It comes as a surprise, it is counter intuitive, it defies simple explanation, but, “It is a happy time.” So many things are deeply concerning, the variants of the pandemic, the climate crisis and our nation’s inactivity in response, the political practice of “the big lie” and the many little lies that support it. We are dismayed.
We are caught up in pastoral care for human pain, dealing with the complexity of surgery in the family, being touched by friends who are grieving and at loss. And in the midst of it all, we find to our surprise, “it is a happy time.”
1. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
When we read a litany of twelve quotes from Dr. King in our worship service at Peace Mennonite Church, I wanted to talk about how quotes from him were edited from my sermons on The Mennonite Hour by the auditioning committee, references to his prophetic actions were not allowed so I had to find indirect and covert ways to support him. The best was to interview Vincent Harding. It all reminded me of my teacher Dr Murry Bowen’s five steps in system change: 1) “Don’t change.” 2) “Change back.” 3) Threat. 4) Grudging respect. 5) “We knew it all along.” We claim it at last and pat ourselves on the back, and we always had his back, right?
2. Omicron Surge.
It is all around us, “the gift of non-vaxxers,” hospital staff, medical friends and chaplains remind us. Our covid deaths in Los Angeles County are the highest in ten months. Omicron has raced around the globe like fire in dry grass. Everyone in our church knows someone who is sick or recovering. We lift a lot of friends into the hands of Jesus in our prayer time. The extra home rapid tests get shared from family to family, and the longer term recovery periods are deep concerns for conversation. Do we hate zoom? Yes, of course. Are we grateful for zoom? Yes, of course. Can we continue to offer love, support and peace to one another on zoom? Yes, of course.
3. Everything Happens for a Reason– and Other Lies I’ve Loved.
Kate Bowler’s account of dealing with life threatening illness, grief and endurance is our study guide for the Home Base Church we attend. It touches a deep sense of recognition in each person that the inexplicable and devastating events that mark our lives do not fall from the hand of a petulant or vindictive God. It is instructive to walk with her as she faces stage 4 cancer and arrive with her at the conclusion that “Life is beautiful. Life is hard.”
4. Don’t Look Up.
How can a movie satirize a social-political situation that is already a sardonic inversion of truth? This doomsday film on Netflix demands that you have conversations with others who have viewed it to sort out the layers of human duplicity and stupidity. Whether you see it as an exposure of our denial of climate change and ecological collapse, or the more immediate denial of the pandemic, the story reflects the popular escape into willful blindness. The alternate facts and fabricated stories that have become current belief systems manufactured by politicians and giant corporations make it difficult for our society to look terrifying realities in the eye. So we flee into fantasy or buy into false explanations. The comet is approaching and the answer is, “Don’t look up.” Sounds familiar when we have been told, don’t get vaxxed, or don’t worry about global warming or forget about that uncomfortable mask.
5. “Leaving our religion.”
Amy Frykholm’s incisive analysis of how Americans hunger for stories of people losing their religion, fleeing their community of origin, seeking a self-made authenticity. (Christian Century, Jan 12, 2022) This is a central theme of our cultural mythology. Leave home, leave church, find yourself, achieve authentic individualism. “Freedom becomes embedded in cliches, cliches almost entirely about romantic love and new forms of consumption.” In contrast, we believe that staying is the real story. The story of MLK Jr. of Desmond Tutu, of a host of people who live out their faith with consistent connectedness and with courage.