A Memory of My Father

My mom was telling me recently that dad was doing some recent advocacy work by calling the conference office and asking them to include the resources that the multicultural committee he serves with had worked on in their list of anti-racist resources. As a followup, he called the leaders of the committee, to let them know that their work was going to be included (and in fact, the bishop highlighted their work in a later communication). 

On the phone, the Black female leader told dad that she appreciated him for this specific act, and for his continued acton within the conference over the past three decades.

And said, yes, we’ve seen that work, and that’s why you were black-listed. 

It’s a heck of a thing to be recognized for, getting missed and skipped and excused and pushed to the back over and over and over again in a system of white cronyism. 

Fourteen years ago, dad and I went driving to a landscaping company and asked if we could have three hundred stones, and the person was like, these? That are super expensive? Or those, the run-of-the-mill river stones. And we said, those, can we have three hundred? How much will they cost? And the guy was like, oh, those? Those I’ll just give you. 

So dad and I bent over in the rain and picked out three hundred smooth stones so that members of his congregation could take them and put them as a foundation on the land where the church was building a new property. But then he was moved, and the new pastor that moved to that place listened to the guy that nearly gave dad a heart attack and that place that we prayed over is not united methodist anymore, even though it is a place where the people of God worship. 

I’ve lost count of the number of stories like that about my dad. 

But he doesn’t stop. He also makes it in the paper as the faster pastor, and the running community defacto chaplain. The savannah mayor knows who he is. The imam and the rabbi know who he is and are glad when he is with them. 

The work we do isn’t glorious. It is hard, and relentless, and never-ending and doesn’t earn us praise or a better salary or institutional recognition. But that doesn’t make it not worth it. It is worth it. We just gotta keep showing up. 

Keep Me In Your Heart

Rebel has started saying this to my husband and I whenever we take our leave of her. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the grocery store, a quick run to the church to pick up more supplies for work, taking a walk, or even just upstairs for a nap or getting some non-interrupted work done. 

“Keep me in your heart! You’ll be in mine!” then kisses and ASL “I love you” hands until we are out of sight. 

It’s one of her ways of coping with this season of uncertainty. She is quite old enough to understand that something important is going on. She knows the world is different. Her world is different. She hasn’t been able to give a friend a hug in over a month. She’s only seen one, for that matter, and that was from her carseat for a five minute chat while the other friend was on her porch. We had to cancel visits from and to grandparents. (And the beach, which I’m super torn up about.) She can’t go to the grocery store. Or church. Or school. Or the playground. 

I don’t even want to let her see the playground, because I don’t want either kid to see it surrounded by police caution tape. That’s not an image I want to help her process. 

So. She knows something is going on. But how well can she understand that half the world is at home. Half the world has basically ground to a halt. I can’t process it. But it is happening. And so I’m trying to help her understand what she can and being with her when it overwhelms her. 

It is rightfully overwhelming. 

Hank Green shared the realization that this is the single largest collective intentional action in the history of humanity. That’s a big deal. It’s not a war. We are unified for one goal. It’s an action that we are taking to protect those most at risk among us. We aren’t all doing it the same way, but we also don’t understand it. We are still learning and realizing new trends and figuring out the best way for the most people to be healthy and share the best way to communicate what we need to do to be a responsible society. 

We want answers, but sometimes they simply don’t exist. We are learning how to live with ourselves in this current reality that is nothing like normal even on days when it could be. 

And so, because of the uncertainty, my daughter asks me to remember her when we are apart, even if it is with a door between us. And I do. I keep her in my heart. 

And I keep you in my heart. Because I cannot keep you in my hands, or offer you a gracious touch or comforting hug, you are in my heart. I remember you. 

Keep me in your heart. 

turning

The sky should be a different color

yellow

or red

purple perhaps

maybe jade green, a harbinger of shift and 

change

and 

Chaos.

This blue is wrong for a world so turned

into fear and scarcity

and the presence of death.

We ration out our conversations 

with those who live outside our homes

trying to live on 

the threads of conversations limited to ten words a day.

The world is turning inside itself, and we don’t know how long we will be staying inside. 

We are all apart from each other.

Dismembered. 

Scattered and sifted because we cannot know if 

we will endanger our neighbor by being too close. 

The sky has no right to be this blue. 

The world is not normal. 

We will be changed. 

Oh, I yearn for a red sky of warning or a glint of 

green ushering in the storm about to break and pour over us. 

Fasting in the midst of a Pandemic

I’m getting lonely and restless. And this is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We are giving up so much so that we can help our community. We are fasting in action, in community, in gathering, in communal worship, in sharing touch outside our households.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about my call, you know that Eucharist is the primary source and focus of my call. The Lord’s Table is the way in and the end goal of my calling to ministry. And I don’t know when we will be Celebrating again. We are caught in an age of uncertainty, now even made more uncertain by the pandemic surrounding us. It would be comforting to share some Welch’s grape juice and King’s Hawaiian bread right not. And, we might get some to go with our green grapes on Easter. But it won’t be communion. We won’t have the body with us.

We may pray the prayer that the National Cathedral shared, for Spiritual Communion, a statement of yearning for the presence of Christ.

The Invitation to Holy Communion

A spiritual communion is a personal devotional that anyone can pray at any time to express their desire to receive Holy Communion at that moment, but in which circumstances impede them from actually receiving Holy Communion.

The presider invites the following prayer to be said by all:

My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. I love you above all things, and long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

(St. Alphonsus de Liguori, 1696-1787)

We yearn. We yearn for the presence of Christ. We yearn for the gathering of our community again. We yearn for the table of our Lord to be shared. We yearn for the Kingdom of God to come.

But these things are not for now. For now, we fast. We shelter at home. We are apart, but we are not alone. And we pray.

Fasting – based on Matthew 6:16-18; written for St. Andrews UMC pastored by Rev. Sherri Barnes 

Holy God, we confess that we are unsure of what fasting looks like in the midst of great sacrifice. We are tempted to point to what we are giving up in the midst of social isolation and canceling everything, and say all of that is good enough. 

God, it is hard to not look dismal these days. 

Haven’t we given up enough?

Though we mourn what we are losing, turn our hearts toward what you offer us. 

You see us where we are. 

Guide us to find you in the midst of our empty spaces where we do not know what we are doing or where we are going. 

Remind us of your presence when we are frustrated, confused, and worried. 

Help us to be examples of hope in the midst of the unknown, in the name of Jesus Christ, and the strength of the Holy Spirit; Amen. 

COVID-19 and the X-Men

“My hand sanitizer bottle says it works on coronavirus that’s just the common cold… why is this any different?” “A ‘novel’ virus, but what does that mean?” 

These are the two best questions that a woman asked me the last time I was in public. 

I wish I’d had this thought when I was talking to her, but maybe it will help you, too. 

Ok. Do you know in X-Men where Jean Grey turns into Phoenix? (Apologies to all people who understand canon better than I do: I’ve only seen the movies and I’m sure that I’m going to get something wrong. Also, maybe: spoilers?)(also, #feminism, I  know this isn’t X-Women…. And why is that anyway? Also, another story.)

So, the X-Men (and women) are mutant humans that have powers. They can heal faster, or freeze things, or make fire, or transfer power, or shoot lasers out of their eyes, or control the weather, or move and manipulate things with their minds. They have these powers because they have mutations on their genes. 

Viruses mutate, too. 

We’ve studied the way that the Flu virus mutates because those mutations are what let us know which things to change and adapt when it is time to make a new vaccine. Usually the changes are gradual, and mostly predictable, and we can keep up with the viral genetic “drift” in our population by introducing the new vaccines each year. 

The gradual genetic drift of viruses is why we can still get sick from the viruses we are exposed to, but because our bodies recognize them as something similar to what we have fought before, by and large, most people’s bodies can manage the change. 

Those are the normal X-Men, the ones that get to be in an ensemble cast and do things as a team because they really only have one thing in their wheelhouse and are predictable. 

And then there is Jean Grey. Who undergoes a radical transformation and becomes something different. So different that she doesn’t even recognize her significant relationships and friends or even her enemies. She is simply a new power on a magnitude that defies the strongest among them. 

This is viral shift.

This is the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. Yes, it is in the same family as the other coronaviruses like the common cold, like Phoenix is still a mutant human. But. None of our bodies have ever seen anything like it before. 

It jumped too fast. We have no immunity. We are only beginning to understand it, at great cost to life and infrastructure and the world economy. Our heath systems around the world are going to need all the help we can give them to be able to keep this from literally decimating the population of our seniors. And that’s based on the data we have right now, which is only three months of data. We don’t know what other populations could be at risk. And that is why we have to make these great sacrifices. Because this is so different.*

Hopefully you’ve seen the idea of needing to flatten the curve, and if you haven’t, it basically means we know that people who are infected and contagious may not be exhibiting symptoms, and because of that, we are being asked to observe social distancing. I’ve heard it described as physical distancing for the good of the society. 

That’s why we haven’t gone to the playground or over to a friends house for a playdate. We don’t want to be the connecting link that spreads the virus to one of the vulnerable among us. 

Sure, maybe if you are reading this, and you catch COVID-19 while it goes around the global population it won’t be that bad for you. But I have eleven family members over the age of sixty, a number of them with additional health risk factors. I don’t want to have a doctor pick which one of them gets to be on a ventilator and which one has to die, because there simply are not enough resources to go around if the entire population gets sick with unrestricted spread. 

This isn’t a sprint. We’re in this together for the long haul and in order to help out our helpers the best, we need to make these sacrifices of being apart. 

But we are not alone. We are in this together. And when we come out on the other side of this, through this pandemic, I’m looking forward to the hugs we will share again.  

 

*Thankfully, the CDC has considered what to do with an Influenza Pandemic like the one from 1918. Most of the decisions being promoted by the CDC is on their study of the past 4 pandemics over the last hundred years and how to help mitigate the effects of novel viruses. What we are doing now feels and sounds really weird sometimes. But. We closed schools because the science supported that decision. It’s just hard now.