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Teachings in Crisis

I encountered the smell of freshly mowed grass on my walk today.  I love that smell.  It reminds me of hot summers, of family gatherings, of regular walks through neighbourhoods, of childhood joy and adulthood work.  It’s an evocative and lovely smell.

As the memories were flooding through because of the smell, I began to wonder what our children are saying, and will say,  about the virus and our lockdowns.  What will their memories of this time be?  No school, no hugs, washing hands, no visits to the seaside.  An hour walking in the neighbourhood every day, learning to cook with whatever is at hand, lots of screen time?  Children are great at saying things like they are.   Their words may then give us insight into how we have responded to this “crisis.”  When our children speak, I wonder what they will tell us about ourselves?

Another question that may arise in reflecting on what our children are learning is, “What do we want them to learn from us?”  I  hear a world leader drone on about building walls  and his prejudices.  In contrast, I hear others talk about community spirit.  Which do I want children to learn?  I hope we will all learn to let your walls down, to open space for people, to listen to voices that are different than ours.  Maybe we have to listen in different ways, look in at different media, but there are new and old voices that have something to teach us.  Will we listen to them?  Are we listening to our children?

A song that always touches me deeply is Marty Haugen’s, Let Us Build a House Where Love Can Dwell (All Are Welcome).   One of our basic human needs is shelter.  We need to be protected.  We need a place of safety.  What we are called to build is not a place that excludes but a place that welcomes, where the doors are not locked tight against the world, like the fearful disciples in an upper room after Jesus’ death, but a place in which doors are flung wide open and everyone can come in.  In that place they find physical safety and emotional and spiritual safety.  We are called to build a place that meets basic human needs—physically and spiritually.

So how can we, while social distancing, create the kind of place?  How do our children see us creating community, listening to God, responding basic human needs now? 

Teachings in Crisis

I encountered the smell of freshly mowed grass on my walk today.  I love that smell.  It reminds me of hot summers, of family gatherings, of regular walks through neighbourhoods, of childhood joy and adulthood work.  It’s an evocative and lovely smell.

As the memories were flooding through because of the smell, I began to wonder what our children are saying, and will say,  about the virus and our lockdowns.  What will their memories of this time be?  No school, no hugs, washing hands, no visits to the seaside.  An hour walking in the neighbourhood every day, learning to cook with whatever is at hand, lots of screen time?  Children are great at saying things like they are.   Their words may then give us insight into how we have responded to this “crisis.”  When our children speak, I wonder what they will tell us about ourselves?

Another question that may arise in reflecting on what our children are learning is, “What do we want them to learn from us?”  I  hear a world leader drone on about building walls  and his prejudices.  In contrast, I hear others talk about community spirit.  Which do I want children to learn?  I hope we will all learn to let your walls down, to open space for people, to listen to voices that are different than ours.  Maybe we have to listen in different ways, look in at different media, but there are new and old voices that have something to teach us.  Will we listen to them?  Are we listening to our children?

A song that always touches me deeply is Marty Haugen’s, Let Us Build a House Where Love Can Dwell (All Are Welcome).   One of our basic human needs is shelter.  We need to be protected.  We need a place of safety.  What we are called to build is not a place that excludes but a place that welcomes, where the doors are not locked tight against the world, like the fearful disciples in an upper room after Jesus’ death, but a place in which doors are flung wide open and everyone can come in.  In that place they find physical safety and emotional and spiritual safety.  We are called to build a place that meets basic human needs—physically and spiritually.

So how can we, while social distancing, create the kind of place?  How do our children see us creating community, listening to God, responding basic human needs now? 

The Privilege of Pandemic

 

For some time there has been talk about “white privilege.”  It has made a number of people uncomfortable.  It has challenged some of us to think about our lives as ones of privilege we hadn’t even been conscious of, and think about other people who have not been in that position in our societies.

 

Becoming aware of my privilege has made me uncomfortable sometimes.  I guess this links with guilt, but it isn’t just about pandemic guilt.  Instead it is linked with the reality of our societies.

 

The pandemic has brought this truth home to me again.  I am aware that I am in a fairly secure position.  I have a home with electricity and water.  I have enough money.  I have a job that doesn’t put me as risk.  I can still go to the shop if I need to do so.  I have people around me who support me.  I have more than enough.  I live in a pretty privileged life.  (Though honestly I take it for granted.)

My position is a place of privilege.  There are lots of people who do not have what I have, who long for it, who risk their lives by leaving country and family behind, to seek it.  There are people who risk their lives to provide for their children, working in unsafe conditions, and not just during a pandemic.  There are people who are struggling each and every day, not just because of the risk of a virus.  

I don’t want to say, “So don’t moan about anything.”  I don’t want to say, “There are always people worse off than me.”  I don’t want to compare my position or belittle anyone who is worrying right now. 

I simply want to remind myself of what I do have.   I want to live in a place of gratitude, not a place of ridicule or fear.  I want to remember those who are not in a position of privilege and find ways to support them now and in the future.  Jesus calls us to relationships which are just.  So I have to recognise my position and work for those who are not in the same position.  This seems like a first step toward justice.

Life isn’t easy right now.  I need to remember those for whom life is very challenging and care for them.  I need to listen to them, as they decide what they need from society to live whole lives.   When those in power ignore their voices, I, as a person with privilege,  need to advocate for their rights.  

Jesus calls us to see society in new ways and use our lives to create a place where all lives are valued and all voices heard.  The pandemic highlights the truth of white privilege—again.  Jesus us calls us, in the pandemic and afterward, to work for justice.

Running with Guilt

There is a lot of guilt running around in my house.  Social media is great, but I think I know too much (assuming everything I read it true.) I have colleagues posting all the things they are doing.  Their posts make me aware of things I could do but have chosen not to do, so far.  I have information about people in great need—and I really do not have a clue how I can get face masks to Gaza or create ventilators from c-pap machines.  I read about people gleefully decluttering their houses, but I did that last summer.  In addition, I see bags dropped in charity shop doorways to rest there for how long?  Not a good idea in my humble opinion.  

 

With guilt running around my house, I have a sense that I should be doing more.  Unfortunately, I am not sure what that “more” could be.  I am grateful I have a job.  I feel sad for those million people in the UK, and more across the globe, who are now unemployed, have lost healthcare, who can’t make it to the grocery store, who have no family to check on them, etc.  My list could be endless. 

Guilt runs into the room and I worry about people whose lives are more stressful now than before the lockdown—people having to find ways to do jobs from home while caring for small children; people going to work at hospitals, shops, public transport, and risking health for our care; people filling in forms for business loans, for income support, for new jobs.

The guilt dances around me.  I am not really sure what to do with it.  I am told that guilt is a useless emotion.  I think I agree with that assessment.  There is no purpose except for me to feel bad about where I am,  for me to feel bad about what I am doing, for me to get stuck in a mire and unable to do what I am doing.

I am not sure how to banish the guilt except to remind myself that I, like you, can only do what God calls me to in this time.  I, like you, can be grateful for those able to do other things, but I have to focus on my small corner, and my small tasks, supporting anyone I encounter from over 2 meters on the way.  That’s it.  If something comes into my way, and I can do, I will.  If it doesn’t, I keep doing what I can from here.  

Rather than guilt gluing my feet to the floor or dragging me down, I need to be aware of those who are at risk, those who have lost  a loved one, who have lost work, who have worked flat out.  I need to pray for them now, reach out to those I can, and remember to support them in the future.  The support may include listening to their tales.  It may also include, when this is behind us, seeking justice for them, when the system wants to forget their work and their needs.

When I open the door to I go for my walk today, maybe the guilt will run out of my house.  What I hope will stay is that care for people which connects us. 

We walk on

Without all the usual distractions of life, memories have been popping up—things I haven’t thought of in years.  Yesterday we came across a couple of fierce dogs, barking at each other while their owners held them back.  We were walking through an alley way, having explored a street we didn’t know. The only way out without retracing our steps was this alley.

The barking and the alley reminded by of the five year old me walking to and from school.  I hated going to school on my own. I loved school, but I was so afraid on that walk. I was also afraid of the dog that barked at me from behind a fence in the alley.  I was only five, and the dog sounded quite big and fierce. 

Fear runs at a low-level within me now.  Until yesterday I had not heard about anyone in Cardiff with Covid 19.  Until yesterday, everyone else I heard of was in England somewhere.  Yesterday I heard of someone here. Today I have heard of more people.   The virus has come “home.”  My fear inches up.

On my daily walk people simply don’t move out of the way.  When I go to the grocery store, people don’t give me the clearance I want.  My fear inches up.  It isn’t high, but it is there, in the back of my mind.

My kids say we, David and I, are at risk.  I don’t really think so, but when we read about people dying, I wonder.  My fear inches up.  My fear is still at a relatively low level, but it is higher than before the virus. 

A few years ago, I had a really low period.  In that time, I heard someone, can’t remember who now, speak about the 23rd Psalm.  I found the reflection quite comforting.  So on days when I really struggled, I would recite the Psalm to myself.  

Now the line that keeps coming to mind is, “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of deepest darkness, I won’t be afraid, for God is with me.” (Okay, this is my paraphrase based on some good scholarship.)  I keep coming back to this verse.  This is one of the most challenging times of my life, but fear does not need to be my/our main companion.  God is with me/us.

As we walk through this time, there are dogs barking, fear demanding our attention.  There are rules that requiring our compliance.  There are losses which will hurt us.  Still we walk on, to find our way to the place of stillness, of quietness and hope.  God is with us.   We walk on, together in our social isolation, still together because of our friendship and our faith.  We walk on, trying to master new technology, spending time alone when we prefer to be together.  We walk on—God is our companion and guide. 

A Doughnut Pan

Most you know I cook.  I’m not a great cook.  I don’t always use the most expensive ingredients, but I am a bit of snob about food.  If people are coming over, I want everything I serve to be homemade.  One time that meant making a cake three times—I’m terrible at cakes!

It is not surprising than that during this lockdown I am cooking.  The challenge is doing things that are interesting, not the same old, same old food, using food I have in the cupboard rather than popping out for an ingredient.  I made pearl barley risotto one night.  It was quite good.   We have lots of bananas now.  I can’t stand overripe bananas.  In my troll through the internet for recipes I came across a recipe for baked banana doughnuts.  But you need a doughnut pan.

So I confess, I made a non-essential purchase. I bought a doughnut pan on Ebay.  I am sorry.  I see the photos shaming people for buying non-essentials right now,  but I have bought this pan.   I checked that it is being sent from within the UK.  I hope I am helping some lonely Ebay seller keep afloat, but I know it wasn’t essential.

Still I need a bit of joy.  Joy does not come from the purchase.  Joy comes from doing something for myself, trying something new, making space for creativity.  Cooking, while a necessity, can be creative.  These banana doughnuts are going to make me and David, I hope, smile.  The birds in my garden, the paint on a canvas, the words on a page, the picture of a landscape, the laughter over FaceTime are a few things that bring joy in this time of essentials and simplicity.  They don’t cost a lot, but they do bring a bit of joy.  

Perhaps I have to confess, not that I bought something, but that I am still looking for joy.  Where is your joy today?  

I have another confession—I might need a pair of slippers.  My stay-at-home feet are freezing.  Warm feet are probably a necessity, but I’ll put on a pair of socks, for today.

I had a dream

26/3/2020

Last night I had a dream.  I dreamt that I woke up and didn’t know where I was.  The room didn’t look familiar.  The door wasn’t in the right place.  The light from the window was wrong.  And I was alone.  Where was I?  I felt fear growing.  Then I woke up and I was in my bed, in my room, in my house.

 

When I rose this morning, I remembered the dream so I began reflecting on it.  What was it about?

It seems to me that this dream isn’t just my dream.  It is a corporate dream.  We have woken up and found we are in a different place.  We all find ourselves in an unfamiliar room, a strange landscape.  

Those of us who are working now find our work taking very different shapes.  There is a lot demanded of us in this new place, including new skills and, for some, risks.  Those of us who are retired find our routines disrupted.  We have to find different ways of filling time, connecting, being.  We may feel more isolated, or when our work is demanding, relieved at the end of the work day.  And occasionally, our minds may wander from the demands of the present.   We wonder, “what will life be like when this is over?”  We simply don’t know.  

This time may seem like the valley of deepest darkness— a time of fear and anxiety.  But in that place, as people of faith, we believe that God is with us.  When we walk through that valley, we are with God.  We are not alone.  Our fear for today and tomorrow does not need to overwhelm us.  God is with us now, and God will be with us when we come through.  

I have a dream, that when we are through the worst of this pandemic, we will have lots of parties, I will see my family, I will hug people, and some of the sense of care, community, and creativity will make our world a better place.

Today we continue to pray for those who continue to work, who live day to day with the fear of being infected in hospitals, for carers, for those keeping food coming to us, for other key workers providing care for the vulnerable, and for those whose mental health is more fragile at this time.

The bread of life

Last night I watched Jamie Oliver make bread.  I am so appreciative of his speed in creating a programme which responds to our panic buying.

It also reminded me of my situation 25 years ago.  I was a new mum with a toddler and a baby.  I was in effect self-isolating on my maternity leave.  I felt quite overwhelmed.  I sent David out to buy take away meals on a regular basis.  I did this out of habit because my mum did the same.  From her mid-thirties she had been a single, working mum.  Work and cooking and two children without family support were too much for her so cooking our meals went by the wayside.  When I became a mum, I started off doing the same.

During my maternity leave, however, I was started watching, “Ready, Steady, Cook.”  It  dawned on me that if the chefs there could create a meal in 20 minutes, I could too—even with two tiny people.  So I shifted, from buying so many takeaways to creating family meals—though not usually on a Sunday!

As I watched Jamie Oliver make bread, I remembered the therapeutic power of kneading bread, the slow and quiet power of the yeast making the dough rise, the beautiful smell filling the house while the bread cooks, the sound of the crusty bread being cut, and the wonderful taste of homemade bread.  It is also evocative of sharing time together, so the bread connects me to memories of sharing meals with friends, family, and the family of God.

This is a slower time, a different time.  So it is time for me to make bread.  I have the time to make the dough, to knead it, to set it aside, to let it grow, and to bake it.   

Perhaps making the bread is also a spiritual practice.  What is it for you that connects you to God and others, that uses the time you have, that you never have time for otherwise?  What touches all your senses the way making bread does?  In the face of this crisis, what reminds us that life is good and full and joyful?  Today it will be my loaf of homemade bread, shared with David, in the garden.

 

The Master of Time

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in years—or rather I didn’t do something.  I didn’t put on my watch. I have worn a watch for over 40 years.  Once I am dressed in the morning, the next thing I do is put on my watch, every single day.  A watch is my guide for the day.  In my head I know where I need to be and where I need to go.  My watch is the reminder when I need to do those things.  In a sense the watch/time has been my master.  And today I chose not to put it on.  Not putting on my watch is an acknowledgement that time is different now.

 

Yesterday we also took our last trip of “unnecessary travel.”  I knew that we shouldn’t do it, but we did.  It was Sunday. Our day was not framed by church duties in the ways our Sundays have been framed for over 30 years of ministry. It was a beautiful day so we went to a place that was reputed to have few tourists.  (We wanted to keep true to the social distancing principle at least.)  

 

This simple drive, sitting in the sunshine, discovering something about Wales, was in itself an acknowledgement that, like taking off my watch, our time is different now.  We wouldn’t have done that on another Sunday.  We would have either been too tired or had some other event planned.  Time is different now.  

 

I don’t know how our days will evolve over the next 12 weeks.  I don’t know exactly how I will fill my time now.  I’m sure there will be phone calls, Skype meetings, texts.  There will be some work—preparing things to be shared online, but there will be no evening meetings, no rushing from event to event, always feeling I am behind. After we develop a pattern of how to respond to this pandemic, time will be used differently.

 

Taking off my watch is a sign that I am moving into this new way of being. I do find this uncomfortable and, to be honest, a bit frightening. I have spoken to others who feel the same. This isn’t a sabbatical filled with exciting opportunities, but it is a space in which time can be a friend rather than a master.  Instead of rushing about, and worrying that I haven’t completed the tasks that indicate I am of value, I have time, to connect, though virtually, to listen, to think, to imagine.  

 

In the coming days, I am sure I will sometimes wonder what to do with myself though there are plenty of books here that haven’t been read and a garden that could use attention.  I will ask myself whether I am using my time in the best way possible.  I greatest hope, however, is that time, this new way of being in this time, will end up being a friend.

 

Time is different now, but even as we move into this phase, God is still present.  At the end of this period, I hope I can look back and see how God has been my master.  I also hope I can see God with me/us in new ways.

Something New

"Please don't say that."  I do not want to hear anyone say COVID-19 is the end of the world.  Yes, I know we have had locust swarms of "biblical proportions" in Africa.  There are droughts across the world and floods close to home.  There was even an earthquake in Utah.  In response some are tempted to say this virus is the final act and is the sign of end of the world.  

 

I have heard this before. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, after Hurricane Katrina, preachers dared to say the same thing.  After the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we thought it was the end.  Preachers said it was God's punishment.  Today whispers of these kinds of prophecies of doom again creep onto the edges of my Facebook feed and in the press.   But it was not the end of the world then.  So do not even say that now.  

 

I understand some want to understand “why” this has happening.  I understand we are anxious and frightened.   We are doing our best to figure out how to care for those who are vulnerable, to care for ourselves and our families.  Life is changing, but do not tell me it is the end of the world.  

 

In contrast to those proclamations filled with fear and worry Jesus said, "But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable."  (Mark 13.33)  Only God knows that timing, not anyone on earth, even the most respected, or "devoted" preacher.

 

Jesus said, "Don't look for the signs.  Instead be prepared."  He wants us to live as if the end is near all the time.  Why would he say that?  I think he said it because he wanted to create a community in which people valued life.  The kind of community that values life will care for people instinctively.  You and I have spent our lives trying to follow the teachings of Jesus;  now we choose to continue living in a way that values people—even if we have to do this at a distance.  

 

We may feel the need to make sense of COVID-19 and the dramatic changes it has brought to our world.  But probably the best we can do at the moment is to do what needs to be done today.  We can rise, trust God for today, and care for each other.  Let God take care of tomorrow.  And may, instead of the end, something new will be born.

 

 

Living in a storm

Have you ever lived through a hurricane? I haven’t, but I moved to Florida not long after a series of devastating hurricanes. When the next one was predicted, people panicked. They hurried to the shops. They queued at petrol stations to fill up their vehicles. They bought water and toilet paper and canned goods and pasta and rice. They were prepared for weeks without shops, electricity and petrol.

The last few days have felt eerily similar to hurricane preparations. People are buying up food and toilet paper as if a hurricane is forecast. The big difference is that when a hurricane is forecast, we start with a general sense of its direction. There are several paths predicted. And if you live in one of those paths you hope it will veer in another direction. As the storm draws closer the predictions of its path get clearer. People then rush to the shops and prepare for the aftermath. Or they evacuate and long queues of traffic develop out of the area!

It feels as if a storm is on its ways. So we have run to the shops. We have filled up our vehicles with fuel. There are all kind of plans in place for support. People are being very creative in finding ways of working and supporting people. Still we wait. We do not know where or when Covid-19 is going to strike in our community, in our family, in our church. We know it is coming, but we can’t see it. The unknown generates a sense of fear in some of us. Others of us carry on as normal, not thinking about it at all, except for the fact we can’t see friends and family in the same way. Some of us still go out as if nothing is changing.

But things are changing. We need to think about our safety and the safety of others. This isn’t a hurricane. It isn’t going to blow through in a few hours, leaving us to pick up the pieces. We have to learn how to live in new ways, relate using the gift of technology. We have to take the orders to isolate seriously. We have to protect ourselves, and we have to protect others. 

And we have to remember that whether we gather together in a church building, which we can’t do for the time being, or whether we speak on the phone or over Skype or text, we are connected by the One who is love. We may feel vulnerable in this time of uncertainty, but we are never alone. Our connection remains to each other and to God.

Though we are scattered, Lord, you keep us connected.  
Though we feel alone, Lord, you united us.
Though we are afraid, Lord, you promise us peace.
On this day and in the days ahead, help us find ways to connect, to love, and to grow in our relationships with those we meet at a distance or virtually. May all our spaces of connection be holy ground. Amen.