Saturday, March 28, 2020

Why Would They Risk Their Lives For You?

Mount Sinai West nursing manager Kious Jordan Kelly died from COVID-19.  Why would Mr. Kelly, in his 40’s,  have put himself in a place where he would be exposed to a highly contagious, deadly virus? You might say, “Well, it was his job?” But, ask yourself, if your job required you to knowingly risk contracting a deadly disease for which there is no known cure, would you? Why didn’t Nurse Kelly just walk away and call in sick? Take vacation? Find a new job?

There is something special about the character of people called to serve on the frontline of our nation’s response to a pandemic.  A frontline healthcare worker has no time to do a calculation of whether a person who cannot breath deserves the help of a nurse or doctor.  They serve those who lie before them gasping for air knowing that droplets could enter their own bodies and put them at death’s door.

So, today I ask you to pray for those who are called to this this dangerous work with this excerpt from A Blessing for Healthcare Workers in a Time of Pandemic--Kate Williams, © GIA Publications:

“Blessed are the ones who cannot be isolated.
Blessed are the doctors, nurses, chaplains, hospital staff. Blessed are the hands that are raw from scrubbing and sanitizing, the palms that glisten with oil of healing. Blessed are the shoulders that carry the weight of life and death. Blessed are the feet that are aching from standing at bedside and running between rooms. Blessed are the hearts that are frightened and breaking. …
Blessed are those who look upon this sacred work as gift . Blessed are those who have had enough. Blessed are those who are overwhelmed. Blessed are those who lack the space to process all that lies ahead.
Blessed are the ones who are found weeping in secret corners of an emergency room so that we might see a strong face to greet our need. Blessed are those who weep openly with us, so that even our tears have companions.
Blessed are you, O God:…come quickly, abide unceasingly. Love us while we see the worst, give us the hope we need to see our way out.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

When Fear Leads to Doubt, Sing!

God didn’t cancel spring.  The sun remembers how to shine.  Social connecting is happening in new ways.  Branches and dirt hold the promise of buds. Observe the Sabbath with a walk, sing a song.

I Worried
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Responding to Fearful Threats

How should God’s people respond to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic?  How shall we react to the ‘national emergency’ the President, Governors and Mayors have declared to exist?

After Jesus died and was buried his friends believed their lives were in mortal danger. Surely, they thought, they would be next in line to die a horrible death. Guilt by association. What did they do? They huddled together in a room, ‘the doors locked for fear.’  What happened next changed the history of the world, of the universe.  Jesus, he whom they saw die, showed up in their midst. They thought they were seeing a ghost.  But then Jesus spoke words that ring down through history, “Peace be with you!” The disciples were frightened at first, but as Jesus continued to comfort them their fright turned to joy.  They still might be targets of the powers that killed Jesus, but now they had Jesus with them.

The presence of Jesus changes fear to joy, not because the threats we fear go away, but because we see that ‘this too shall pass.’  Importantly, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  The role of God’s people, the work of the church, in the midst of a time of national emergency is to go into locked rooms and bring a word of peace. Sure, the threats of viruses are a real and present danger, but Jesus is with you and he isn’t leaving. ‘Peace be with you.’

A second obligation of God’s people in the midst of crisis is to honor the restrictions and guidelines the government decrees over our activities and lifestyles.  We are called to be faithful disciples first and good citizens second. Keep that order, but to the extent possible, do both.

Is it a necessary thing to close school and church activities? Opinions differ. But, a national emergency is declared. So, good citizens do what we are advised: wash our hands and practice social distancing because, in the long run, it is going to make our nation healthier more quickly.

What should you do today? Bring a word of peace to people who are huddled in fear.  Model good citizenship for your neighbors. “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Hardest Part of Being a Friend

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.”  –Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude (source:

If people were writing their life story would anyone write of you, ‘s/he was my best friend’?  What I am asking you is whether there is someone who views you as the one of whom they would write and mean that you really are their BFF (‘best friend forever’)?

It’s hard work being a friend. It takes time.  You go shopping. You attend the latest romantic comedy together. You find time to dine, swapping stories, sharing tales of your latest pains and woes. What else, in your mind, moves someone from the point of being a ‘friend’ to a ‘best friend’?

I am guessing that the ‘best’ part has something to do with the two of you having a history.  There is an old cartoon I remember in which the characters are sitting in a jail cell. The caption reads something like, “Your friend is the one who comes to visit you the next morning and says, ‘that was fun.’”  Being a BFF means you have some moments that the two of you can remember and smile.

The hardest part of being a friend, and the part where ‘best’ gets defined is perhaps the ability to sit silently, not trying to explain God’s apparent absence or abandonment. Just being there.

In today’s rushed world, full of endless distractions, it has become very hard to set aside time to be a ‘friend who cares.’  But that is what best friends do.  Do you care?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

"Wash Me!"

How does a car get so dirty that someone finally decides they need to write in the automobile’s accumulated dirt, “Wash Me!”?

I discovered this question in Peter W. Marty’s column in Christian Century. (February 26, 2020, “Gradual Grime”)  Rev. Marty makes the point that it happens gradually. The owner of the vehicle may be too lazy or too frugal to wash a vehicle that is just going to get dirty again, especially in winter, driving on salt-laden roads.  It’s not that the owner wanted the filth there, but it gathered little by little.

You get used to the dirt after a while. You think, ‘I’ll wash it later, when it’s more convenient.” Then someone comes along who is embarrassed for you (I assume they are not feeling sorry for the car) and shames you with the infamous finger-inscribed plea to bless your car with some water.

Friends, I don’t want to be the one to tell you (or I guess I do, actually): we all badly need a bath! You should care about the accumulated grime. The dirt and grime of our sin accumulates, not necessarily because we want it to, but just because we live in a sin-infested world. Do something about it now. The longer you wait the less likely it is you will get it done.

Why bother with church during Lent? It’s like walking through a fountain flowing with water. It doesn’t’ hurt, I promise. You want to be clean for Easter, right? Now is the time to let the baptismal waters get to work on that grime.  Use Lent to write a message in the dirt: ‘Wash Me!’  Jesus offers free washes every Sunday!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

And God Laughs

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
(Psalm 2:1)

As I watch the news unfold each day it is easy to conclude that the world has gone mad. It is difficult to know who is an ally with whom and who is an enemy. Historic alliances crumble. Who is friend and who is foe is difficult to discern from month to month. And, in the worst of all developments, ‘truth’ has become a matter of personal opinion, not fact.  Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” is one we still ask.  It is enough to cause me to despair of whether peace can ever be known again in our land, much less in our world.  How then, in the midst of all that we witness, can we find any hope?

I find hope in the words of the most ancient of songs, where the Spirit tells us that the nations and the peoples ‘plot in vain’. They are not in control of my destiny. They cannot stop the march of hope through history. We who believe in God have no need to fear the futile fantasies of the nations, for they are mere minions.  Or, as Artur Wieser compares the nations leaders to God:

“A race of pigmies is face to face with a giant!...It is only when we know the overwhelming power of God…that we achieve that inward superiority, fearlessness and serene confidence which is so graphically expressed in the magnificent picture of God who from his exalted throne smiles at the manikins and mocks at them.” (Psalms, A. Wieser p. 112)

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
(Psalm 2:4)

While the nations conspire to pursue evil among us our God laughs, for he knows that all they do is in vain.  He who laughs last…

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Kind Is Not A Four-letter Word

“Why is hate so easy and love so difficult?” (Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, p. 328)

Coach Tom Izzo, when he was asked about the reaction of disgruntled fans to another loss, lamented how Michigan State ‘fans’ took to Twitter to lambast his players, the teenagers he was trying to coach into becoming better athletes and men.  The following morning, on a sports talk show, the hosts discussed Coach Izzo’s complaints. One of the hosts, a woman, proposed that sports fans using Twitter and other social media be a little more kind to each other. The rest of the panel, in unison, laughed out loud at her preposterous suggestion.

A Facebook Friend posted a lament about her close family friend who had blocked her entire family after their Facebook posts revealed that they held differing political opinions. Comments came from several other who had likewise been ‘un-friended’ by Friends because of the hate they have towards each others’ political opinions.  My Friend asked, “Can’t we just be kind to each other?”

The answer right now is ‘no’, we are all buying into divisive, bullying speech driven by the easy emotion of hate.  God’s people are supposed to be driven not by hate but by love. And this is perhaps the challenge God’s people can meet: to give the act of being kind a revival. It will require great sacrifice and greater humility. It will require thick skin, and maybe even formation of support groups for the kind.  But, there is no shame in being kind to your friends or your enemies. You are not ‘selling out’ if you refuse to engage in hateful speech or writing every time someone offends your pet political or social views.  When people attack your views with name-calling and narrow-minded labels, do not respond with hate.

Love them by being kind.  Pray for your social media ‘enemies.’ Remain their “Friend”. Don’t post things about them in social media that you would not say to their faces. Try to be more kind.

Let your kind responses serve as salt, bringing some good flavor to a tasteless society. (Matthew 5:13) ‘God, help me to be believe that ‘kind’ is not a four-letter word. It is a pathway to peace. Amen.’