells us, in two different ways.

First, we miss the mark when we equate SAFETY with a particular set of external circumstances. That’s because it’s not. True safety is a condition of our hearts. Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:27, NRSV).

In other words, “Hey, don’t worry, y’all. God’s got this.”

Our second error in pursuing safety comes when we believe that it is OUR effort and OUR striving that produces our safety. Wrong again. We can build all the bunkers, fill all the gallon milk jugs, stockpile all the canned food and weapons on earth and not have one ounce more peace than we did before.

Authentic peace and security come from one source and one source only. Jesus put it this way in his parting words to the disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV).

It is only when we surrender our lives completely to his care and guidance that we will find deep, meaningful, and enduring peace.

And that, my friends, is about as safe a bet as you are ever going to make.

15
Apr
20

A Letter from Inside…

Jail cellDear Mom;

Well, it’s been one month now since they locked me up and this is the first time I’ve sat down and written to you. I’m really sorry about that!

It’s just that… well, honestly, I can’t come up with a good excuse.

I wake up in the morning, make coffee, stare at the wall for a while, re-heat the coffee in the microwave, take a nap, watch the evening news, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed again.

Nobody told me it was going to be like this! Back in the good old days (you know… the days before I went “inside”) I used to dream about having days like this! I thought, “How cool would it be to have nothing on the calendar… no phone calls to answer… no reason to shave or change out of my PJs… all that PLUSunlimited access to the cookie jar.”

Now my heart races with excitement when I get that robocall offering to refinance my current, high-interest mortgage rate.

And before you ask, yes, I have already finished alphabetizing my spice rack, my bookshelves AND the tool shed (although I’ll admit; it was hard to decide whether to file the garden trowel under “G” or “T”).

And yes, I have also re-hung all the pictures on the wall in chronological order AND color-coded the shirts in my closet.

I send off a new “Letter to the Editor” every day, but somehow, they don’t seem to be at all interested in my plans for harvesting all the goose poop from public parks and using it to power the city.

Neanderthals!

You know, at the beginning of this confinement I thought this might be a great time to lose a little of that “spare tire” I’ve started carrying. So far that’s not happening. It might have something to do with my access to the aforementioned cookie jar or the completely stationary nature of my other pet project: looking for secret messages hidden in the wallpaper patterns.

Oh well… thanks for listening. I hope you’re doing well.

Things could be worse, I guess. I could be actually locked up… actually unable to connect with friends and loved ones… actually deprived of a livelihood or a future the way some folks are today instead of just imagining myself in that situation.

For now, I’ll just sit here and wait for Steve Harvey to call and tell me I won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

… although what in the world I’d do with the money, I have no idea.

Signed;

  • Your loving son
02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!




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