This Is Not The End Of The World

With Virginia now under a stay-home order by the Governor, we have had to move to entirely online worship, and to staying connected with one another through newer means. At church, Pastor Don and I have undertaken a series of video devotionals, meant to help and to uplift in these difficult times.

This one that I’m sharing with you is one based on an interaction I had with a cashier at a store the previous weekend, who asked if this coronavirus outbreak represented God’s judgment–whether we are in the End Times, in other words. Here’s what I had to say, and I hope it brings you some peace. Because despite all this, God’s love reigns!

And let me know what you think, and how we can be praying for you!

Prayer For Today

A good friend of mine shared this with me today, and I loved how it spoke to me in the midst of the current pandemic. I hope it brings you peace too.

Let us pray:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our minds are consumed by a virus that threatens our bodies 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our band-with is stretched thin as we try to gain control  

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our minds are filled with fear about how we will pay the bills 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our brains are tired of seeking answers to unknown scientific solutions 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our attention is devoted to 24-hour news cycles while our families still need us to see them 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Our minds are overcome with worry about how bad things may get 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Melt our fear 
Mold our faith 
Fill us with hope 
Use us to share the good news that you are the source of life and peace. 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Draw our attention to new life budding in the trees and flowers outside our windows 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Focus our minds on gratitude for breath that sustains us 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Shape our instinct to find you in everyone we see in a Zoom meeting 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Set our thoughts on what is pleasing and good 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Cultivate our creativity to find new ways to connect with our community 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
Make space in our brains for meditation on your presence in us  

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us 
May it be so  

(By Rev. Erica Robinson-Johnson, New England Conference, United Methodist Church)

Coronavirus: Coming Closer

This coronavirus pandemic is beginning to inch closer to home.

This past week one of my friends was told he should consider himself to have it, after spending a day at the ER the weekend before with pneumonia. (He had that pneumonia treated, but apparently picked up the virus as a bonus while he was there.) About five days later, he said, he just fell off a cliff: suddenly felt terrible, with shortness of breath. Then this weekend he was back in the ER because of that shortness of breath. A very scary time for him and his young family.

Last week we began full-scale telework at the office, and my wife did as well for hers. David’s spring break got extended so his professors could turn the rest of the term into online-only classes, and Sarah was laid off because there won’t be any more performances in her theatres, and the kind of work she does can’t be done remotely.

But even with those discomforts, whatever anxiety they may bring pales beside not being able to breathe, and not knowing what is going to happen next. Fortunately, they were able to get my friend stable and send him home with a nebulizer that he can use to help breathe better.

Yet what had been a major news story, what had been a source of some annoyance at disruptions in our daily lives, became a whole lot more real for us this weekend. It’s a reminder of how blessed we really are, and how this illness has the ability to turn our world upside down in an instant–and that even our friends aren’t immune: this isn’t something happening overseas, or to others, but right down the road.

It’s also a reminder, as if we needed it again, that our faith has to be in Jesus. The One who said He was the light of the world, is bringing light to us in these dark days. When we put our faith in Christ, we turn away from the negativity that threatens to drag us down. And in the midst of bad news like this, it’s what we need most: the stability of Jesus, knowing He will never abandon us.

Costco In COVID-19

This morning, I went to Costco. Yes, in the midst of the swirling coronavirus fears and preparations. Yes, after hearing reports of half-hour waits just to get into the parking lot. Yes, after all the media coverage of runs on groceries and paper products. What can I say: we needed almond milk and coffee.

I pulled up to the stoplight out front of the Costco at 11:40. It took me 15 minutes to get into the parking lot, park w-a-a-a-y away, and walk in. That really wasn’t bad: the 15 minutes included a good five minutes waiting behind someone who themselves was waiting for someone to back out of the handicapped space, so they could use it. The driver of the pickup behind me was visibly getting frustrated, even angry, at having to wait for a disabled person to find a parking space. Not a good start to the visit, I thought to myself.

On walking in, an employee stood there to wipe down the handlebar of the shopping cart I had brought in. I had to laugh because I’d been walking it in from the parking lot for a good five minutes first. It only took me about ten minutes to do the actual shopping, including, yes, the purchase of a pack of toilet paper. They had an employee stationed there, warning people, only one per customer. Is this what we’ve come to?

The entire length of the store is one long checkout line. Note everyone has toilet paper and water.

Checkout, however, took 35 minutes of standing in line. There were three lines that stretched to very back of store. The lines moved pretty quickly, but still, very daunting to see.

So what kinds of takeaways did I have from my hour at Costco?

More shoppers were wearing masks than employees: I saw only one employee with a mask, while at least a half dozen shoppers wore them. I take some comfort in that. Most carts had their allotment of toilet paper, plus bottled water–those were the popular items.

But all the more was, while it was a madhouse of people and a palpable sense of fear, it was more like an impending blizzard than the apocalypse. There was calm, there was order, there was a lot of toilet paper and water being bought…but apart from the angry pickup driver, I didn’t encounter short tempers or hideously selfish behaviors. Yes, it was easily three times busier than a normal Saturday; but it wasn’t unsociable, and in that I have hope. We may have to weather some difficult days and weeks with coronavirus, but we don’t have to do it in an atmosphere of panic.

Be Not Afraid: Scarcity

Pastor Don suffered the loss of a good friend and mentor in late February; his funeral was this past weekend, so we hurriedly switches places in the calendar. This is one of those times I think he’s glad to have someone like me around, because it’s Communion weekend, and that would’ve been a difficult thing to handle without a licensed pastor around!

It also meant that I got to kick off our Lenten sermon series, “Be Not Afraid,” which will look at all the ways the world wants us to be afraid–and the singular response God has every time. This particular weekend I talked about a fear of scarcity, and how to live into an abundance mentality instead. We have some challenges at Sydenstricker–we have a new building we want to build, and ministries to grow for the community. But we also have passionate people who are putting God in charge, like the young Hawthorn sisters whose story I tell. And in that I see a lot of hope.

Here’s the link to the livestream page, click on the 11am service for March 1 and go from there. Or if you prefer just the audio, click here. And let me know what you think!

Sabbath and Surfing

Last month I wrote about the challenge of committing to a Sabbath, and how difficult I felt it would be. The more I push into 2020, though, the more I am coming to think that is God’s word for me for this year–Sabbath. How God wants me to develop habits of rest in the midst of the crashing waves all around, how I can learn to surf all the things I need to do while still coming to a place of renewing rest.

I had a little taste of it this weekend, when we were visiting family for the long holiday weekend. While there’s certainly things to be done while visiting–helping around the house, going places, etc.–there was also welcome time to just sit, to sleep in, to rest. I know I nodded off at least once in the rocking chair while “studying” for class. (Don’t tell the professor.) And I don’t think we got any less than 8 hours’ sleep each night, which means easily 2-3 hours more than usual. It was wonderful to get away, to see family and friends, and to have a real chance to disconnect and recharge.

At the same time, I am working to stay atop the various waves of this season. We started school again at the beginning of the month, and so far I’ve been able to keep up with the work. One of the classes, my first Mentored Ministry class, invites us to update our Rule of Life that we developed in a previous class. Mine contained a pledge to begin honoring a sabbath, to do more physical exercise (time for longer walks with the Ferg), and to not obsess over getting A’s this term–to accept “good enough” and to move on.

So how’s that coming?

The weekend’s sabbath time was much appreciated and needed. I am also keeping a commitment to more social time by having dinner with a friend tonight on the way home to a church meeting (yay me for fitting it in!), and I’ve struggled to not obsess over the posts I’m making in classes–and still doing well, it appears. I have work to do in our Connect ministries this month, and will need to carve out some time for that. But for now, I feel I’m able to keep on the surfboard and ride the waves, and I am learning that in part it’s down to how much I am able to set aside time for sabbath.

I had mentioned that Saturdays would be my sabbath day; how are those coming? Wellllll….  The first one was taken up by a required on-campus class, so, insert irony here. The next, though, was the weekend away visiting family, and I do feel I was able to make use of it. This coming Saturday has very little on it as well. Check back with me on how this develops.

Through The Waters

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. (Isaiah 43:2)

I had previously shared that my January was going to be intense and nuts and just a wreck; and certainly it was. We had two m-a-j-o-r budget processes to complete between Christmas and the beginning of February; I certainly hadn’t planned to come down with bronchitis and an ear infection in the middle of it, or deal with some family matters, but those added to the pressures of the month.

Which brings us to the week just ended. Monday we released the 2020 spend plan to Congress, on time and complete. Wednesday and Thursday we were on the Hill briefing staff about the spend plan; then tomorrow we release the 2021 President’s Budget, again on time and complete. (Watch this space on Monday night for our 2021 work to show up.) I am beyond proud of our team at my Day Job for all they did to get us there.

And I am beyond amazed at the God who got me through it all.

As I write I am at the Orlando airport after a quick weekend class, part of my seminary experience. My coworkers at my Day Job were aghast that I would spend the weekend not resting and sleeping after an exhausting month (and being sick), but flying hundreds of miles within 24 hours for an 8-hour class. What they don’t understand is how incredibly recharging such a time can be for me. This class is one of my required Mentored Ministry classes, and we spent the time talking about all that can derail us from God’s work, and the many ways that ministry can drag us down. Inspiring, I know. But actually, it is: by confronting the reality of the work I am beginning, I can think through how best to stay focused on orthopraxis and not orthodoxy: in other words, on how to lead people to BE the church, rather than to just RUN a church. The key is to remain in connection with the Holy Spirit: as Jesus promised, remain in the vine and I will remain in you (John 15:5).

We still have work to do at the Day Job; the rollout press conferences are this week, and there will be Congressional testimony to prepare. But I’m more excited about the work we’re going to begin at Sydenstricker to reinvigorate our Connect ministries starting this spring. And now that the spring term has started at seminary, lots of reading and writing beckons as well. But you know? The same God who led me through the waters of January will lead me through all that as well. I can’t wait to see what unfolds next.