A friend commented yesterday about how our emotions seem to come in waves in this time of quarantine. There are waves of grief over what or who we have lost. There are waves of uncertainty, bewilderment about our future. Waves of anger, depression, fear. There are even waves of joy, gratitude that we can be together either in person or online. It feels surreal, that we can be happy, that we can recognize the good in the midst of suffering.

Right now I am sitting on my deck, watching the waves pass through the channel between Maui and Molokai. It is a windy day, the palms blowing, more sturdy trees bent permanently in the direction of the tradewinds. Yesterday’s calm ocean is now dotted with whitecaps. Wind-whipped waves travel past in a never-ending parade.

Maybe that’s the thought I’ve been trying to capture in my brain. Waves never stop. They break on the shore and the tide draws them back out, but the waves keep coming. Steady or wind-whipped, measured in inches or feet, the waves continue on their course.

And here we are in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes it feels like we are drowning, as wave after wave pummels us. Mostly we are keeping our heads just above water. And in the rare moments of calm, we can lie back and float.

Last night, like many nights recently, I struggled with insomnia. My brain has trouble settling. But last night, as I listened to the wind, I imagined myself floating in the ocean. The saltwater buoys me like a baby held in her parent’s arms. God whispers soothingly. He tells me it’s okay to let go, to rest. He tells me I don’t need to struggle to stay afloat, I just need to relax, lie back and let Him carry me.

Jesus calmed the wind and waves with a word. I can trust God to do the same for me, even when it feels like I’m drowning.

4/12/20

Easter Sunday 2020. Today, there are some churches determined to hold meetings despite local government stay-at-home orders.  They believe they are being faithful to God by defying the government. Even if scientific evidence warns that their actions will perpetuate the virus, will endanger the vulnerable among them, still they will gather.  Some believe God will protect them. Others say if they die from the coronavirus, they are going to a better place. Many believe their leaders’ assertions that the government is infringing on their constitutional right to “religious freedom.”  

 

Onlookers may wonder at the churchgo-ers’ apparent naivete.  Less generous terms include “stupidity” and “Darwin award winners.”  That’s an easy generalization, as dismissive as it is condescending. Most of us who see so clearly the error of these followers fail to see our own participation in this scenario.  

 

How can “those people” deny scientific reality? How can “they,” who purport to be loving, be so selfish?  Don’t “they” see the manipulation, how those ambitious leaders are seeking their 15 minutes in the spotlight?

 

Them.  Us.

 

“They” are foolish. “We” are wise.  

 

And so we divide ourselves.  Coastal elites and Midwest pragmatists.  Democrats and Republicans. Christians and pagans. Black and white and brown. The one percent versus the ninety-nine. Traditional versus progressive. Every label carries a connotation.  Are you with us or against us? Are you them or us?

 

I have heard many sermons on Jesus’ parable of the wide and narrow gates.  Most of them focused on how our behavior as Christians must be set apart from “the world.”  What I find interesting is that in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this analogy directly follows Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others what you would have them do to you.”  It also directly precedes Jesus’ warning to beware of false teachers and to not become one of those who do all manner of religious performance without really knowing the will of the Father.  Jesus sandwiched our choice to act between preferring one another in love and seeking His heart despite all appearances.  Most people will settle for the appearance of good.  

 

In today’s world, it is indeed a narrow path to find those who treat everyone with the same love. Fear divides us but love truly does unite us.  Only God has the capacity to judge who is listening, who is following His heart. Those loving souls are in the Southern Baptist church, in the Pentecostal church, in the Catholic church, in no church.  Despite many a preached warning, I believe they are in temples and mosques and Greenpeace meetings. No denomination has an exclusive domain on hearing God. Jesus told us to look at the fruit of a person’s life, not at how righteous they appear.

 

In my formative evangelical years, I was told to beware of unity.  “He who is not for us is against us.” Except Jesus also said, “whoever is not against us is for us.”  Huh…????!!! In these sermons, there was even quite a bit of creative epistemological convolution to justify why “us versus ‘the world’” was Jesus’ primary objective.  It was not a far jump from there to how the practice of condemning and ridiculing others was actually “loving them into the kingdom.” 

 

That’s some pretty sour fruit.

 

How have we come so far from Jesus’ good news?  How have we turned the invitation of our Creator to join in a fellowship of unconditional love into a judgmental condemnation of human behavior? How have we allowed ourselves to once again become so embroiled in legalism and the appearance of righteousness while taking advantage of the least among us?

 

Jesus had some chilling words regarding millstones that all of us who have been Christians for any length of time need to consider.  Are we leading astray children in the faith (of any age)? Are we teaching anything beyond what Jesus taught? Are we adding our own prejudice to His words?

 

Today is Easter. Resurrection Sunday.  He is risen.  

 

He is risen indeed.  

 

What is He saying to you?

4/11/20

 

Holy Saturday.

 

A day of waiting.  The day before the resurrection.  Except Jesus’ friends didn’t know they were waiting.  They didn’t know resurrection was just around the corner.  They only knew devastation. Grief. Bewilderment. They had given their lives to follow the Messiah and now He was dead.  Logic shouted that they had been wrong. Jesus wasn’t God. How could God allow Himself to be stripped naked and suffer an excruciating, shameful death?  Would they be next? Would they all be crucified for following Jesus?

 

Everything they knew, everything they believed was called into question.  How were they so deceived? And what next, if they lived? Go back to fishing?  They had seen miracles. How could the greatest teacher, who had spoken with authority over disease and spirits, over nature itself, the man who had called Lazarus from the grave, how could He submit Himself to those petty, jealous leaders?  How had He succumbed to such an ignoble end?

 

Rumors trickle in about Judas, the betrayer.  Dead by his own hand? How could he betray the Master? Why is Peter so uncharacteristically quiet? Did Judas know something we didn’t? Are there more betrayers among us?

Uncertainty warred in every heart.  Last week they were being cheered, following behind Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Did Jesus know those same crowds would soon be shouting for His execution? He was the Messiah!  He was, wasn’t He?

We thought Jesus would lead us to victory over these Roman dogs. They are unholy pagans, yet they never miss an opportunity to humiliate us. Arrogant elitists, we have suffered under their derision our entire lives.  Jesus was supposed to be our Savior. Wasn’t He?

 

Today we face grief and uncertainty in the midst of this pandemic.  We’ve been waiting indoors, but for what? What will life look like next month? Next year?  Rumors of a new normal trickle in. No more handshakes as a standard greeting. Business and educational models permanently altered. A society standing six feet apart in small groups of bandana-covered faces.

Until very recently, we lived in a perpetually chaotic and fast-forward society. In rare moments of reflection, we noticed that perhaps our social relationships were beginning to suffer from our relentless pace of life.  Fragmented families, shallow friendships, an unhealthy focus on productivity and wealth acquisition. A concentration on image versus substance. A growing divide between economic classes. Racial and social justice issues increased while many of us were too busy to pay attention.

 

Now we’re home.  We’re noticing that our survival strategies may not be sustainable.  We’re facing previously ignored problems within our own homes and families.  Before, when we got too uncomfortable, we went to work, or shopping, or got busy on a more manageable project.  But now, we can’t escape so easily. Now, the same issue crops up ten times in the same day.

 

We’re coming to the end of ourselves.  It’s a good place to be. Because, at the end of ourselves, we notice that we’re not alone.  God is there.  

 

God was there with Jesus’ friends on that Saturday.  In their bewilderment and uncertainty, in their devastation and grief, God was there.

 

God is here with us today.  We don’t know what resurrection is awaiting us.  I suspect it is a merciful reset on a society that was plunging headlong into an unsustainable divide.  But no matter what we are feeling today, no matter what ugliness we are beginning to notice in our own souls, we can be confident that God is with us.

 

Tomorrow, a lot of churches will be preaching about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the cross.  A cosmic trade, if you will, of our sinfulness for Jesus’ perfection. I personally believe Jesus’ submission was so much more important than a concern for personal holiness.  I believe God wanted Jesus’ entire life (not just His death) to be our model. What Jesus said and did was a reflection of His relationship with God. Throughout the book of John, Jesus repeats that He only does what the Father is doing.  Jesus listens.

 

With a few notable exceptions, most of the time in which Jesus listened to His Father, He was not listening to an audible voice.  Like us, Jesus poured out His heart into seemingly empty space. He prayed and listened in silence.

 

One of Jesus’ favorite names for Himself was “Son of Man.”  Most of us would’ve capitalized on the “Son of God” half of the equation, but Jesus delighted in His full identification with all our struggles. Jesus had family tension (how many of our siblings called us crazy?), He had relationship problems, bickering employees, financial issues, etc.  He wasn’t above it all, He was in it all. Just like us.

 

And just like us, Jesus had a loving God to turn to when He was exhausted and when uncertainties threatened.  God is with us. The Emmanuel of Christmas is just as present at Easter. God is with us.

Last fall, during a memoir writing class in Berkeley, I had an idea.  Still too timid to publish my work into print, I could begin sharing my writing on a blog.  I would name it 2020 Hindsight, and I would reflect back on key moments in my life from which I gleaned pieces of wisdom.

 

I wrote my first entries in December, but didn’t want to post them until I had the website perfected.  

 

Today is April 7.  Bernie’s campaign has co-opted my tagline but even more important, the world has changed.  

 

Today, much of our world is indoors. We are physically distancing ourselves from each other in the hope of containing the spread of a worldwide pandemic.  Today, there is no cure or vaccine for this coronavirus which grows in clusters and kills many whose immune systems are already battling other diseases.

 

Today, the idea of publishing this blog seems to fall somewhere between folly and hubris.  Who cares about my little insights in the face of daily tragedy? Yet I am reminded of a young girl whose diary captured generations to live in her uncertainty, to mourn her loss, to galvanize our resolve to never again let our complacency allow such a holocaust to occur.  I am no Anne Frank, but today I’m pushing “publish” on all the drafts.

 

I stopped just now, and stepped outside to take a deep breath of ocean air.  I noticed a constriction in that breath, my lungs not able to process as deeply as normal.  I’ve had a raging sore throat for the past couple days. Coughing if I try to speak for long.  A slight fever. Is it Covid-19? Strep? Do I risk going out of the house to have it tested? Is it safer to stay inside and focus on self-care?

 

These are questions I wouldn’t have asked in January.  

 

No one knows how long this forced separation will be necessary.  No one knows how life itself will change in the wake of this pandemic.  No one knows.  Except One.

 

I pray for wisdom and healing.  Gobble some more vitamins. Resolve to look at online options for medical care.

For all of us staying at home right now, there seems to be a similar struggle.  We are used to being busy. The larger questions of life have been easily drowned out in our busyness.  But now, being home, these questions remain and our distractions are fewer. Unresolved conflicts in our relationships emerge multiple times a day. We are facing ourselves in ways we have avoided for years. It is a good thing, but it is not pleasant.

 

Today, for me, I’m looking at my own tendency toward procrastination.  Case in point: committing to this blog. I deceive myself if I simply label it sloth or perfectionism.  There is some truth to both, but at its root, my procrastination is an avoidance of conflict. A conflict of belief.

 

For me, writing is therapy.  It is holding a mirror to my own thoughts and actions.  It is looking deeply. It is discovering, sometimes, what I haven’t wanted to see.  

 

In his Confessions, Augustine said God was nearer to him than he was to himself. God sees our true self better than we do.  The good news is that even in seeing us as we are (without excuse or pretense), God loves that person better than we do.  God sees our reality and loves us without reserve. God loves our past and future selves just as much as our present selves.  

 

In my American evangelical experience, I’ve been taught to despise my past sinful self, to beg for forgiveness and cleansing of my present self and to put my hope in a future, holier self.  I imagine God rolling His eyes and shaking His head at that picture and just picking me up in His arms. God does not differentiate as we do; God is not constrained by our concepts of time and space.

 

My procrastination, my avoidance lies in the conflict deep in my soul: Do I believe that God loves me unconditionally?  Do I believe I am accepted, welcomed as I am, or am I still trying to earn that love? It is a humbling thing to believe.  We Americans, who value our independence, who proclaim our freedom as an inherent right, for us to take ourselves down from center stage, to submit to a greater Other and acknowledge His authority as Creator…. humility is a small word for that submission.

 

We look for God in times of crisis.  Sometimes to scream at Him at the unfairness of our situation, sometimes to beg for supernatural help.  Even the staunchest of atheists, upon reaching the limits of human knowledge, may wonder if there is more beyond this existence.  Many of us reject the Santa Claus version of deity we were taught as children. We decide, if there is a God, His invisibility and seeming indifference to the circumstances of our lives justifies our disinterest in Him.  We arrange a life that has little to do with God. We may feel a superiority to the masses still bound by religion or a mild curiosity for those we respect who still adhere to faith. 

 

But then.  A global pandemic stretches the boundaries of resources and knowledge.  Every person on the planet is affected in some way. Some cling to denial, others step up to offer help.  We are together on this planet in an unprecedented commonality of physical chemistry and vulnerability. We, who have spent the past years fighting each other over climate change and political power, are now stuck together, for better or worse.  Our priorities are shifting. What has lain hidden in our hearts is being manifested for others to see. Alcohol sales and domestic violence stats are up but so also are unprecedented generosity and community-building activities.

 

We are being invited to look into our own hearts.  We are being invited to face our own fears. It may be ugly at first, to sift through the layers, the defenses we have erected to guard ourselves.  It is neither easy nor pleasant.  We will be tempted to distract ourselves with technology or escape into media binges.  

 

I name this as an invitation because we always have a choice.  We can choose not to look. We can choose to continue with our busyness at home.  We are amazingly proficient at adapting. But I believe this time offers a critical opportunity for our growth as individuals.  I believe God is waiting to show each of us what He sees when He looks at us. If that image causes you to cringe, then I believe this invitation is especially for you.  You are loved, deeply, intimately loved. You were created in love. You were put together with unique abilities, amazing capacities.  

 

Today, and for however long this period of isolation lasts, I invite you to look with me.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking back, or forward, or in this present moment. God is there with you.  He will help you notice.  

 

Today, with the authority of Jesus, I bless you in the noticing.  Don’t worry about what to do with what you see or feel. You don’t have to discern or change a thing.  Just be. Just acknowledge God’s invitation to be with you in it. If you feel condemnation or fear, give it to God.  He will hold it for you. This isn’t the time to make lists for self-improvement.

 

Start small.  Five minutes. Find a quiet corner (or headphones or a pillow if needed).  Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, aware of the breath filling your chest and letting it out slowly.  After your breathing slows, imagine the space around you filling with the light of God. Feel His presence with you.  He is not judging, not lecturing. He is just being with you, smiling on you because He loves you. Like a toddler tucked in her grandpa’s arms, rocking on the front porch and staring out into a summer afternoon.  If that familiarity is too uncomfortable, imagine Jesus as a close friend just hanging out next to you, a comfortable silence between you. There is nothing that needs to be done or said, being together is enough. Like a Christmas afternoon following the flurry of unwrapped excitement, adrenaline slows and contentment hums a soft song.  Stay in that moment. Stay in that Presence for the remainder of your time. Nothing more is needed today. As you continue in your day, remember that light, God’s smile on you.