“But, Wait!”

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I am intrigued by the gospel stories that describe the calling of Jesus’ disciples. Mark’s version (1:16-20) is this weekend’s Revised Common Lectionary reading. According to Mark, Jesus has passed the “temptation in the wilderness” test and discovered that John the Baptist has been arrested. In typical Markan fashion, we don’t get details about either.

Jesus makes his way up from Judea to Galilee, “proclaiming the good news of God.” Then, as he walked along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew out fishing, and you know the rest of the story. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”. An odd recruitment offer, but they are fishermen, after all. What might he have said if they were librarians? Or engineers? Or retired pastors!?

Their response – Simon, Andrew and later in this paragraph, James and John- has always astounded me. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him”. Seriously? They dropped everything. They left their work, their families and their homes based on that brief invitation? (By the way, Matthew records the story the same way. In Luke, Jesus’ disciples witness the miraculous catch of fish before leaving it all to follow him.)

I just have to think there was more to it. They must have heard Jesus preach. They must have known something about him. Maybe they had a mutual friend. And they must have had some reason – a reason we don’t get to know – for trusting him enough to make the sacrifices required to leave their familiar lives to follow him. Or… maybe not. Maybe there was something in his persona, his eyes, his tone of voice that made the offer irresistible. I wish I knew.

Here’s what troubles me most. Not what Simon and Andrew and John and James did, but what I would have done. If it had been me, if I’d been the one going about my daily work and Jesus came up to me and said, “Come and follow me”, I know what I would have said. I would have said, “What? Right now? I’m a little busy. And where are we going? When will I be back? What will be required? Do you have a brochure or a business card or something? Who else is going? Can you give me a day or so to think about it and then get back to you?” I see Jesus shaking his head and moving on. “But wait!” I say.

Spontaneity is not my gig. I’m not a “drop everything and go” kind of woman. And I wonder how many “Jesus invitations” I’ve missed out on, how many times I have overthought details and potential consequences in service of being “safe” and “in control”. Maybe you have too.

I suspect there is more to the gospel story than we’re told. But the point is made and taken. For me, it’s about playing it a little less safe, taking a few more risks, being a bit more bold when it comes to following Jesus. I’m convinced that that’s where the joy is. That’s how we are blessed to be a blessing!

Hide and Seek: Child’s Play?

(From June, 2018. Sadly, still relevant)

My six-year-old granddaughter and I love to play hide-and-seek. She’s much better at it now than when she was three. In those days she’d announce where she was hiding, “I’m in the closet, Grandma!” and still be surprised and delighted when I found her.

Sometimes, now, she actually stumps me and I call out, “I give up, where are you?”  Giggling with glee, she’ll slither out of some impossibly small space, full of smug satisfaction. Hide-and-seek – such easy fun.

Wednesday afternoons I volunteer in her classroom, listening to first-graders read. It’s a big square, hopeful space, full of light and life and learning. From floor to ceiling, the stuff of well-organized first grade knowledge calls out: writing a letter, counting money, how mountains are formed, experiments with plants, math patterns, reminders about mutual respect, and piles and piles and piles of books. So much to know, so much to learn!

My time with them is right after recess, when they have just come in from the playground. One by one, they come to me in the back hallway, between the bathrooms and the coat cubbies. They are sweaty and dirty and breathless, their little bodies still pulsing energy from their play. Black and white and many shades of brown. Tall and short, all in various stages of toothlessness. Although I love one of them so much more deeply, I must admit I love them all.

I can’t see what the rest of the class is doing, but I can hear. Their teacher is sharp and skilled and serious about learning. She has an impressive bag of tricks to get them to settle down for writing and reading time. Most days they respond dutifully and quickly. But this particular day -hot and muggy, so close to the end of the school year – she needed all those tricks. And still the noise level kept rising.

Until, in the middle of it all, this: a sharp interruption from the PA system: “Code Red.” That’s all, just “This is a Code Red.”

They moved so quickly. The lights were extinguished, the door locked, and within seconds they were all huddled in the dark. Most of them fit in a little nook behind the teacher’s desk. Their teacher guarded the entrance to this little space. Others were curled up in their coat cubbies.

Twenty-some innocent little bodies, sitting on the floor, hoping not to be found. Hiding from someone who might burst into their classroom, armed with an assault weapon and a bellyful of rage, who might find them easy targets for his anger. This was the sickest game of hide-and-seek I could imagine.

The worst of it was the silence. Being well trained, they knew that any noise might reveal to the shooter that this was not an empty room to be ignored. Any noise might put them and their classmates in grave danger, might make them targets. Please don’t find us. Please don’t find us.

It might have been two minutes. It might have been five or ten. It felt like forever, waiting in the silence for something to happen, praying it wouldn’t.

What was going on out there? I strained to hear, listening for screams or shouting or sirens. Nothing. I was 99% sure that it was just a drill. From where I stood I could see across the courtyard to the other corridor of the building. There the custodians were going about their work. They wouldn’t do that if there was a shooter in the building. Would they?

I couldn’t see my granddaughter as she huddled behind the teacher’s desk. Was she scared? Confused? What was going through her head? How did she understand this? I wanted so badly to go to her and hold her close. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep her safe.

I crouched around the corner from the door and couldn’t be seen right away if a shooter came in. There were several classroom chairs within easy reach. I imagined having a split second to grab one and throw it at him. Could I do it? Would it be enough? Then what would happen? Crazy thoughts, in a crazy situation.

Then just as suddenly as it began, it was over. “Code green,” the PA system announced. Just a drill. The first-graders went back to their work, slightly subdued, but only for a few minutes. Then it was back to their noisy busyness; precious, beloved, one-of-a-little people who have done this before and will do it again, in the midst of day full of learning. I, on the other hand, was completely heartbroken and won’t forget the fear and the sense of helplessness. My grandma heart still hurts to think about it.

God forgive us for making this necessary. God forgive us for making it normal. Hide-and-seek will never be the same.

Too Much at Home for Church

Our pandemic “worship at home” routine started out so well. I set up an altar on our dining room table. A lovely seasonal placemat served as the parament. There were altar flowers, fresh if possible. Two candles along the margins. In the center, the set up for communion: a pair of crystal aperitif glasses, normally used as sampling glasses for my husband’s Scotch tasting club, and a small pottery dish, intended for this very purpose in private communion, remnant of my pastoring days. Our laptop completed the set- up, as we tuned into the Facebook watch party.

We arranged all this and arrived at the altar on time every Sunday morning, dressed for the day. Week after week after week, as the pandemic stubbornly kept us from gathering in community, we sat side by side on dining room chairs and listened and prayed and sang – and it was good. Through those months, and still now, we have watched our beloved church staff adapt to this new way of doing worship, and found ourselves surprised at how satisfying it was. Not as good as being there, by any means. But still good, still engaging, still life-giving. Still holy.

But the pandemic raged on. I started doing jigsaw puzzles, big ones, ones that took weeks to complete and ended up spread out over half the dining room table. Our altar got swished to one end. One Sunday, I didn’t get dressed in time and I worshipped in my pajamas and robe and discovered the sky didn’t fall, lightning didn’t strike and I only felt a little guilty  (but please, don’t tell my mom).

One day we discovered that even though our TV is not very smart, we could connect it to the laptop, make it smarter and watch shows that we couldn’t get before. Oh – and we could worship that way too! So we ditched the dining room altar and the small screen and now we worship side by side on our family room couch, in front of the TV.

The crystal glasses and pottery dish and a candle are still included, on the coffee table/altar. But there’s also the Sunday crossword, a couple of coloring books and a pile of magazines. Last Sunday during worship I caught myself slouched on the couch, coffee cup in hand with my bare feet on the altar (coffee table) and thought, “Good grief! This isn’t good. What next?” Images of dragging the computer into bed with jelly- toast fingers come to mind.

Still, some things have remained, and they are sacred things. The words of liturgy and sermon, prayers and sacrament. The pleasure of “seeing” who is worshipping with us and greeting them in the comment section. And the time every Sunday when Rich and I lift the bread (Wheat Thin) to each other and say, “the body of Christ given for you” and then the wine (sparking juice) and offer it to each other, saying “the blood of Christ, shed for you”. Precious, intimate, real. Holy.

God bless the church staff as they try to figure out when and how we can worship in person again. I’m trying to be patient, but I want so badly to be in the sanctuary. To turn in my chair and talk to the person behind me. Grin at the kids across the open space, experience the sights and sounds of worship without camera or screen involved. I want to sing with the whole room filled again. I can’t wait until we can hug and laugh and cry – together. And how I long for the day when we can all stand in a circle around the altar again. When we can be fed from one loaf and one chalice and receive again the blessing and the invitation in person. “Go now, fed and forgiven, to be God’s Good News in the world”.

I promise I’ll come dressed and ready for the day. I won’t put my feet on the altar. But I bet I’ll look across that circle and cry. And I won’t be the only one.

Papers Purged, Memories Kept

On a recent January afternoon I began the long-avoided task of clearing out old files. Specifically, a four-drawer cabinet in the basement that has been the haphazard repository of a zillion pieces of paper for about a zillion years (ok, decades).

With a big laundry basket at my feet – our recycling containers were inadequate for the task – I perched on a small stepstool, and took a deep dive into the history of my adult life, circa 1971 – 2003.

The oldest thing I came across was an angry letter I wrote to God when I was nineteen. There had been a terrible car accident and my good friend’s fiancé had been killed. It was the first, but certainly not the last angry letter I’d write to God.

My first teacher contract was in one file. Third grade, Palmer Lake Elementary School in Brooklyn Center, 1976. Total compensation: $9,746.00. One of you do the math and figure out what that would be in 2021 dollars. Are we paying teachers better today?

In the same folder were several annual observation reviews by my principal. On the one dated just before our wedding he says, “Hurry up and marry Richard…”! Why would he say that? Was I, perhaps, a bit distracted? What did it mean that he actually put it in writing on an official document? I think these things were a bit more casual then.

I found every single one of our daughter’s report cards, from preschool through high school. They’re hers now. I think she could keep them for when she needs reminding of how brilliant she is! Seriously.

There were travel brochures and ticket stubs from long ago trips to the other side of the globe, teaching licenses of various vintages and instruction manuals for things that they don’t make anymore (portable cassette player, anyone?). I found receipts for furniture that had been given away long ago. And because I am a perpetual student, there were so, so many grade slips!

Speaking of grade slips, it soon became clear to me that there are many things I used to know, used to able to write about confidently, but have largely forgotten. I came across old blue book essay tests wherein I compared, at length, the child development theories of Freud, Skinner, Erickson and Badura. Seminary papers that were deep discussions of atonement theology, carefully foot-noted. (OK, I still want to remember these.)

From pre-Ordination ministry years, there were piles of handouts, teaching notes and highlighted articles, mostly about children, faith, and faithful parenting. Though the formats are outdated, the content is not. Doing right by kids, helping them grow faith, seeking to live compassionate lives together – these things are as critically important as they’ve always been.

When the day was over, I had three and a half drawers full of empty folders. (There was half a drawer of sermons; couldn’t quite part with that yet!) My husband carried the overflowing laundry basket upstairs and out to the recycling container; it was too heavy for me. I saved two or three slim folders to be stored elsewhere.

It turned out to be a good day. A really good day. I was reminded, over and over again, of what a curious, but blessed, career path I’ve followed. How much I loved being a teacher, a student, a children’s minister, a pastor.

It was a day to think about what matters and what doesn’t. Pieces of paper generally belong in the second category. The people, the connections, the learning, the experiences and joy. That’s what matters. And those things are stored someplace more permanent. They’re safely tucked away in my grateful heart.

Lessons Learned and Relearned Pandemic 2020

Perhaps it’s too soon for us to be very objective about the year that’s about to pass. Certainly, historians will have much to say in years to come about how we suffered and survived, what forces were at work in the systems and institutions of our time. But I’m a perpetual student, always trying to parse what learning is available in the circumstances and experiences of life. So here’s a preliminary list of things I’ve learned or relearned in 2020.

First, life can turn on a dime. Everyone learns this eventually. But it’s an uncomfortable truth and readily ignored, whenever possible. Sudden change – big, consequential, sometimes terrifying change – can happen at any time, in any place and in any life. Life really can be going along just fine, when bam! Out of the blue, disaster strikes. Covid-19 crashed into our consciousness for real in the midst of March, when we found ourselves dealing with “stay at home” orders and health threats that rattled us to the core. Such a thing had never happened to us, never even been imagined by most of us. Suddenly, what was “normal” life the first week of March had been turned completely on its head and everything from work to school to grocery shopping to being with friends had to be radically reconsidered.

Second, leadership matters. Before this current administration I would have not considered the U.S. president to be much of an influencer when it comes to public behavior. But this president has refused to promote the common good, and has rejected simple, scientifically solid prevention measures, and thousands have followed him, much to our detriment. If we could have avoided politicizing public health policy, we might have saved thousands of lives.

Some seem to have forgotten that we belong to one another. It’s imperative that we learn and remember this as we move forward. The stubborn individualists that refused to adopt simple protocols like mask-wearing for the sake of the greater good serve as a harsh reminder of just how far down the road of “every man/woman for him/herself” we’ve come. It’s confounding and disheartening. After all, we all breathe the same air. Unless you have your own personal supply of air, you have a responsibility to me and everyone else who breathes around you. My health is my own responsibility? Yes. And no. Our collective health is our collective responsibility.

We really are all in this together. We really do have to look out for one another. Not just because it’s right – “Love your neighbor as yourself” should sound familiar to most of you –  but because it’s the fastest way to get through this. It’s not just common good; it’s common sense.

Finally, my biggest takeaway from the 2020 pandemic is this: the ability of human beings to endure and to adapt – to pivot, they say – is astounding! This has been so hard, and yet we’ve done it. Every single business, every single church, every single home, every single person had to change how they lived, some much than others, those at the bottom most of all. And not discounting the many losses, nor denying the need to grieve what we’ve lost, it’s still surprising the new ways that blessings have come.

Virtual choirs, Zoom meetings, tele-health, Zoom happy hours, working from home, entertainment work-arounds, worship via Facebook Live and so much more. Such creativity! And most especially the work of teachers, parents, students and medical professionals.  Such fortitude!

I’m not claiming that any of this easy or over with. I know we are desperate for relief. But how many times did we say “I can’t do this” and then went ahead and did it? We are stronger than we thought we were. This, too, is worth remembering.

So good-bye, 2020. Someday our grandchildren will be talking about you to their grandchildren. I’m praying that they’ll be able to say it was a turning point in our history. That after the suffering of 2020 we became kinder, wiser people who learned to take better care of the earth and each other. Please God, may it be so.

It’s Perfect!

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas - Holiday Gifts

Perfectionists have a terrible time buying gifts. At least this one does. I have some truly awesome people in my life – dear family, friends old and new – and the love I feel for them is so deep and wide that sometimes I cry tears of gratitude for them. Seriously.

When Christmas comes around, my desire is to take all that love and gratitude, all that admiration and affection, and find the one perfect gift for them that will convey the entire weight of that emotion. I want to wrap it up and present it to them as a total representation of my utter devotion.  It should be something that makes them grin from ear to ear and declare from the newly-warmed cockles of their heart, “Wow! This is perfect! You really do love me, don’t you?” You see my problem, right?

So I try to start my shopping early in the season. But that just allows me more time for indecision, second-guessing, and angst. I wander the aisles or the websites for hours, asking myself, “Is this good enough?” “Would this be better?” I lie awake at night, wondering, “Red or blue? Which would she like better?” Taking a deep breath, I finally make a decision and a purchase. Gift receipt firmly in hand, I walk away thinking, “Maybe I should have bought the other one.”

Some people make Christmas lists. This wasn’t part of my childhood. I was raised by serious and practical people. We weren’t encouraged to ask for specific gifts. The giver was completely in charge of the gift, not the receiver. If they got it wrong and you were disappointed, you smiled and said thanks and hoped for something better next year.

Christmas lists take the pressure off gift-buying, that’s true. Shopping off a list is much like choosing food off a restaurant menu. People get exactly what they want, no more, no less. There’s no having to hide disappointment behind a fake smile, no hassle of return lines, no worries about if it will fit and be the right color. Also, none of that occasional hurt that comes when someone who should have known better gives you something thoroughly unlikable.

But lists take the pleasure out of gift buying as well. You lose the experience of bringing that person to mind and imagining what might please them, the excitement of anticipating the opening and (potential) delight. You know, the part that makes it fun!

Here’s the thing. All good gift-giving is rooted in love. The kind of love that comes from having made time enough and paid attention enough to really know the other. Not just in their role – husband, child, friend – but as a separate person, with desires and preferences of their own. When you’ve dedicated time, money and energy to knowing and pleasing them, and when you get it right, wow! It’s not just the object, it’s the recipient’s joy in being known and loved. That’s the best kind of gift!

But oh my friends, we love so imperfectly. Our attention to our loved ones is fleeting and often distracted; our seeing is clouded by our own egos and biases. We’re so quick to presume we know someone, and we don’t, really. We make judgements, and we judge wrongly. “Who are you, really? What would make you happy?” These questions take patience and humility to answer. It’s hard work. It’s time consuming and self-sacrificial. And that’s before we even begin the work of shopping and find out that generosity is harder than it looks.

We love imperfectly, so we give each other imperfect gifts. Oh, once in a while we get it right. Most of the time we come pretty close. And God willing, we’ll have another chance at it next year. It’s important that we give and receive gifts with an abundance of grace. Of course, any relationship that lives or dies based on right gift-giving isn’t worth the effort anyway. I don’t remember what my husband got me last year, or most of the forty-two Christmases we’ve shared. But I’ve never, in all those years, doubted his love and commitment to me, which he shows in thousands of non-gifting-buying ways.

Truth is, any and all human gifts are pale shadows of the one great gift we celebrate every year at this time. The One God who in the beginning spoke the world into being, who created us in our mother’s wombs, who is intimate and infinite, transcendent and tender, the source and end of all life – that God – is the ultimate gift-giver.

God listens, watches, knows our darkest secrets, and our highest hopes, attending to us as beloved children – all day, every day, our whole lives long. God desires what is best for us and longs for our pleasure. God’s generosity knows no bounds. In God, we are completely known and unconditionally loved, just as we long to be.

And so we come to Christmas again, not just to give gifts, not just to stumble and fret over our own gift-buying challenges, but to celebrate once more the very best gift:  The great God of all creation wrapped Godself up in frail human skin and gave us Godself. The perfect gift. Once and for all.

Used with permission. Originally posted on Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, MN.”

Slow, Hard Soul Work

We were just leaving my mom’s assisted living residence, waiting for the light to change, when there was a sudden movement at the driver’s window. There was a black woman in very obvious distress, pleading tearfully for help. She needed $14 to take the Greyhound bus back to Wisconsin with her four kids; they had all been sleeping in their car and she desperately wanted to get back home. I quickly handed her a twenty dollar bill – and yes, I know it might have been a scam. Years of church work taught me that. But maybe it wasn’t.

Driving away, I was aware of several uncomfortable feelings. First, guilt. I have a terrible time with white guilt. Why do I have everything I need and more, and she doesn’t have $14.00 to get home? Why do I feel protected by the police, when people of color are justifiably frighted of them? Why do I get to live in this beautiful suburban neighborhood so far from the turmoil of racial unrest? Truly, my white guilt is of no benefit to anyone, including people of color, but guilt is something I do often and well. So, there you are.

The second feeling was more damning. I didn’t like seeing how needy she was. It was so emotional and so overt. I come from a line of quiet, unemotional people; public displays of emotion often make me squirm. But this was more than that. I knew there was a deeper story here, where it was a scam or not. There was a story, a sad, maybe tragic story – and I just didn’t want to stay and hear it. This was a human to human, mother to mother encounter, and truly, part of the reason I gave her $20 was to make her go away, which she did. And I got to drive away – that’s what privilege looks like.

If. I told myself. If it wasn’t for COVID and the fear of exposure, if the light hadn’t turned green, if I wasn’t worn out from our morning; if, if, if. Maybe then I would have gotten out of the car. Maybe I would have sat down with her and listened to the whole story. Maybe I would have learned something, Maybe we would have cried together. Maybe we would have prayed. But I didn’t and she was gone by the time we pulled away.

Anti-racism work is soul work. It requires a willingness to go into the deep, dark corners of your motivations and behavior. To question much of what you were taught and what you absorbed from the home and community of your childhood – and to acknowledge that some of it is bone-deep requiring serious emotional surgery. Anti-racism work means learning to see, to really see and recognize, your white privilege. Not to make yourself feel guilty – guilt is cheap and easy. But to begin the agonizingly slow work of heart change.

This is our work, my dear white friends. We, who so confidently claim to be not racist, need to learn how to be anti-racist. Our work for justice has to move out from our comfortable liberals mindsets and eager charity work to the long hard work of self-education, advocacy and a whole lot of listening to black voices. If you think it will be easy or quick or fun, you’re not paying attention. It’ll be none of those things. But it will be good.

If you are committed to this work, take out your calendar, digital or paper, and move ahead to early December, 2020, six months from now. Make this note to yourself “BLM, what have you learned? how have you changed?” Pray that when we get there, we’ll be satisfied with our answers.

Risen, Indeed!

I love the Bible stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. All four gospel writers include them. My favorite is one of Luke’s stories, known to most of us as the Walk to Emmaus. But John’s stories – he has three – delight just as much. Matthew’s narrative jumps pretty quickly from Jesus greeting the two Marys at the tomb to the brief commissioning of the disciples and ends there. Mark, of course, has a different feel to his story entirely, assuming you follow the most ancient texts and end it at verse 8. The disciples were terrified, they ran away and told no one. The end. (But of course, they must have told someone, right? Because we know the story!)

But let’s go back to Luke. Here’s Cleopus and his friend, walking home (presumably) on the Day of Resurrection. A mysterious stranger joins them, appearing it would seem, out of nowhere. Now these two disciples must have seen Jesus during his ministry; later in the chapter Luke tells us that they were friends of “the eleven”. But for some reason “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”. Huh. In the margin of my seminary Bible I wrote this question: by whom? Who or what kept them from recognizing him? And why?

Wouldn’t you have loved to hear Jesus’ words to Cleopus and friend, “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”? Makes me wish Cleopus would have taken notes! The Gospel according to Cleopus – I’d buy it!

Then there’s the meal they shared that sounds so much like other meals they might have shared that they finally see him for who he is. And just like that, he’s gone.

It’s apparent from these stories that there is something different about Jesus’ resurrected body. He can appear and disappear. Locked doors don’t keep him out. His looks have changed enough that people don’t recognize him right away (or was it so unimaginable to see a dead person alive again that their brains just couldn’t go there?) Yet his very human crucifixion wounds remain, and in both Luke and John, he eats fish, just any other person would. The wonder and mystery of it intrigues me. The disciples don’t know what to make of it. And what about Jesus, what was this like for him?

But of course, it’s not my delight in John’s and Luke’s storytelling, nor my curiosity about the physical/spiritual details of the resurrected Jesus that matter the most. It’s what Jesus, formerly dead and now alive, did and said. (And maybe what he didn’t do or say, like complain about their betrayal and scold them!)

The post-resurrection Jesus did such familiar things – such Jesus-like things -when he was reunited with his disciples. He taught them, as he always had, opening up the scriptures. He took bread, blessed, broke and gave it them, such strong echoes of the Last Supper. He forgave them and commissioned them and performed a miracle of fishing abundance. And over and over, he offered them his peace. All this, I believe, so they might know him, and see the continuity between the Jesus who was and the Jesus who is.

When someone we love dies, we often talk about the importance of closure – that it’s necessary to view the dead body and carry out our rituals of mourning, so our minds and hearts can truly accept the truth of our new reality.

Maybe that was the point of Jesus’ post-tomb appearances. Not to help them accept his death, but to grasp the new reality of his victory over death. “It’s really me,” he seems to say. “Listen and watch, talk with me, eat with me, touch me and see, I am alive! I want you to know this for absolute certain, because you, my friends, you’re going to be telling the whole world.” And so they did. And so must we.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Love and Suffering

I’ve been feeling the need to “say something”, to offer up some kind of comfort or wisdom or spiritual perspective about this pandemic we’re living through. And I’m trying to. But there is so much I am simply unwilling to say. I refuse to offer up shallow pep talks and trite adages. There are no easy answers or fast-forward buttons. This is really, really hard. And although I do believe, absolutely, that we’ll get through it together, and maybe (if we’re wise and well-led) even be better people on the other side. But the truth is, there’s a lot of suffering to be endured before then.

You can disagree with me, of course, but I don’t believe that my generation, or the generations that have come after mine are much acquainted with suffering. Some have experienced personal loss and periods of great distress. Yes. We could all offer up names. And those on the margins of society, the poor, the weak, the small, they have always known what it is to suffer.

But I’m talking about shared suffering, suffering that transcends our individual lives and rises from great disturbances beyond our control. Suffering that changes our collective history, like the coronavirus. We are all of us – every single one of us – vulnerable right now and we will all suffer in one way or another. Even if no one we love gets sick, please God, we will feel the pain. Routines that have long given structure and security to our days are disrupted, likely for a good long while. We are being asked to do our lives much differently, without any preparation and completely against our personal choice. Anxiety – generalized and specific – is high; despair threatens. What will tomorrow bring? Next week? How long, O Lord?

This is uncharted territory for most Americans alive today. I think of my dad’s generation. Good grief. Born in 1911, he endured the flu epidemic of 1918, the early death of both his parents, WW1, the Great Depression and WW2, all before he was past his 40’s. His generation was acquainted with suffering, real, genuine, long-haul struggle. They learned the hard lessons of endurance and courage and sacrifice in the school of life.

So now, it’s us. And maybe we’ll adapt more slowly, inexperienced as we are. But we’ll endure, because we have to. What feels so totally foreign today will become a new normal. Some morning we’ll wake up and the knot in our collective stomachs will be gone. In my somewhat long life and experience, I have often been amazed at the capacity we human beings have for adapting to hard stuff. And every night since this crisis started I go to bed amazed at and grateful for what I see brave and generous human beings doing in the face of it. Maybe you are one of them. If so, thank you.

I get a daily email meditation from Father Richard Rohr, a teacher/theologian and spiritual sage. He founded and runs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque (cac.org). I’m cutting and pasting a large section of today’s writing.

“We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. .. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament…Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).”

Today I am suffering because the people I love are suffering. The world I know and love is suffering. I want so badly to numb out the pain, to push it away and refuse to give it voice. It would be so much easier! But if love is the root of that pain – and it is – then perhaps my suffering – and yours -can be a holy thing. I will lean into it, I’ll let myself feel it (but not constantly, that’s too much! ) and give thanks for the connection at its root. And I’ll pray some more, maybe shed a few tears, then go find some way to make a difference. I bet you’re doing the same.

Transfiguration: Did you even hear what God said?

If you heard a really inspiring Transfiguration Sunday sermon, or, my dear pastor friends, you preached what seemed like a helpful, grace-filled message that day, good on you! I always thought the Transfiguration was a challenge for preaching.

The whole scene- glorious, wonderful as it is – is heavily weighted with Old Testament themes. Moses on the mountaintop, the bright cloud, the appearances of Elijah and Moses (The 6-year-old that still lives inside me still wants to know how they knew that’s who they were; it’s not like they had pictures!). It all requires some kind of explaining, in order to get into what the event might signify. But I’ve never found that explaining to be very helpful, in and of itself.

And then there’s the whole “whiz-bang” nature of it. I mean no disrespect. It’s just SO unusual, SO other-worldly, SO unreal that the very nature of the miracle gets in the way of its relatability. Again, no disrespect intended.

So, as I was thinking about the story, using all my smarty-pants seminary knowledge, trying to fit it into some kind of cognitive whole, I remembered (God reminded me, once again) of the limits of human knowledge and imagination. Of the limits of MY knowledge and imagination!

There I was, caught up in my ego-driven, analytical mind, needing to affirm myself by “getting it”. And then I heard (in my head) an echo of what the voice of God said in the story, “listen”. Although in my head, God said, “Stop thinking, shut up and listen!” But not in a mean way.

God says, “listen.” It doesn’t get much more basic than that. All that smarty-pants analysis has its place, of course. I’m not against study, God knows! But first, we listen. We shut off our analytical, studious brain, quit talking and listen.

And so, there’s my Lenten discipline: to listen to Jesus, while simultaneously releasing my desire to control and comprehend the message. Maybe there will be new ways, or rediscovered old ways for me to hear. Who knows? But I’m committed to paying attention more carefully for the next forty days. It seems doable, but kind of hard – very “Lent-ish”.

Lenten blessings, all.