Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Is the State Closing Churches?

March 26, 2020

As I was scanning through news articles today I found two blog posts by a pastor in Mississippi.  Both strongly oppose the notion that the State can cancel worship services for any reason.  Both are defiant in insisting that churches not only should and can but must remain open and providing worship services to their people.

The first post is here, dated March 16.  He insists the Church is not subject in any respect to the State.  I would first be interested in whether his church is filed with the State of Mississippi as a non-profit organization in order to receive tax benefits for himself and for his members.  If  his church is, he has acknowledged a special relationship and subjection of his church to the State.  He might want to argue this is voluntary, but it at the very least would be a glaring contradiction of what he states in this blog entry.

I also find it interesting he nowhere mentions Romans 13 in terms of the relationship of Church and State.  He might find this irrelevant, arguing Romans 13 applies to individuals rather than a corporate congregation.  But a congregation is nothing more than the assembling of individual Christians, so the point seems to be a very fine one at best.

Finally, has the State of Mississippi actually ordered churches not to hold worship services?  Here in California the language of our Governor’s Executive Order of a week ago was very vague. The implication is clear – people should not be gathering for any reason.  But he specifically does not mention religious groups.  Nor does the Department of Public Health document he refers to in the Executive Order.  By implication Christians are to stay home and not gather for worship.  But I’m sure legal counsel would say explicitly banning religious gatherings would be a nightmare, opening the governor and the state to all sorts of legal challenges.  While larger congregations that continue to gather are facing public backlash and social shaming, I haven’t seen accounts yet of them being faced with criminal charges.

The second post, dated March 20th, is here.  Again, although he makes exceptions for personal conscience it’s clear he sees suspending worship services as a violation of God’s commands.  The difficulty  is in finding said command.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is perhaps the closest the New Testament gets to a command concerning worship.  Of course the understanding of God’s people is that corporate worship is part of the life of faith, and Christians received this from the Jews and continued it – and rightly so.  But there is a legalistic tone here I find difficult to resonate with.

He asks at one point  if we want to be the first generation in 2000 years to cancel all the worship services?

First, what he’s specifically addressing is American Christian congregations, in which case our timeline is considerably shorter – only the past 250 years or so.  Even if every congregation in America refused to allow members to gather (something I doubt is actually happening), worship would be continuing in other places in the world where the outbreak is not as advanced as yet.  Secondly, there have been other situations where Christians have voluntarily opted not to meet for worship, such as the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918.  For  short periods of time in particular places in our country and around the world, the people of God have opted not to gather for corporate worship.

I understand his concerns and I share them.  Under the guise of civil law or the good of society governments in the past have curtailed religious freedoms and instituted religious persecutions.  This is a very real thing and a very real concern, and the Church must always be on the guard against any such infringements.  And if restrictions on gatherings continue in place for a prolonged period of time the people of God will need to determine, on a congregation by congregation basis, whether or not to allow corporate worship with some appropriate guidelines and safeguards in place.  After all, people are still out and about for shopping.  So long as social distancing is observed and reasonable care given to cleaning and disinfecting, there is no reason why people couldn’t gather at least in smaller groups to worship together.  A mega-church might have difficulties offering enough services for thousands of people to gather in smaller numbers, but it could reasonably be done.  The vast majority of American congregations are a few hundred members or smaller, and therefore scaled-down worshiping cohorts wouldn’t be too difficult to accommodate.

It might also be instructive to remember that God’s Old Testament people were unable to properly worship for 50-some years when they were exiled in Babylon.  They found other ways to gather, but they understood it to be not the same thing as worship in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem, in the Temple.

The focus of God’s people must always be on God and not on intermediate things – no matter how good and helpful those things might be at times or in general.  The Christian faith is communal, but it is also flexible when necessary.  It is, however, a constant dialogue in terms of trying to discern when flexibility is unfaithfulness – a very real possibility whether it is engaged in by command or voluntarily.

Again, I’m empathetic.  I wasn’t going to cancel worship until it became clear this was a necessity.  And I plan to begin corporate worship again as soon as seems reasonable to do so, Executive Order notwithstanding.  But in the meantime I am willing to rest in the freedom we have in Christ to say, for the time being, we can continue to pray and worship privately for a short period of time.

There haven’t been any further posts from this site on this subject, but it would be interesting to know if they’ve had any changes of stance in the last week or so.

Contributing in the Time of COVID-19

March 26, 2020

I’ve been struggling with what I have to contribute during this time of COVID-19, social distancing, and the temporary  suspension of public worship.  A lot of churches are recording or streaming worship services.  Many of them seem to be larger congregations with a fair amount of technical resources, staff, and worship resources.  I’m sure you can find pretty much any style of worship from highly liturgical to very contemporary.

In light of this, the idea of recording a full worship service which quite easily could just be me and perhaps a musician seems superfluous.  Are people going to sing solo at home?

My particular gifts – such as they are – lie in preaching and teaching.  So thus far I’ve focused my energies on how to provide these gifts to my people (or at least most of my people) via the Internet.  While worship is comforting, it seems somewhat odd to simply broadcast it being done without anyone participating.  Corporate worship is just that – corporate.  It is the gathering of God’s people together to receive the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament and respond in prayer and praise.  Trying to replicate or imitate a gathering for people quarantined at home is complicated at best, and perhaps misguided at worst?  I’m struggling to figure my way through it.

Teaching can be done through the Internet, asynchronously.  I did that professionally for many years, and a Bible study is not much different in that respect than an online lecture.  Likewise a sermon can be streamed as a sermon – while delivered to a group of people – is listened to individually.  It is crafted with a group of people in mind (and sometimes with specific individuals within that group in mind!), but it is listened to by each individual person separately.  Not necessarily physically separate, but it is heard by individuals.  So it can be recorded and listened to at home as well.  Opportunities for interaction can’t be duplicated unless you have some sort of interactive medium for that, and I’m going to experiment with Zoom to that end tomorrow hopefully.

I suppose it’s major events like a pandemic that force the Church as a whole to grapple with these questions as doing what we’re used to doing becomes impossible or problematic.  God’s people need to be reminded of his grace and mercy even in a time of fear and sickness.  We need to be encouraged to not let our fear overwhelm our opportunities to love our neighbors.  We need to have our focus continually refocused on what our hope is, the return of our Lord.  Worship is one means of doing this, but it seems weird to ‘pretend’ to worship together when we really aren’t.

That’s not meant to be an indictment of those who are recording or live-streaming their worship services.  It’s just me thinking out loud about all of this and trying to figure out how  I respond as a shepherd during this time of isolation.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on the subject, if you’re willing to share!

On Considering Death

March 25, 2020

Thanks to Jo Anne for sharing the following C.S. Lewis quote:

“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

As I began verifying the quote it was quickly apparent it has received a lot of Internet attention in the past several weeks.  Many people are rushing to caution against interpreting C.S. Lewis incorrectly and thinking he would encourage us to not take precautions against COVID-19.  How quickly we want to interpret things to support our point of view or discourage competing views!

Rather than go this direction, I’ll offer this observation.  Lewis lived in a time when mortality was a much more real thing.  Not that people have ceased dying since the mind-20th century, but certainly our familiarity with death has continued that drastic decrease already underway in Lewis’ day.  As he points out aptly from history, death has long been an all-too-familiar companion to vast majorities of people.  Glancing through history books where the sweep of empires roils back and forth through the pages should give ample evidence death was more common and more brutal than we are accustomed to thinking of it these days.  Lewis himself served in World War I and lived through World War II.  He understood firsthand what it looks like when millions of people suddenly encounter death.

Now, death is an anomaly in the West.  At least death before a certain age.  Now we presume death is something primarily for the unfortunate few with pre-existing conditions or for the elderly.  We hide death away in sanitized rooms with strict visiting hours and palliative care to mask the reality of death for those who would prefer not to face it head on.  The ever-increasing average life span in the last century has lulled many people into a false confidence that death may – for now – be an unfortunate eventuality, but  we need pay it little mind until we are of a certain age.

Frankly our secular culture demands this.  If there is nothing more to life and existence than a random assemblage of atoms for an infinitesimally small period of time and then nothing but a rather swift dissipation, then this life becomes extraordinarily important.  Ironic, as we insist life is random and without meaning that we should cling to it all the more tightly!  Yet this is who we are.  Enlightened materialists unable to cope with the cold reality of the meaninglessness we have clothed our lives in, yet scoffing at the foolish theists who insist on the nobility and meaning and purpose of our bare, unadorned nakedness.  It is not what we accomplish that gives our lives meaning, they dare to say, but simply that we are.  Silliness, of course.  And our culture returns to ignoring death as long as possible, studiously occupying ourselves with any number of equally unimportant and random details.

Lewis holds a far more realistic point of view, which is that life is desperately unpredictable despite our attempts to make it predictable.  None of our advances have changed this reality but, given a broader range of alleged understanding we pretend our information is somehow power.  And it isn’t that we don’t have some power.  Anti-biotics and better understandings of hygiene have greatly improved both quality and length of life, as have advances in dentistry, surgery, and a host of other -ies.  But it only takes another global conflict of the micro-biological (COVID-19) or macro-biological sort (warfare) to remind us how easily our routines and control is upended.

Another important thing to bear in mind when reading Lewis’ quote is that he is speaking to Christians.  His words make no sense (or have no basis for making sense) to a non-theist.  Only the Christian can truly live this life in confidence and hope and joy, knowing that death is an unpleasant passage to something much grander and larger and better.  The Christian should not despise this life, but they should hold it in the proper relationship to the scope of eternity – if that is possible.  So we exhort the living continually and mourn the dead in Christ for a time.  We acknowledge our mortality with an even eye and a steady hand, neither rushing towards it prematurely nor fleeing from it inordinately.

This allows the Christian to be brave and courageous, and to take risks for the sake of loving our neighbor that may be admirable to non-theists but must ultimately  be (in their eyes) the height of folly.  So it is that Christians have always laid their lives down in service to those in need when nobody else was willing to take the risk.  Christians have died with the victims of plague and casualties of war they tended to, just as their patients died.  Their courage and love has been often noted, and hopefully will be emulated today and for as long as we wait for our Lord’s return.

So don’t be too quick to co-opt Lewis’ words to either disparage precautions against contagion or to summon Christians to adherence to social distancing.  Rather, in Christ may his followers live this day in joy, loving God and neighbor as we are given opportunity to do so and without too much over-calculating of the possible costs.  All of the costs have ultimately already been paid for us by Christ.  Let us love our neighbors who insist on safe distances between us and them, but let us be the first to show love and care for those who do not have that luxury.  We are all of us in the Father’s hands.  What more could we ask for?

 

 

Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Holy Communion and COVID-19

March 21, 2020

As previously noted, our congregation is suspending corporate worship for the time being.  I make this decision only because I am specifically ordered to by the civil authority and because I do  not sense in this order any intention to suppress God’s people gathering together as God’s people, but only a desire to temporarily avoid gatherings that might spread infection.

This necessitates I as a pastor and my congregational leadership and members thinking about how we carry on as the body of Christ in this time.  I’ve intentionally refused to livestream or record worship services to  post  on Facebook or YouTube because  the sermon I deliver each Sunday is for my congregation.  People that by and large I know fairly well, and who know me.  When we speak to each other, we speak in the context of that relationship and trust, and the sermon is no different.  What I say to them and how I say it to them is in part conditioned by my relationship to them.

Therefore, for someone not part of our immediate community of faith to listen in could be problematic.  Without the relationship and trust, they don’t know how to hear properly what I’m saying.  This isn’t  their fault – at a very real level the words aren’t for them.  They’re for my people.  The Word of God is for everyone, to be sure. But a sermon as an explication and application of  the Word of God has to be crafted and fashioned with a hearer in mind.  Paul’s message to the Greeks on Mars Hill (Acts 17) would hardly have been appropriate to hearers in Jerusalem.

So I’ve maintained for a long time that if we’re going to post things online, they need to be designed for digestion online, by a community I cannot know, and that cannot know me.  The message has to be focused on the Word as it might apply to anyone, rather than the Word as it applies to my small flock of regular hearers.

Enter COVID-19.

Now we’re scrambling to find ways to allow our members to receive the Word of God in a sermon (as well as Bible studies and other things).  We’re going to experiment with livestreaming to our very small congregational group on Facebook tomorrow.  We’re also  arranging for  a phone-in, conference-call type solution for our many members without access to  either Facebook or the Internet.

But one question remains – what about Holy Communion?

Well, that’s going to have to wait.

While there have been efforts made over time to figure  out how to bring Communion to people  when they cannot gather for it together, those solutions are problematic to varying degrees.  Either they end up breaching the very reasons we aren’t gathering together in the first place (the possible spread  of infection) or they somehow alter what happens in Holy Communion.  Our denominational leadership prepared a brief statement indicating why some of these practices are problematic and to be avoided, while reminding us that for centuries, Holy Communion was an infrequently celebrated event.  We receive God’s grace and forgiveness daily, and while we should not willingly despise or avoid Holy Communion, when we must forego it for a period of time it does  not damage us spiritually, even though we might long to partake in it.

For now, patience.  And prayer that this outbreak will subside quickly and we can once again gather as the body of Christ to receive his good gifts to us in Word AND Sacrament.

 

Suspending Worship

March 20, 2020

After some unofficial legal counsel from two Christian attorneys, I’ve made the difficult decision to suspend worship service this coming Sunday.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time churches have been told not to gather for worship since the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

I do this in obedience to Romans 13, not detecting in the governor’s Executive Order anything specifically targeting religious institutions.  I remain wary, all too aware of how reasonable laws can be turned to troublesome ends.  I am sad, because of the comfort only possible where and when the people of God gather together in praise and prayer, responding to our Creator and Sustainer’s good gifts to us in Word and Sacrament.

But most of all I remain hopeful.  Not simply of the passing of this virus, which history teaches us will indeed pass one way or the other.  Not simply for a return to normalcy, as by many standards normalcy is problematic in and of itself.  But ultimately that God will receive glory and honor as people are shaken from the doldrums of routines and forced to confront things of a much larger scale.  There is an opportunity for God the Holy Spirit to be at work in and through his people and churches to give witness in acts of love and service to the ultimate, sacrificial love of God for his creation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.  

N-33-20

March 19, 2020

The Governor of California tonight issued Executive Order N-33-20.  It makes mandatory the closure of non-essential businesses, defining 16 key industries that MUST be maintained and are not subject to what amounts to a general business shutdown.  Those 16 industries are identified in this document.

The Executive Order lays out the rationale first off,  then explains that the Governor does, in fact, have the authority to make such Executive Orders and bring to bear governmental resources to enforce them.  It then references a Health Order  from the California Department of Public Health on the same issue.

Both the Governor’s order and the CDPH order it is based on deal primarily with the issue of who should be going to work and who should not.  If you aren’t in one of the 16 defined critical infrastructure industries, your job is non-essential and you should close your business.  Neither order specifies any cutoffs for gatherings, but simply indicates people should stay home except to work in one of the pre-defined industries, or to otherwise facilitate authorized necessary activities.  I cannot find a definition of authorized necessary activities that wouldn’t simply be repetitive with the key industry guidelines.

It seems people are allowed to go out for necessary things – to obtain medication or medical care, to buy food and other necessities of life from those places like grocery stores and convenience stores that aren’t simply allowed to continue operating but are commanded to.

None of which addresses the issue of what religious groups should do during this time.

I know quite a few churches in town and in nearby towns that made the decision to suspend worship even before this Executive Order.  The question in my mind is whether that is now mandatory by law, or whether it falls into the nebulous zone of authorized necessary activities.  I have little doubt the Governor and other state officials would say it does not.  But since they haven’t clarified the issue, it is undefined.

The Center for Disease Control has recommended no more than 50 people gather in any one place unless absolutely necessary, and the White House recommends no gatherings with more than 10 people, and churches that violate this are getting press attention.

But these are recommendations, not laws.  And in general, I think they are wise.

The question becomes is worship a necessary activity?  And by what definition?  Again, I have no doubt the government does not view worship (in any religion) as a necessary activity.  But how should Christians define worship?

I don’t fault congregations and pastors that have opted to suspend worship and other gatherings.  But I don’t personally feel called to follow that route.

At least not yet.

Should more clear language be forthcoming, or should someone explain to me how (since I’m not a lawyer) I am misunderstanding what the Executive Order says, then it seems to remain at my discretion as a religious leader as to whether I should suspend worship services.  As I read it, the language of the order seems to be as unclear as possible.  This prevents specific outrage (from, say, religious groups) but rather relies on a great deal of social pressure.

Worship is not a command for Christians, but it is a strong encouragement and a privilege we should not abandon lightly.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is very helpful in this regard.  It isn’t simply the legal technicality of must we worship, but the reminder that worship is a massive blessing.  It emphasizes the communal nature of our faith (note the we and us throughout).  It references confession and absolution (v.22).  It centers us in who and what our hope and faith is – hope and faith in Jesus Christ who has made forgiveness possible to us.  It is God the Father who holds us in his hands, and ultimately him who holds the power of all health and healing in his hands.  This is NOT to toss our worldly wisdom and knowledge out the door, but it is to hold in the proper tension.  Medicine and treatments and other things are blessings from God intended ultimately not simply to elongate our lives but to direct our hearts and minds back to the source of all life and health not simply temporally but eternally.  Worship is also an opportunity to focus us on what we are called to do each and every day – love God and love our neighbors (v.24).  This does not justify needless recklessness, but does remind us that many of the heroes of the faith were willing to set aside their own well-being in order to tend to the needs of others.

Because of all these things, we should not lightly abandon meeting together particularly during difficult and frightening times!  We can still be wise about close contact and social distancing as we gather for worship!

And of course the second text to consider here is Romans 13.  This passage insists that Christians are not exempt of civil authority, but should be subject to it.  Of course, this obedience is mandated up to the point at which civil authority contradicts the Word of God.  At that point, we must like Peter and the apostles insist that we must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29).

If this Executive Order does mean gathering for worship is illegal for the time being, then I in good conscience as a servant of Christ can (and should) cancel public worship.  For a period of time.  At some point though – whether a point defined by civil authority or not – I will also be equally compelled to begin calling the saints to gather for worship.  It is very possible for a civil law to begin as good and necessary but eventually be misused.  God-willing, that time will not come.

In the meantime, all of God’s people should be praying for the deliverance of the world from this new virus, and a speedy return to a healthier environment both spiritually as well as physically.

 

Good Advice

March 15, 2020

Thanks to Janelle for pointing me to this quote from Martin Luther regarding how Christians should behave in the face of the plague – literally.  I went to verify it and seek out the source, and it can be found in this publication at the very least.

Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.

I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.

If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary.

Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he in turn should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death.

I love his balance of practicality and faith.  He will not  act in fear, but will act with prudence.  Love for neighbor overrides love of self.  Trust in God as well as the gifts of God in worldly wisdom, medicine, and best practices all find their proper place.

Timely words for today!

 

 

Thy Strong Word

March 11, 2020

She’s alone when I knock on the door.  The first time I met her, several years ago, it was she and her husband.  Recently relocated from further south where they had lived their lives as, among other things, active members of a Lutheran church.  But now they were older and beginning to falter a bit and to be closer to family they moved to a care facility here.  I took them Communion a few times before their daughter intervened, worrying it was more confusing for them than helpful.  A year or more passes, the daughter calls back.  Could I bring Communion to her mother now?  The confusion isn’t any better, so whatever stress entailed in me visiting seems no worse than the stress her mother normally lives with.

I’ve been making visits again for a few months now.  Her door is usually ajar and I knock.   I always tell her who I am and why I’m there.  It’s clear she’s confused, but she’s willing to receive Communion from a stranger-who-really-isn’t-a-stranger.  She often comments that she’s confused and doesn’t know what’s going on.  Today she sits on her couch with a blanket over her legs and her walker in front of her.  The television is on loud playing some black and white movie.

Since I just communed four other people in the same facility, I go to wash out one of the Communion cups.  As I finish I see a photo – clearly of she and her husband.  Many years ago.  The sun is shining on them and they look to be in their early 20’s at the oldest.  A beautiful reminder that the frail woman who looks at me hopefully but also with great trepidation was not always so.

I’ve learned that trying to make conversation with her is both uncomfortable and difficult, so I move to the brief order of service I use on Communion calls.  For the Bible reading I opt for the 23rd Psalm.  It’s the same reading I used with her last week and I know she enjoyed it and recited it from memory with me.  Since she likely doesn’t remember we used it last time, I use it again, changing the version on my app to the King James Version.  Sure enough, she joins right in for 70% of it.  She’s visibly calmer after we finish.

Now the Words of Institution, and it’s clear she remembers these as well, mouthing along in parts of it.  She recites the Lord’s Prayer with me and receives the bread and the wine.  She’s from the older tradition, and as well doesn’t trust her hands as much, so I place the wafer on her tongue and hold the small cup of wine to her lips.  I pack my things to go.

Sometimes, I open the Bible up.  And no matter where I open it to, it speaks to me.  This is the first time she’s offered much of anything conversationally since I’ve known her.  I smile and agree that God speaks to us when we’re reading his Word.  My Bible is in the other room.  Would you like me to get it?  She nods.  I find it easily on her nightstand and bring it to her.  Her whole face lights up when she takes it in her hands.  She flips through it, at a loss, looking for something but either not knowing what or where.  I notice a bookmarked page with highlighting on it.  I help her flip back to that.

Luke 12Just reading the title makes me feel better already, she says with a smile and I’m amazed at how present she is and how at peace she is.  Do Not Be Anxious.  I wonder if she highlighted that or her daughter did?  Would you read it to me, I ask her.  She hesitates a bit.  You don’t have to read all of it, just some of it I say.   She begins reading.  She loses her place a few times but corrects herself.  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….

The words of a man who claimed to be the very Son of God ring out in that small room with the  TV turned off.  Words she has heard over and over again across the span of a life from the young, confident girl in the photo to the frail,  confused woman on the couch.  Doing the best she can to keep from panicking.  Alone after so many years of being with a partner and a family.  His Word every bit as applicable and comforting and true as it was for the thousands who first heard him speak it 2000 years or so ago on a sunny hillside on the other side of the world.

As I take my leave and look back through the closing door, she’s still sitting with the Bible in her lap.  So much better than the blare of the television earlier.  A word not simply for waking up or going to sleep but for the uncertainties of a quiet afternoon by herself in a world  that has changed around her until she’s no longer certain who she is or where she is.  But those words are anchors, holding her fast to a truth she has clung to through all the changes of life, words that will lead her out of the confusion temporarily for now, but completely and permanently at last.

 

 

Comforting?

March 10, 2020

Hopefully it’s comforting to know – as you’re paying off your student loan fees decades after you graduated from college – that part of your debt likely made it possible for student athletes to receive scholarships so they wouldn’t have to graduate with student loan debt.

Maybe there should be an arrangement whereby this is tracked better,  so that athletes that graduate – or don’t graduate but leave college early to sign on with professional teams – pay back their scholarship monies, and appropriate amounts can be refunded to each student who attended during that athlete’s time at the school.  Or perhaps it could just be applied to outstanding student loan debt on a per student basis?

Otherwise, non-athlete students are paying for athletes to attend school for free in hopes of receiving high salaries as professional athletes.  Which sure doesn’t seem very fair to me!