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Slipping Past

The days are slipping past.  How can it be July?  There is no holiday on the horizon, booked at the end of last year, to be enticing me into August or September.  How can it be summer?

The long, golden days are no more.  There is still sun, but it is now mixed with showers, but where is the rainbow that offers hope to the weary world?  It is not in my sky at the moment.
How can so many days have passed since we last visited with our kids and listened to wedding plans?

The sun hasn’t slipped out of the sky, nor have the days markedly shortened.  I know it is still summer, but my usual markers are not in my life.  Now each day is marked by virtual meetings.  It is Tuesday, it must be Bible Study.  If it is Friday, it must be Coffee Morning.  It’s a bit like those European trips, if it’s Monday, it must be Paris.  The days slip past so quickly, yet they hold so little to set them apart, so few of the events that mark the life of a minister.  There are no weddings, a few funerals, but no endless line of regional meetings, no thinking about worship in the context of different churches, no visits to hospitals, no coffee mornings where I turn down cups of tea.

The days slip past—I know I will not come out of this with a new skill.  I wonder what I will say about this time in years to come?  There is beauty in the noticing of creation and the simpleness of life.  But there is sadness—in hearing people fight with each other, in people hoarding medicines, in our failing to see our neighbours as human, in the continued brokenness of God’s creation.  

As I watch the news, I do rejoice with those who have survived the virus.  I feel sad about those who haven’t.  But the days slip past and I am afraid.  I worry.  I don’t want to find myself infected with the virus.  I want to protect myself and my family.  I worry about the economy and the future job market for our children and grandchildren.  The pressing wait of climate change has not lessened, just slipped slightly out of view.  

I don’t know what lies ahead.  Of course, the reality is that we never do, but for most of my life, I have plotted and planned where to go and what to do.  And now I wait; I worry; I wonder; I work.  
And the days slip by, one very much like the other.  The highlight—a trip out in the car for an hour or so, within the radius allowed—until tomorrow, when the trips become longer but the risk becomes more.  The days slip past, and I wonder what tomorrow holds.

A Home

I have lived in many houses.  The one that shapes how I think about “home” is the little pink house, which Brits would call a bungalow.  Though a small house it had huge plate glass windows at the front.  Two of those windows looked across the street to a field where a few horses grazed, and a wood beyond.  There was another window, at a right angle to the living room window that looked down to the bay, a few miles away.  The windows were taller than my parents, and about the width of the front room.  It was a little house filled with light.  From that house my brother and I boarded the yellow bus to go to school or walked down the street to our second school.  We walked up the street to our friends’ house, and played in the woods behind their home.  We created a world in the empty lot just beyond our neighbour’s house.  In that house we learned about love and loss.  We left to move across the country but after a year we returned, to the same community and the same house. 

That little house and the community there have shaped my expectations of home.  Light, love, and loss.  Friends shared laughter and food.  Friends supported each other through pain and celebrated the joyful moments.  It was a home.

I have lived in lots of places sense then.  Most of the houses I have lived have not been my choice for, as a minister,  I have lived in houses provided by the church.   The last house I lived in, I hated.  It was dark.  The floors made noise.  When I was in the bedroom, I could hear the tv in the living room through the ceiling.  I could go on, but I won’t.  Despite the fact I hated the house, it became a home.  There I experienced love and loss.  From there my last child was launched into the world. There my oldest child brought her long-term partner to meet our family.  There we shared meals with new friends.  There we created community—people who accepted and loved us and who we accepted and loved in return.

It takes time to develop roots.  I love the house I live in now, but I don’t have roots yet.  Will this house become a home? We have had a few “home” moments—a Christmas together, a 25th  birthday party, a wedding dress buying trip, a welcome tea party.  But in the midst of a pandemic, it is hard to imagine inviting people here to share a meal and laughing around the table any time soon.  I can’t imagine friends coming to stay or friends filling the house in times of loss.    

What makes a house a home?  Love, loss, but most of all friends.  How do you build relationships in a pandemic?  If it’s online, perhaps it doesn’t matter where you live. Maybe the laughter that digitally fills the study is making my house a home?  Maybe the prayer that digitally happens in the dining room is creating a home.  Maybe the listening that happens digitally in the living room is filling the house with love?  There is definitely loss—we have all experienced losses in the last few months, but maybe through these digital connections, there is more laughter and love than I imagine.

Rising

I rise.  Today as like every other day, I rise.  Some days it is hard, but I wake up and get out of bed.  Each day seems very much the same.  There are Zoom meetings.  There are tasks to perform.  There are no major markers or possibilities to pull me forward.  Each day is a bit like housework: one task is finished for this day, but  it isn’t finished. Dishes will again need to be washed.  The laundry basket fills itself.  The same tasks, the same walks, the same food.

I rise.  I make myself a drink, look at the paper and then think, “Which task to tackle first?”  “What meeting do I need to remember?”  “Who do I need to contact?”  And then as the day progresses, I notice what has distracted me.  What has kept me from completing my to do list for today?  What will I put off until tomorrow because it doesn’t really matter?  Each day is the same.

I rise.  And I wonder what will rise at the end of these three months?  Shopping? I feel the pull but I have no desire to go there.  Restaurants?  How I miss not cooking, but I have no desire to go there either.  Overseas holidays?  Not for some time.  Church gatherings?  I am not sure, churches, like restaurants, can be areas for spread of the virus.

What I want to do is see friends, look forward to conversations without the strange pauses of broadband or speaking at the wrong moment  because our cues for listening are off on the internet.  

Maya Angelou wrote a beautiful poem with the line, “And still, I rise.”  I have thought that these words were part of her response to sexual violence and racism.  Her image of rising again is powerful— a statement of hope and determination.

But these are not just words of hope; they indicate action.  Rising, we get up and start again.  Perhaps this is the power of resurrection.  By getting up every morning we act with hope—even if we don’t feel hopeful.  It is a commitment to a new day, new possibility, the surprise of a gift, maybe? We get up and allow another day to move around us.  We engage with the day as we can.  We ignore what we need to, but rising gives room for something, someone other than ourselves, for hope to spread light in our lives.  Maybe?

I rise.

Facing our enemy


In 20 years people will be reading what was said about the pandemic.  One of the things they will note is the language of warfare that is being used.  The virus is an “unseen enemy.”  We are waging a “war.”  We have to “stay safe”—as if our lives are about to be blown up by a bomb. 

This kind of language may be helpful to some, but it activates a very basic human response it us.  
This type of language highlights that we are under threat.  When humans are threatened, they respond with in one of three ways—fight, flight or freeze.  Our individual responses may vary depending on our personal circumstances, our families of origin, our histories, but these three response are basic human instinct.  

The emergence of the virus and the rules that were imposed have meant that all of us have had to flee—to hide in our homes and not come out until we are allowed.  In effect life was frozen for a few months.  And even if we remained working, we were working under different conditions,  retreating to our homes, in our individual family units.  We were not able to connect with people the way we would normally when faced with a crisis.

Another basic of humans is that we are relational animals.  So without the regular, supportive contact which enables us to cope and thrive, we have taken to technology in new ways—to find that  connection.  Or, if we are not technological beings and we are lonely, we may have become overwhelmed with anxiety or sadness.   

So we are literally threatened by something we cannot see.  We have had to flee from it, by hiding in our homes.  We have not had the usual routine filled with relationships to sustain us.  It has been a tough time.  And there is not really an end in sight.  Lockdown may be easing, but every choice we make may put us at risk.  The threat remains.  

How do we manage that?  Some stride out, confident that they are safe; they can “fight” it.  Others remain at home, retreating to avoid contact with the potential threat.  Some of us don’t really know what to do.  We make one decision one day; a contradictory decision the next day.  We long for the resumption of contact.  We fear what that may bring into our homes.

These are tough times.  I have no easy answers. I will make decisions that others think are crazy.  Others will make decisions that I think are risky.  Most of us are exhausted.  We are grieving—we have lost birthday and anniversary celebration; people have died; our jobs are gone; our friends are struggling; relationships have ended; the list is almost endless. I have learned that when I am exhausted and grieving, I don’t always make the best major decisions.  

So be gentle—with yourself and with others.  Allow for differences and changes of direction.  Remember, we are in the early days of our pandemic.  We have a long way to go before the virus is “controlled”.  We need each other in this crazy time.  If we want to use the language of warfare, let the virus be the enemy but trust that we, other humans, are here for each other, offering care and support as we can and when we can.

Sabbatical?

Over the course of my ministry I have had three sabbaticals.  Two were intentional, supported by the URC.  One, though intentional, was self-imposed and supported by David when we moved back to the US.  My sabbaticals were all about three months long.

My two URC sabbaticals had different outcomes.  For the first one I had to produce an academic paper, buried somewhere at Westminster College, Cambridge.  That document was to “prove” that I had used my sabbatical properly.  By the time of my second sabbatical in 2017, after it was approved by the Synod Training Officer, I set out on my path knowing that the only writing I had to do was for myself, or if I chose to my church.  No official report was required.  For me this was not only a relief but a recognition that, as a minister, I simply needed rest.  This, of course, is the essence of the word, “sabbatical” which comes from the Hebrew for sabbath; we remember that God “rested” on the seventh day after the creation.

We are now finishing our three months of lockdown.  Some people have described this time as a “sabbatical.”   For our environment it may well have been—rest from so many toxic fumes—but when people speak about this being a rest, I am uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable because I am always conscious of those who have worked doubly hard in the last few months—in healthcare settings, in “essential shops,”  in discovering how to continue life with this virus.  I am conscious of those who have lost their jobs so worry about finances does not feel restful.  I am conscious of those who have been without their support systems, whether they are personal or professional—like carers and respite for families with children who have special needs.  I am conscious of those who are working in new ways and finding these challenges stressful, though not travelling to an office may be a relief.  I am conscious of those troubled by being unable to see family and friends, feeling trapped in their homes, without routine.

I am also aware of the strain so many of us are feeling.  We are living in crisis mode.  We have been vigilant against a threat.  We have seen the effects of the virus.  We are grateful that fewer people are dying, that the R number is coming down, but we have to “stay alert.”  This in itself is stressful.  How do we make choices to keep ourselves and others safe?  And how long do we have to live this way?  

I guess in the end what I am saying, is life hasn’t been a free-ride, despite what some people think.  
The last few months have not been “restful” or a sabbatical.   It has been hard—though we will experience and describe “hard” differently.  

This has been a tough few months.  It isn’t over.  It might be easier for some in the weeks ahead.  For others it is still a struggle.  When it’s tough, take a deep breath, and then put one foot in front of the other just for that hour or the day.  God is with you in the tough days and the restful days.

Stories that challenge


Last night we watched the fictionalised story of Anthony Bryan, a Windrush child, called “Sitting in Limbo.”  It was a disturbing portrayal of the injustice and racism Mr. Bryan endured once it was discovered that he did not hold a British passport.

As I watched the story unfold, I pictured myself in Mr. Bryan’s home.  I have been in many such homes in Wellingborough.  I have had the joy of hearing the stories of individuals arriving from across the Caribbean to work in England.  Some came first to Wellingborough because a family member was already there.  Some went first to London then settled in Wellingborough.  They came and worked and saved, married and sent for children and had children here.  They birthed our babies and wiped our bums.  They drove our buses and were our builders.  They built good lives, were proud of their homes and their families.  I heard many of their stories at the end of life.  I felt sad that I had not known them longer but grateful to know of their lives.  I enjoyed celebrating with their families and friend, lives built and the communities nurtured.  

As I sat with people, I also heard the stories of the children who the teachers assumed were not clever— not given opportunities to learn until, by accident, a supply teacher discovered they could read.  I heard the story of a woman, heavily pregnant, refused a glass of water from a chemist.  I listened to the woman who was literally haunted by some “ghost”/ trauma that kept her from sleeping and working.  I also know the stories that were shared with me were only the tip of the iceberg.  I am grateful for the bravery of those who trusted me with their lives and their experiences.  

So as I watched the film, I was angry—angry at a system that twisted and destroyed lives for the sake of showing some people that the government could control immigration.  I am angry at those who were complicit or misused their authority to hurt people and traumatise them.  

It would be easy to sit in that place of anger, however, I feel I must  move beyond anger and ask myself a few questions:  “How am I currently complicit in racism?  What do I do that supports systemic racism?  What do I need to do differently?’

I am not sure I know the answers, but I have to unpack the questions so that I can become a better ally.  Many of us know people mistreated by the immigration system.  We can pinpoint that mistreatment and find ways to address it by writing to our government officials.  I think we now have to go beyond writing to the government.  Can create an environment in which we listen and learn from those we know who are Black?  Can we change our language?  When our prejudices are activated, can we address those unconscious fears that rise in us?  Can we acknowledge our privilege and use our roles to include those who often struggle to find a place at the table?  Can we bring the issues around racism into the open and address them with grace, listening and learning, leaning into the pain we cause and changing ourselves?  When challenging racism, can we stand firm rather than letting the other person off the hook?

Jesus was not apolitical as we sometimes like to suggest.  Saying “Jesus is Lord” was, under Roman rule, a challenge to the authority of Roman for the Roman ruler was supposed to be the “Lord.” Jesus  stood with those marginalised within his community for their race, their disability, their gender.  His ministry included the outcasts as well as the powerful in God’s kingdom; this was radical in his time.  He also spoke against the oppressive Roman regime.   If we place Jesus in our time and ask where we might find him in our current political climate, I am pretty sure he is at the protests, proclaiming, “Black lives matter!” 

We are called to follow Jesus.  Can we join him in our time by standing with those demanding justice and equality and challenging our oppressive systems? 

Being Tired

I am tired.  I know the author of Hebrews encourages us to keep running the race of faith like Jesus, but he also said there would be a great cloud of witnesses cheering us one.  I am tired and, as we are socially distancing, there is no cloud of friends cheering me on during this “race.”  I am ready to finish the race, to try something else, but the finish line is not yet in sight.  So I keep “running”, but I am tired. 

You know those people who ask, you may be one of them, what new thing you have learned or done in lockdown?  I am tired of that question.  It is so positive!  I don’t always feel that positive.  Now I have done a few new things—some with moderate success, some total flops—so I haven’t totally “wasted” my time.  Still the positive energy of the question evades me because I am tired.

I think I am tired because I have actually spent all of the last few weeks learning.  I have learned about technology.  I have learned about making food with what is in my fridge and cupboard.  I have learned to make do.  I have learned I don’t need as much stuff.  I have tried some new skills, but more than any of that, I am learning a new culture.  And learning new cultures is exhausting!

I have moved many times in my life.  I have moved from one US coast to another.  I have moved across the Atlantic Ocean, twice.  I have moved from England to Wales.  Each move has involved learning how to live in a different culture.  And learning about different cultures is exhausting.  No matter how hard I try to listen, watch the way people interact, I make mistakes.  I say something that is not appropriate in the new context and hurt someone’s feelings or make a fool of myself.  It is not my intention to hurt anyone or look silly, but it happens.  I try learning more so it doesn’t happen again.  

I think the pandemic has created a new culture.  Each day we learn something else about what we are or are not supposed to do.  Wear face masks or not?  Stand two metres apart or not?  Wash our hands regularly and wash the items that come into our homes or not?  Travel or, in Wales, not to travel more than five miles.  Standing in queues at stores, waiting outside or downloading an app that says which stores have the shortest clues.  The list is endless.  And I find learning these new rules exhausting.   It’s a new culture with new rules.  And, rightfully, we are now thinking about adding how not to be racists and supporting Black Lives Matters more overtly.  I am tired.

I would love a holiday from learning, for just a few weeks, but breaks are banned at the moment! So I keep listening, learning, making mistakes, trying again—lessons about Covid 19 life and lessons about supporting BAME people. I am tired, but I have to keep learning.  If you are learning too, maybe we can cheer each other on as we walk this race.

I hope for an end

For a number of years I regularly watched a programme called “The Walking Dead.”  It was based on people surviving a pandemic and hiding from killer zombies.  As I am not a fan of science fiction or dystopia, I can’t quite believe I watched it, but I did.  

Today I again watch television.  People are randomly murdered by lawless groups, even “lawless” law-keepers.   Building and cars are torched in cities across the US.   Crowds rage and destroy. Crowds gather and protest.  A virus spreads across the globe and kills at alarming rates.  I almost feel I am watching a programme rather than the news. 

Yet, like watching the videos of people slain, I find the images traumatic.  They are not just worrying, they are frightening.  What is happening in our world?  Will this rage lead to change or simply destruction of individuals rather than destruction of oppressive systems?

When I see the images, I wonder, “Is this the end?”  When fear is not my driver, I have hope.  I hope that it is the end of a system that fails to value all lives, an end to labelling the lives of Black people as less valuable, expendable even.  I hope it is the end of us white people failing to hear or change or live differently.  I hope it is the end of economic systems which fail to reward people for working.  I hope is the end of education that leaves out whole histories or fails to respond to the needs of children from poorer economic backgrounds.  I hope it is the end to corrupt governments that uses money to maintain wealth and power in one segment of society rather than caring for all people in their nations.  

Some with look at these events and label the people involved in the protests as trouble-makers, as the problem.  They will fail to hear the cries for justice—though how can you fail to hear? 

I hope, instead, we can look at these events and see an end to injustice.  I hope we can listen to the voices raised and ask how can I support the cause of justice for Black people?  I hope we can see through the posing of the powerful and stand with Jesus.  I hope we can follow in  the footsteps of the oppressed to bring about what is good and equal and right for all people.  

Jesus came to stand with the outcast and oppressed.  He calls us now, not to cling to power out of our own fear, but to join those calling for justice.  I hope we can join him, rather than cower in fear, hiding from the coming change.

This should not be happening

I am sick, and I am tired.  No, this has nothing to do with lockdown or the pandemic.  I am sick and tired because I have seen two incidents of racism in the media today—one of which led to the death of a man and rioting.  I am so sick of this.  

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  I think all these incidents should be recorded in order to be shared with appropriate law enforcement officials.  Sharing them widely is inappropriate.  Allowing the world to see them in this way retraumatising people involved and others. Yes, we need to know what is happening, but we should not be traumatizing people by showing them in the media or on social media. (https://qz.com/725940/videos-of-police-brutality-now-resemble-modern-day-lynchings/)

These incidents SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING!  No Black person should feel that the USA or the United Kingdom is a threatening place for them.  No white person should think they have a right to treat a of BAME person  without respect or decency.  No law enforcement officer should mishandle someone just because of the colour of their skin or their accent.  When are we going to learn?  I am sick of it.

We white folks like to think we are not racist, but racism is deeply embedded in our society. Did you know that Guinea Street in Bristol is named for the area of Africa from which people were stolen and enslaved?   Are you aware of the role of Edward Colston, Bristol philanthropist in enslaving people?  Are you aware of the connections between Scotland and the Caribbean and the enslavement of Africans?  Did you know that “Penny Lane” of the Beatles fame in Liverpool is named for James Penny, slave trader and anti-abolitionist?  (Liverpool surpassed Bristol and London as the slave-trading capital of England by the mid to late 18th century.)

Okay, those histories do not mean we are all racists, but they remind us that we live with a painful legacy of enslavement, of seeing other human beings as inferior, and of treating them with disrespect.  We continue to live out that legacy now.  

You might like to think we aren’t like that in the UK, but in August 2011 Mark Duggan was killed while in police custody.  Following his death riots ensued.  Maybe you saw the survey of BAME medical staff who felt they were put closer to risk during the pandemic than their white colleagues.  
It’s uncomfortable to read, to think about, but we have to face into it.  We, who are white, have to change our behaviour.  

If we really believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, we have to live that way.  We do not have to agree with everyone.  We do not have to like everyone.  These decisions, however, cannot based on colour, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality.  We have to treat ALL people with respect and decency.  We have to demand that our police do the same.  When we hear racism, we have to find a way to confront it.  When we see prejudice, we have to take a stand against it.  

Over 30 years ago I was in a meeting.  I used a phrase someone found offensive.  She was African American.  She took me aside and told me why.  I felt ashamed as I thought of myself as an open person, but I heard her.  I changed my language.    I examined my heart.  I am grateful.  If we truly believe that God loves ALL people, we have to find ways to confront our own prejudices and those in the people we encounter so that there are no more videos or reports of people being killed or threatened because of their skin colour, nationality, sexual orientation or gender.  Enough already.

A Place of Privilege

Some days I simply think about how I am going to survive the day.  What will I cook?  What will I accomplish?  Will I connect with someone or not? Other days I am thinking about the big issues we are facing.  Some of those issues revolve around church—what we can do now and what we might be like in the future. Some of those issues are about economy and climate change.  Some are about fear and loneliness.  

Life is strange, but day by day I become more and more aware of my privilege.  My life is not under threat.  I have a house and an income.  I am okay.  My family are okay.  I am privileged.

As I reflect on my privilege, I am also conscious that I have a responsibility.  I am not sure what shape that should take, but I need to care for those who are less privileged from my place of privilege.  

My daughter sent me a message yesterday asking how the church is addressing racism.  How do I respond?  I am “attending” a conference on preaching and climate change.  How are we going to address that?  We have people in our churches and communities who are hungry, homeless, jobless, how am I going to address that?

Poverty and injustice are not going away because we are locked down.  When we return to “normal”, they will still be live issues.  How do I respond to them?  How do we, as church, respond to them?  

Earlier I wrote about being patient.  Patience, while a personal characteristic, is not a part of working for justice or climate change.  People in poverty need our attention now—not our patience.  Creation needs our changes now—not our patience.  Of course, when I think this way, I become overwhelmed—again.  Perhaps, the key to being a bit less overwhelmed is to wonder not just what can I do, but what can we do together?  How can we join together to address poverty, racism, injustice, climate change?  What we have done in the past may not be what we do in the near future, but we are called to act together.

God does not love us based on our actions, but our relationship with God changes how we act.  Our actions flow out of our understanding of God’s love for us, others, creation.  Jesus addressed injustice in his time.  As his followers, we now look at our context and find ways to address the injustices before us.  

So we begin  I think we being by acknowledging our place of privilege.  Perhaps, as we reflect on the pandemic, we will be more aware of privilege and able to acknowledge our own privilege.  From the place of privilege we can use our voices, our incomes, our understanding to support those who are not privileged.  We find the areas that we can best address.  We find people with whom we can work because this gives us more power than we have has individuals.   We act.   And when we become jaded or overwhelmed, because we are acting with others, we have people to support us so we can keep going together.  Gosh, that sounds a bit like church!

Some days I can only think about how to get through the day.  Other days I develop plans for how we can be God’s people together.  I look forward to hearing how other people are developing ideas.  Maybe after all this we will be God’s people in new ways, tackling injustice together in God’s name.  

Patience

Whether we like it or not, we are having to learn patience.  When I watch the news or read the papers, my eye is caught be every story that promises life might return to “normal.”  Once I read it, I’m not sure I believe the headline.  I am shocked by leaders who push for churches to get back to “normal” always wondering how the congregation of 12 elderly people will keep themselves safe and their building clean?  

So I am trying to be patient. It isn’t easy.  When I have to wait in a queue, I try not to distract myself with my phone.  That’s the usual thing, isn’t it?  When we cannot do what we want to do immediately, we pull out our phones, check Facebook, Google something, look at our emails.  We complain about our children saying, “I’m bored,” but we don’t deal with boredom very well either.

So now when I stand in the queue at the grocery store, I look around me.  I watch people.  I notice the sky.  I listen to conversations.  I note the state of the building.  I don’t find it easy, but it is now part of my living—to wait without complaining or letting frustration take hold.  When I can’t do what I want to do NOW, I focus on being patient.  I trust that eventually I will be able to enter the shop and find what I need.

When I send something in the post or order something, I also have to wait.  Nothing seems to arrive quickly anymore.  No point paying for first class post when you know it will take several days anyway.  So I order, though not a lot, or a send and I simply trust the item will arrive at some point.

Perhaps patience and trust live together?  I have trusted my life to God.  It has not always been an easy ride, but my faith says that God will take care of me.  That doesn’t mean I will have lots of money in the bank or the most expensive possessions.  It does mean, that if I am listening, God will give me the skills I need to survive whatever is thrown at me.  So perhaps for this time, the skill I need is patience.

Faith has to do with living in a way that is aligned with values of Jesus. I believe Jesus taught us about love and justice.  What shape do those values take in these strange days?  We may begin by noting the work of people who risk their lives to care for the rest of us.  What is the appropriate way to support them now and in the future?  We recognise that others are at risk—with little money, need for food, support with housing, access to services, fragile mental health.  How can we individually and corporately support those still at risk?  Faith does not stop while we live in lockdown.  What we can do may shift, but we still act in love for others.  

So while we live in lockdown, I continue in faith,  and develop the skill of patience which comes from  God.

Groundhogs and glimpses

Some people have started referring to these days in lockdown as “groundhog days.”  This is a reference to a movie in which Bill Murray relives the same day multiple times until he gets it “right”—in effect becomes a nice person.  Each day he wakes up and knows what is going to happen because he has already lived that day—the only difference is how he reacts.

For those of us not working  these last weeks may indeed feel like we are living the same day over and over.  For those who are still working, however, each day holds a challenge, often something not previously imagined.

Some like to say we are all in this together—and we may be—but each of us experience life in this time very differently.  Some have embraced it and learned new skills.  Some are desperate to get out and back to their previous lives.  Some are somewhere in between.  Some wonder what the future holds for them—having been made redundant or making major shifts in life patterns at this time.

Before the pandemic for many of us life had a routine.  We lived day by day, often with very similar patterns.  It was holidays and celebrations that made one day very different from the previous day.  But now we are conscious that the days run into each other—not much to make them different or they are radically different.  Either way our days are lived in extraordinary circumstances.  Part of what makes them different is our reactions.

Many years ago I read a book about a monk who found God in washing dishes.  What always struck me was that God was present in a very simple way, in an ordinary task.  God wasn’t found in the glorious monastery garden or the grandeur of the church, God was present in the kitchen, in the cleaning up, in one of the most ordinary and dirty tasks of life.

I confess I am not always aware of God’s presence.   Learning from Brother Lawrence, I have faith that God is present in my home working, in my daily tasks, in your drive to work, in your interactions with people, in your office.  Despite the changes in our lives, God is still present.  God is still the ground of our being.  This is the essence of Jesus’ message—God with us. 

We may feel like every day is the same.  We may feel quite challenged by today.  However we feel, God is with us, present in our actions and the life of those around us.  I hope you catch a glimpse of God today.  I hope someone catches a glimpse of God’s in you today.

From Anxiety and To Compassion


How do we handle anxiety?  Whether we acknowledge it or not, our world is “plagued” with anxiety.  We see it in politicians, who smirk at questioners and avoid answering, co-workers who are late to work, fail to meet deadlines, cannot focus in meetings, family members who cry when we speak to them, seek clear answers in an unclear situation, strangers who shout at others on streets and in shops, push others out of the way to get toilet paper.  Anxiety is expressed individually and corporately.  Our own responses to anxiety may vary from need control to totally losing the plot.

My anxiety comes and goes depending the day, the tasks ahead, what I am missing.  Sunday, we should have been celebrating Mothers’ Day with David’s family.  I wasn’t anxious, but sad.  Today, I have a lot of tasks ahead, and I am more anxious.  Some of my anxiety stems from the fact that I am tired of learning about new ways of working, of not really knowing what I am doing anymore.  For me, learning has always been an essential characteristic of living and ministry, but today I feel like I have learned enough.  I have tried enough new things, seen enough of other people’s homes through Zoom meetings.  My curiosity has peeked. I simply do not want to do anything else  and my brain isn’t functioning at my ideal capacity.

Malcolm Gladwell writes about people learning skills.  He says, though some dispute this, that once one has put 10,000 hours into a skill or a job, one becomes an expert.  Well, I have put those hours into ministry.  I thought I had a good level of the basic skills need to be a decent minister.  Now, I feel deskilled.  I don’t know how to use Zoom well enough.  I make trivial mistakes I would not normally make—thank goodness my work isn’t life-threatening!  I feel an edginess each day as I tackle the tasks before me.  Some days I have to leave the house simply to refocus and restart because my thoughts have stopped having a clear order or making sense. 

Now, I am sure I will recover.  I am resilient.  I have changed job, changed culture enough times to know there comes a point at which I will become comfortable again.   I also know I am being changed by every day in lockdown.  I do not know what the changes will mean for me long term.  Maybe I will cope differently with anxiety.  Maybe I will be more honest with people.  Maybe I will want to work differently.  I am changed but don’t know yet how exactly.

One thing I do know—compassion grows from experiences like this.  When I can move through my anxiety to think clearly, what I  know that I want to be part of a community of compassion—a place of support for those who are anxious and traumatised.  Our communities may look different for some time, but I hope, however they are formed, they can all be built around compassion—an ability to love others fiercely, to welcome strangers and make room for all in our gatherings—virtual or in person.  

What Remains?

From a young age death has been part of my life—sometimes at the corner and sometimes in the middle.  Friends of my parents lived on a bay near our house.  Their toddler drowned.  After high school one of my peers died.  Suicide or drugs? We were not quite sure.  When I was nine, my father died, ripping the fabric of our family apart.

At university I learned about a relatively new movement—hospice.  I found the idea of death in the midst of one’s family appealing, having had my father isolated in hospitals.  I have worked in hospices three different times in my career.  The last time was just over a year ago.  One thing it taught me was I am vulnerable.   Some of the patients there were much older than me.  Some were much younger.  Many, however, were very close to my age.  Some days I wondered whether I could face death in the face again—not just their deaths but the possibility of my own.  I have always known death was close, but this last experience of hospice reminded me how close.  I found that reminder uncomfortable.

As I sit in my home, hiding from a virus that threatens my life, something I can only fight by washing my hands and distancing myself from people, I, again, feel my vulnerability.  Most of the time I don’t think vulnerability.  Lockdown is a daily reminder of my limitations—and of the limitations of the society we have built.

I like to pretend death is far off.  I like to pretend I have not vulnerable.  I like to pretend I can control life.  Unfortunately,  death is closer than I like to acknowledge.  I do not control the world or even my small corner of the world.  Stuff happens that is beyond my control.  Sometimes it happens because another person puts it into motion.  Sometimes it just happen.  I am not in control.  Lockdown reminds me, like hospice, that I am a human being and, as such, I am vulnerable.  

I have bought into the view of life that limits my exposure to my vulnerability.  This worldview is  not the truth.  Even without a pandemic I have experienced events that wiped out life—hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, death, broken relationships, joblessness.  All of these experiences changed me.  They destroyed my sense of safety.  Still, after each one, I rebuilt.  I saw others rebuild.  I buried the pain, sadness, anger, and redesigned a worldview in which vulnerability was pushed to the edge or under the carpet.  In lockdown, I can no longer push that vulnerability away.  As a human being, I am vulnerable.

As I reflect on my vulnerability, I have also read a book called “The Theology of Trauma.”  In it the author writes about the uncomfortable place of Holy Saturday—the day between the end and a beginning, a day of not knowing and not yet.  She asserts that this day is more like our experience of life, of our vulnerability.  Despite the fear, pain, anger of Holy Saturday, what remains, Rambo writes,  is love, embodied in us by the Spirit.  Love is breathed to the disciples by Jesus.  That love guided them in the days after his death and resurrection as they tried to understand the meaning of these events.  Love remained for them. In our own daily Holy Saturday, a time after and before, love remains.

As I come to terms with my vulnerability, and I reflect on what a virus means for the life of the local church, I cling to the affirmation,“Love remains.”

Blue Skies and Empty Chapels

Above me are blue skies.  The brilliant blue of the crayon called “Sky Blue.”  It isn’t often the skies are that vivid in colour.  Yet is seems they have been that colour for almost 40 days.  
The beautiful blue skies have blessed our days of lockdown.  I find that quite ironic.  While we talk about the world healing during lockdown, here those blue skies have declared their freedom,  Okay, that is a bit anthropomorphic, but the blue skies strike me as a statement—of beauty, of wholeness, of creative power.  Or perhaps they are really only a reminder of the time we have to notice them.
Those blues skies will remain with me as a reminder of the pandemic.

Around me is an empty chapel, echoing with the sounds of feet walking down the long aisle. The quiet and stillness we often hear in ruined abbeys is now present in our empty buildings and at our funerals. I have led funerals for very small numbers of people, but now, only a few allowed.  The silence of the empty chapel reflects the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one without a community of faith to support  those who grieve.  Of course, God’s love is with them, but at a funeral that love has seemed to me to be embodied by the community who gather to mark a person’s death, and life.  The conversations at the funeral, the gatherings after the service, the stories told, the hugs offered, the drinks shared, the voices raised in toasts, the silent tears, the roars of laughter are to me an offering of love.  We gather at funerals to offer the grieving love.  Instead, I hear the emptiness of the chapel.  That echo of emptiness will remain with me as a reminder of the pandemic.

We are seeking signs of hope, of number of cases declining, of communities not touch, yet, by Covid 19.  We are hopefully awaiting guidance for coming out of lockdown.  We are looking forward to a time when life will be more “normal.”  I wonder what will remain with us?  What memories will shape us?  What lessons will we have learned?  When I look at a blue sky, I will think, “Spring 2020.”  When I enter the stillness of the crem chapel, I will pause to remember the sadness of loss during a pandemic.  When I drive to a meeting on Thursday nights, will I pause to thank God for the NHS and key workers?  

What remains and what reminds may be two different things.  What reminds is blue skies, empty chapels, queues, Thursday nights, Zoom church.  What remains is God’s love, simple, complex, connecting, supporting.