Holy Spirit, Heal our Broken Land

This weekend is Pentecost, when we who follow Christ celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit upon humanity at large: the ability to receive God’s spirit as part of the promise of Jesus (John 14:16). This Pentecost, we need it all the more.

This weekend we also see America melting into even more rage, stoked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has spawned not only protests but riots across the country. My heart breaks to see it all.

My heart breaks to see what happened to George Floyd. My heart breaks at the lack of caring for another human being that precipitated his death. We’ve seen the allegation that Floyd had passed off a fake $20 bill; even if so, that is not a capital crime and the police are not also judge and executioner. Even if Floyd needed to be restrained, where is the humanity in kneeling on his neck so as to cause his death? I have had the privilege of working among law enforcement for almost three decades; the use of an unsanctioned restraint technique isn’t good police work, it’s abusive, it’s terrible, and it caused a man–a human being–to lose his life.

My heart breaks at the frequency with which this happens in America, and among the non-white population. My wife asked the smart question the other night: why aren’t we seeing this happen more among white arrestees? Kinda makes me wonder.

My heart breaks at any system that we as people have set up that devalues the essential humanity of anyone else, because that flies in the face of what God teaches us. Jesus told us there were only two commandments that matter: love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). Any system we create, any system we defend, that does not honor the command to love our neighbor is ungodly and cries out for reform.

My heart breaks at rioting. My heart breaks when people wantonly destroy property, when small shops that people have spent a lifetime creating evaporate in a cloud of hate. My heart breaks when people not only take up bricks, but arrange for pallets of bricks to be trucked in ahead of time. That shows not a planning for a protest, but a planning for destruction, which comes not from justice but from retribution, not from justice but from a heart at war. My heart breaks here for the exact same reason: this does not honor the command to love our neighbor.

In the end, my heart breaks at all of the vitriol, the hatred, and the inability to listen to one another that are pervasive in the land today. I don’t know where it started, and I don’t rightly care: I just pray, Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit that it may end. Send a spirit of peace and reconciliation, send a spirit of love into our land. Let that be the legacy of Pentecost, where a spirit of truth and peace and love spreads its dove-like wings over America, and we come to know the powerful truth behind those two commandments: to love God entirely, and to love our neighbors in the exact same way.

Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.

Essential

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

There’s been a lot of discussion in social media lately about those who are essential and those who aren’t. I deeply, deeply appreciate the grocery workers and medical workers and restaurant employees and delivery people and others who are still at work, still facing the public, and still supporting us all. There seems to be a tension between those who are essential, and those who are not, over the question of when and whether we reopen fully. I had a few thoughts about that, that I shared in a video devotional: let me know what you think.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=11cbbC5APgaj1N4wLThIOoaXh9-Bh5kUW

Unfinished Business

On May 7, Mary and I officially became the parents of a college graduate, as David handed in the last assignment of his undergraduate career. Four days later, Mary and I took a day off and drove down to help David move out of his college apartment. No ceremony, neither pomp nor circumstance, no craning to see David among 2,500 other gowned graduates amid the red and white azaleas and the green of the Lawn at Radford University. This year the Lawn is empty, the buildings dark, and the only ceremony attached to the end of his four years at Radford was his surrendering his apartment keys at the landlord’s office…into a locked box, because no one is working.

He will not admit it, but I think there is a piece of him that mourns the lack of closure. He’s never been one for ceremony, but after seventeen years of formal education, some piece of him was looking for that final moment. I know his mother and I were. Is this all there is?

Others are perhaps in a similar place: graduations from high school, college, or grad school that are deferred, rescheduled, or not to be held, denying closure for the student and for the families. Similarly, for all those moving up from elementary school to junior high, or junior high to high school, there is no final ceremony, there is no final week of joy. Or even those just moving up a grade, there is a sense of unfinished business about the year that I sense in talking with people: is this all there is?

God’s people have seen unfinished business before. On March 16, 597 BC, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, captured Jerusalem. He destroyed the Temple, the center of Hebrew worship, and carried off most of the nation of Judah into captivity; we read of the fall of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 24, and we see the weeping of the people, and the confusion. The city has fallen, the Temple is in ruins, and the people have been led off into captivity…now what? Is this all there is?

God, of course, had other plans for God’s people. Jeremiah was a prophet at the time of the Captivity, and in Jeremiah 30, we read God’s promise for the future: “For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people” (Jeremiah 30:3).

I truly believe that same promise is at work today. God sees all the heartache and distress, and hears the cry of “Is this all there is?” God’s transformative work is already at hand, as we begin transforming towards reopening churches this month. The days are surely coming, when our fortunes as a congregation will change, and we can worship God once again in person as we are comfortable.

And as we do re-emerge, for all those finishing either just a year of school this year, or making a major change such as graduating, know that the same promise holds true for you; God will make everything whole. All you who are students, know that as this school year ends you are being held in prayer by your church family, for the joys of graduation and the sorrows of unfinished business. To all the graduates, God bless you on your next journeys. To all the continuing students, like me…blessings on your summer, and I’ll meet you in class in September.

The Prospect of Travel

I don’t think I’d realized how much the quarantines were getting to me until Asbury un-cancelled the on-campus portion of one of my summer classes this week.

Asbury Seminary, along with the rest of higher education, cancelled all on-campus classes for the rest of spring term this year. They had set May 4 as the next date they would reevaluate their condition, including decisions about the summer. As a student in the Virginia Annual Conference, I have to have no more than one-third of my credits be fully online, so I am continually looking for on-campus courses so as to save my online credits for later in the process.

Early in the week, though, they announced that all June campus classes would also not meet, and be entirely online. That certain took out my World Religions class that was due to meet in Orlando the week of June 22. No hope there for an on-campus time. And, I also had an e-mail announcing that my Christian Ethics class would also be online only–despite it meeting June 29 to July 1 in Kentucky.

I don’t think I was entirely surprised, but I was disappointed. I did want to be on campus, and I was really hoping to do that for both classes this summer. So I cancelled my JetBlue reservations for Orlando…but something (someone?) told me not to cancel my Delta reservations for Lexington.

At the end of the week, I had a second message, this time from the Registrar herself: my Christian Ethics class would meet on campus after all. And I was elated.

I don’t think I’d realized how much I want to travel again. I don’t think I’d realized how much I look forward to being able to go on campus: to get on the road, to be among others studying for their own career changes, to fly, to focus…all manner of things I get to do during residential weeks that I miss.

In a related vein, we’re trying to figure out when we can get to Vermont this year, perhaps later this month? But also, what should our next vacation be? I know we can’t go to Europe all the time, and since we just visited the UK in 2019, it’s time for something else. A warm beach sounds really, really good right now. But I can’t even reasonably plan for that, because of the limitations on everything.

I think that’s another effect of the coronavirus lockdowns: the inability even to plan for something that gets us, gets me, out of the house, out of the neighborhood, for the first time in weeks. I think the cancellation of the on-campus classes hit me harder than I had anticipated, and I think it had to do with a sense of “you’re never gonna get out of here, are you” that I think many of us are feeling.

I really wish I knew when all this would end; and I understand the frustration of so many who want it to end immediately. I’m more cautious; I don’t want my own personal desires to get out to contribute to any second round of infections. And right now I’m getting very tired of all the food choices we have for delivery to the house…what I wouldn’t give for a nice dinner out at the Bistro.

I know we have to wait. But little sparks of hope, like the un-cancelling of the campus time for one class, give me encouragement to keep going.