A Time to Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. . . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn . . . Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,4

This past week our nation surpassed the 100,000 mark of persons who have died from the COVID-19 pandemic.  This morning I listened to a New York Times podcast that marked this awful milestone by sharing the names – and a little of the story – of 100 of those individuals.  I was moved by this memorial effort.

It is important that we remember and mourn these lives.  We may say, I don’t know them, how can I grieve?  To which I would say, you likely do know someone who has suffered a loss to COVID-19.  Our congregation mourns the loss of two of our members to date.  Our community has counted thirty-four deaths due to the virus.  In the future both of these numbers may rise.

Others have lost income, jobs, and security.  Many are living with a heightened sense of anxiety and have lost innocence, independence, and peace of mind.

Loss has a way of adding up, over time.  Loss not acknowledged or mourned can overwhelm us as its toll accumulates within our person.  If not processed, it will come out as anger, frustration, stress, or surface in other ways.

My own temptation is to press on, push down those feelings of loss, and not dwell on the bad news.  But that only works for a little while.  Each day something eventually reminds me that we are not in a normal time. There are visual cues everywhere, auditory ones as well.  The loss is often palpable.   

So, despite my first thought to not listen to today’s The Daily podcast, given its topic; I’m glad that I did.  It gave me permission to sit for a moment with the reality of those 100 lives, representing over 100,000 lives and over three times that world-wide.  

It helped me process some of what I’ve been feeling. It interrupted my day and my avoidance, pulling me back to simple faith amidst the uncertainty of life.  Faith, that now and in the end . . . . “all shall be well, and all shall be well” (a quote attributed to Julian of Norwhich which comes out of her arguing with God regarding the presence of suffering and death in the world).

Grief processed, mourning permitted, loss acknowledged, and – yes – prayer argued helps reset our mental outlook and reorient us under the care of the Good Shepherd, whom we follow even through death’s dark valley. 

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Hybrids

A “hybrid” is defined as “a thing made by combining two different elements, a mixture”.  Hybrids exist in nature – the offspring of two plants or animals of different species.  For example, a mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey; a tangelo is a hybrid of a mandarin orange and tangerine.  Apparently, strawberries are hybrids – I didn’t know that, did you?

I used to own a hybrid bicycle – it was a cross between a road bike and mountain bike. And there are many varieties of hybrid cars on the road today – in this case it’s the engine that offers the hybrid quality of gasoline and electric. 

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Why the current Diaspora is not a Displacement

The term “diaspora” is both a historic and religious term used to describe “a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland who have since moved out to places all over the world.” (source: vocabulary.com) The Old Testament diaspora describes the exilic period when the Jewish people were deported and scattered from Judea to Assyria, Persia and Babylon over several generations.

A similar diaspora of the followers of Jesus took place after Pentecost, as the Christian movement went from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The word has subsequently been used to describe the scattering and migration of refugee populations across the globe. As these phenomena occur, language and culture are also dispersed with the people.

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Producing the fruit of Perseverance

We discussed the topic of “perseverance” in a weekly Zoom Bible study yesterday, and it’s a topic I keep thinking about. Specifically, I’m pondering the extent to which perseverance is a human effort or a spiritual gift. What do you think?

While I do not find the word listed in any of the typical spiritual gift passages (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4), Paul does write about perseverance in Romans 5. There perseverance seems to have a quality of a spiritual fruit, if not gift. Paul writes, “we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” v.4

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The Juxtapositions of Spring, COVID-19 and Holy Week

We are having a beautiful Spring in south-central Indiana. Vibrant green grass, trees in full bloom, flowers replacing one another in a sequence of staging: crocus to daffodils to tulips. Add brilliant sunshine and warming temperatures and it has been a prescription for lawn work, walks, bike rides, and sitting on the patio or porch.

Yet as creation shows off its multicolored palate, there is the reality of an invisible virus stalking humankind. In it’s wake the coronavirus is leaving behind dis-ease and death. I continue to marvel at this juxtaposition of the two – Spring and COVID-19.

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Where Behavior Change Might Lead

Of all the psychology therapies the one that has most often made sense to me is “behavioral therapy”. What appeals to me about behavior therapy or counseling is the belief that “we often live, or act, our way into new ways of thinking”. So, if I am turned inward in my thoughts to the point of overwhelming anxiety or depression; taking the action of doing something for someone else (a different behavior) has potential to change my mindset. I begin thinking more about others than my own situation.

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Minding Your Mind

I took some time over my lunch hour today to mind my mind. That is, I engaged in some mental health behavior. For me that equated to going for a bicycle ride. I didn’t go far, but it was good to be outdoors, take part in one of my favorite forms of physical exercise, and improve my mental outlook as well. There’s nothing quite like the solitude of a wind in your face bike ride to provide time for prayer and unwinding of the mental pretzels you’ve created in your thinking. Perhaps you have a different means of minding your mind. Whatever it is, now is an important time to practice it.

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Staying Connected While Social Distancing

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to cause major disruptions to normal life, I have been thinking about the importance of community. Community and connection are vital aspects to our Christ following faith. I cannot recall how often in my ministry career a person who has missed public worship due to illness or recovery for a few weeks, upon return has said, “I really missed being with the church family” or “my week was just ‘off’ because I wasn’t able to be there on Sunday”.

Well, none of us are able to “be there” on Sunday in the ways we have been used to now. So, how do we stay connected to Christ and to the body of Christ (the church) during this time of social distancing? Here are some thoughts that have come to me:

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It’s all about Dust!

“. . . you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

As a Protestant, and Baptist at that, I have only participated in an Ash Wednesday service where I received the imposition of ashes one time. It was a sobering event. The minister shared the words of Genesis 3:19 as she put the ashes on my flesh, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Could any verse more fully capture the morbidity of our condition? And that’s the point, isn’t it? To be reminded, as we begin the Lenten journey, of our humanity and it’s limited length of days. We are to be reminded of our complete and total dependence upon a Savior who provides us with both a newness and wholeness of life, even as he prepared to lay down his life for we dusty disciples.

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