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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.