Archive for the 'Lament' Category

“SOMETHING BRAND NEW” That Won’t Make You Sick!




“This is what God says…
‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?’” Isaiah 43:16, 19 The Message

On March 2 I flew from Las Vegas to Phoenix. High winds had buffeted Las Vegas all weekend. They transformed that hour-long flight into a bone-jarring pothole marathon! Nearly all my off-road adventures have been far smoother! As we landed in Phoenix, I wondered: Was that rough ride a preview of the year we’d just begun?

I flew home on Friday, March 6. That day President Trump signed the bill authorizing $8.3 billion to address the growing coronavirus outbreak; the huge SXSW festival in Austin, TX was cancelled; and the Grand Princess cruise ship languished off the coast near San Francisco with its 21 COVID 19-positive passengers. In the next few days we learned how the virus had ravaged Italy. The World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic. The National Basketball Association suspended its season. Tom Hanks and his spouse Rita Wilson were among a growing number of celebrities who’d contracted the disease. Government officials banned public gatherings of any significant size, including schools, churches, and “non-essential” workplaces. Life as we knew it grew “curiouser and curiouser”.

Six weeks later COVID 19 has infected almost 2.5 million people on our planet. 167,000 of them have died. 777,000 people in the US have had the virus. More than 41,000 have died. The bottom has fallen out of the stock market. More than 22 million people have filed unemployment claims. Countless families do a daily balancing act between two parents working from home and multiple children learning through some blend of home-schooling and online interaction with their teacher and class. Business meetings, birthday parties, funerals, and Sunday worship now happen on small screens in our closed-in sanitized homes.

Intellectually we understand the need for continued diligence in order to stop “community transmission” and prevent a “second wave” virus outbreak. But in our heart of hearts, a voice says, “WE’RE DONE! We’re beyond ready to “get back to normal”. Millions of unemployed people and the businesses where they once worked need to restart. Heroic but severely overworked medical personnel need a break. Farmers who’ve plowed their crops under because they couldn’t get them to market need some good news. Ordinary folks just want to share the company of other people at work, in a restaurant, a park, wherever. Families have grown closer as they’ve “stayed home”, but they could use [desperately need!] some time off from each other. Churches have had to learn to “gather” their flocks online. Some are learning well. Some are struggling. Some may not make it “back to normal”.

Our minds urge us to move slowly and cautiously toward “re-opening”. But another inner voice screams: “Won’t somebody please hit the Reset button on Life—like Yesterday?!” When we get swept up in a change tsunami like COVID 19, we tighten our grip on life. We just want to “get back to normal.” But the longer the wave pounds us, the less chance we have of making that trip successfully. We can’t reach that “reset” button because our hands are full. We’re clinging desperately to all that we’re losing—people, traditions, places, customs, our status and role. Our hands can’t open to receive and embrace God’s newness while they’re clenched tightly to the old “normal” that’s slipping away.

A journey of revolutionary change begins with grieving. We acknowledge our pain. We name our losses. We celebrate how all we’ve lost has helped form us into Christ. We express our sadness. The Bible’s Book of Lamentations shows how our Hebrew spiritual ancestors did this. So do the many Psalms that contain individual or communal laments. Grieving is a process of relinquishing our claim to all that’s been taken from us. We offer up that special person, place, or tradition into God’s care. We give God “church-as-we’ve-always-done it”. We offer up that particular task, mission, or calling through which our God-given gifts flowed so freely–which may not be there when we get back to church. [NOTE: Grieving and opening ourselves anew is seldom a one-and-done movement. Acknowledging and releasing our grief and opening ourselves to God’s newness is more often a spiritual movement we’ll learn and repeat often on our journey through transforming change.]

Moving through grief prepares us to receive God’s future with open hands, hearts, and minds. Lately lots of people (church folk and otherwise) are talking about “danger signs” in US churches. These signs include declining membership and attendance, multiple divisive conflicts in historic denominations, critical financial issues resulting in increased church closures, and failure by leaders to recognize and respond adaptively to these and other challenges.

A church think tank called Praxis has shared a very helpful paper–“Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup”. The introductory summary states that “The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to ‘get through’ for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat COVID 19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a ‘little ice age’—a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”

The people at Praxis are humble folks. More than once in their 20-page paper they acknowledge they could be wrong. They’d even like to be wrong. But if they’re in the ballpark of being right—as they appear to be–their considered wisdom can help us live into this very different future. “From today onward,” the authors write, “most leaders must recognize that the business they were in no longer exists. This applies…to for-profit businesses…non-profits, and…in certain important respects to churches.” Not the words we wanted to hear—but words we need to hear alongside the prophet’s impossible promise: “I’m about to do something brand-new. Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Easter proclaims and celebrates God’s life-giving power set loose in the world. Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate. True greatness flows from self-emptying, not self-promotion. Abundant life flows from community and connection. Easter looks forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise that “…I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

“Leading Beyond the Blizzard” suggests that this pandemic may impose its “new normal” on our lives for at least 18 months. That’s about the time needed to develop, test, and widely deploy an effective COVID 19 vaccine. It’s also long enough for “temporary” to become “the way we’ve always done it” in many contexts. Children who don’t get regular schooling may miss significant developmental markers. Folks who’ve lost their jobs may become (not by choice) permanent “dropouts” from the workforce. Churches and other institutions that think they can serve tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s playbook may not survive even that 18 months.

We who follow Jesus, we who are Easter people—we have a choice. Let us choose life as our spiritual ancestors have done over and over. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. It won’t be “the good old days”. It will be God’s New Day. Download “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” today. Stop where you are and go back to that link. Read the paper—multiple times. Share it with leaders in your church, your neighborhood, even your business; whoever you know or think might be ready to help build God’s “new thing”. Let’s do our part in re-inventing church for our neighborhood in this new world; the new world in which God has placed us; the world “God loves so much that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). And one great day, by the grace of God, we will find ourselves saying with awe and wonder, “Come and see what God has done.”


“Let’s Begin with a Word of Prayer…”

I must have said that dozens, even hundreds of times, in the last fifty or so years. People of faith frequently begin our gatherings this way. So I invite you to  pray with me as I/we begin anew with this blog. Some of you know that this retired United Methodist pastor has served for the last two years as interim pastor for a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation in a community about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, NV, where we live. It took longer than anticipated for that congregation to locate and call its new fulltime pastor. But I think most of those folks would agree with me that it took just long enough.

That  Lutheran “sojourn” was a rich experience for Dianna and me. The only downside was the weekly commute that meant we lived in two places, yet often felt we weren’t really “home” in either place. But now we’re full-time residents in our only home. We’re resuming some things we let go during that assignment, including this blog. It may be redesigned eventually. My brain has more substance it wants to share, as soon as it flows through the keyboard in an acceptable form.

But for now “let’s begin with a word of prayer”. I’ve recently begun following Shifting Margins, a blog written by retired United Methodist bishop Kenneth Carder. Yesterday he shared this prayer. It says what I’ve felt, and what I’ve heard from many folks, especially in the wake of recent violence and ugliness in this country and beyond.

Prayer of Lament and Longing
Posted on October 29, 2018
Bishop Kenneth Carder

God of Love and Peace, who created us to live in harmony rooted in mutual respect, compassion, and justice: We have lost our way and now wander in the toxic wasteland of cruel hatred, shameful disrespect for the dignity of others, and the normalization of verbal and physical violence. In such a time, our prayers seem powerless and we cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Hear our laments and turn them into actions on behalf of compassion, justice, and peace.
We lament the coarseness of our public discourse, while we long for civility.
We lament the disrespect for those who differ from us, while we yearn for mutual respect amid our differences.
We lament the tribal nature of our politics, while we long for commitment to the common good.
We lament the inequity in our economics, while we want all to have access to your table of abundance.
We lament the arrogance of always having to be right, while we desire the humility to live with ambiguity and mystery.
We lament the hatred and cruelty within our life together, while we hunger to love and to be loved.

Move through the dark recesses of my own heart, O God, and purge me of all hatred, arrogance, prejudice, and ill-will. Create in me a clean heart and put a right spirit within me, that I may be an instrument of your Love and Peace. Amen.