In a recent article, author Jake Owensby uses the term “crisis fatigue” to describe the tumultuous climate we are living through today in the world.
He says, “Confronted by a relentless barrage of stress-inducing events, we respond with a draining mixture of exhaustion, rage, disgust, despair, anxiety and grief. We want things to change, but the problems seem so huge that we don’t know where to start. We begin to wonder if we could make a real difference anyway. We’re overwhelmed.” (Ministry Matters: “Do the right next thing”)
Owensby’s words resonated with me as I consider my ongoing response to 2020, and as I walk alongside many others who, like me, are trying to faithfully follow Jesus in the midst of a global pandemic, struggling economy, racial unrest, natural disasters and contentious election year. People are simply tired. In fact, “tired” doesn’t do it justice. “Fatigue” is a much better word. Fatigue carries in its meaning the accumulative effect of tiresome events, issues, and engagements. Tired is overcome by a good night’s rest. Fatigue is only overcome by a more intentional and lengthy response.
Earlier this week the United States surpassed 200,000 deaths due to Covid-19. This NBC News story gives a good summary of the impact of this number in our country.
On May 29, 2020 I wrote about the 100,000 deaths caused by Covid-19. In just shy of four months we’ve doubled that number, and some experts estimate it could double again toward the end of the year.
So, why focus on these numbers? Why blog about such sad news? My answer to that as a pastor is that we need to grieve. There has been so much focus on “getting back to normal” and “re-opening the country and our economy” and “pushing for a fast-track vaccine”. I fear in the rush and hurry we are overlooking our need to grieve.
“Inch by inch, row by row; gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and hoe and piece of fertile ground.” Those are the opening lyrics to David Mallet’s folks song often performed by John Denver. They’ve been in my mind and heart this summer as I have been giving effort toward tending a new garden plot.
Gardening is part of my therapy – my mental health therapy. When I’m in the garden, planting seeds, pulling weeds, tending plants or picking produce; my mind is not occupied with outside worries. For some reason working in the soil and watching the wonder of plants grow, blocks out all the other stuff. I think I inherited this behavior from my dad. He used to tend a large garden, spending hours in the summer evenings cultivating produce that blessed our dinner table. Now, as I look back, I wonder what kinds of things he was working out during his gardening therapy?
This season I’ve been breaking in a new garden plot – or is it breaking me in? We moved in the late winter and I converted some of the new home’s landscaping area into my flower and vegetable garden. It’s worked out pretty well. Early spring lettuce and spinach have been followed by bush beans, carrots, green peppers, summer squash, a variety of tomatoes, pole beans, and an abundant crop of butternut squash. The Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult to procure all the seeds I had hoped to sow in the spring, but I’ve enjoyed tending what’s come up.
I have also enjoyed having a new gardening buddy, our grandson Oliver. He is my produce picker. At 2 1/2 he has great enthusiasm for picking a tomato and digging a carrot. It’s fun to see the growing season through his eyes. I’m hoping we’re planting the seeds of new generation of gardener in this young lad. He does like to water the garden, so maybe that’s a start!
Granted my generational effort at gardening is less industrious than was that of my parents. For them, a big garden was a means of helping feed a family of five children. All of the canning and freezing of vegetables was a lot of work. In our household it’s really just a pick it and eat it endeavor. In that respect we enjoy most of the produce in the moment, while holding on to what will keep (without much effort on our part) for later. Any extra the garden produces is given away – which is fun as well.
“Inch by inch, row by row. Someone bless these seeds I sow. Someone warm them from below.” This prayer reminds me that gardening, for me, is not only practical work and mental health therapy; it is spiritual practice. My image of God is often that of a gardener, working in the midst of our lives, cultivating, pruning, training, producing, and harvesting. God invites us to grow and asks that we yield to a Gardener’s best practices when it comes to bearing fruit.
Maybe this is why the garden is for me such a natural place of prayer. Life began in a garden and I believe will begin again in a garden. God has never left the garden of Creation, but waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of creation to come into their own.
The work of discipleship is the tedious, enjoyable, cultivating work of tending – cultivating – training – pruning – producing – bearing and harvesting. Time to get back to the garden . . . . .
There is a quote attributed to philosopher Soren Keierkegaard that says: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I think this is a very apt saying in these days. In my pastoral visits and talks with people over the past few days, the conversation has often paused around current events for a time. Top among these events, of course, is the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s related happenings: – Should school resume? If so, how? In person or online? – When will we all be able to come back to church? As it used to be? – When will this (virus, time of caution, etc.) be over? – What will life (ministry, work) look like post-virus?
Many of these questions are forward looking. But they also carry a yearning for understanding that may only be available in hind sight – that is by looking backward. This makes me ponder the relationship between the choices we make to move forward, and how they will be judged when at last we can look backwards. Do you follow?
Note: My day began with a news report that 31 states in the USA are now seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Thankfully, Indiana is not among them. However, cases here remain steady and could always spike again. All of this has me thinking about what is asked of us as followers of Christ in doing our part to keep the virus from spiking? This blog post attempts to address that question.
I have often thought that pastoring a congregation is something like trying to herd cats. Cats, in my observation, are some of the most independent mammals on earth – next to human beings that is. As an American Baptist I have long respected the individualism of our faith heritage. Baptists, in general, are a people who talk about freedom. We champion the religious freedom we enjoy in our nation, and we also champion the soul freedom of each individual to directly connect with God through Christ Jesus. We generally do not like to have our freedoms curtailed or imposed on by others. If you do not agree with that last sentence, I’d like to invite you to the next Baptist congregational meeting where any substantive change is being proposed.