This is going to be a long post...just a warning.
Never has there been a year like this in my life. I am 46 years old and I could not have fathomed what this Christmas would be like, or feel like, one year ago. My goodness, if you would have told me last year that this year would look like this I simply would not have believed it. But alas, if you are reading this you have lived through this year to read this! You know exactly what this year is like!
This post may be a little bit self-serving, for I am going to front load this blog with all of what I am feeling/thinking. And if you decide to read this, I truly ask that you read the entire thing. It is long. If you are not up for it, please stop now. I want you to either read the entire blog or none of it. Please.
Hopefully, as I write about how I am feeling it may also resonate with someone else and be a blessing. That is what I am hoping. So here is what I feel and think:
* I am deeply concerned about the executive branch of government in many states restricting constitutional freedoms. I honestly believe that earthly power has long been used to oppress free people and tyrants often believe that their tyranny is for the, "best" of the populace. A quote from C.S. Lewis perfectly encapsulates how I feel - he is just so much better communicating an idea - so please read his quote below:
"If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. . . . In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They ‘cash in.’ It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. . . . Let us not be deceived by phrases about ‘Man taking charge of his own destiny.’ All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of others. . . . The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be.
* Those that are not running a business may not know, but the Governor's press conferences will often bring business owners, pastors, and any leader of an organization close to tears. As soon as you get your footing, the rules change. It is actually quite terrifying. Especially when you believe, as I do, that these edicts are unconstitutional. It is a unique kind of terror that up to this point I was unaware one could feel. One second you believe you are complying and the next second the rug is being pulled out from under you. I have never sat on the edge of my seat more listening to a Governor's press conference or a county commissioner meeting. And quite literally things can be different from one county to the next. It is a unique kind of suffering of which I have never been through. How do you shepherd a people when the grass and the conditions change not year by year but week by week or day by day? Do we disregard? Do we submit? Do we plow forward? What do we do?
* On the complete flip side I am deeply concerned about COVID 19. I have researched all the statistics. I absolutely know the survival and mortality rates. I do not need to be reminded. Yet, people that I care about get sick. People that I care about have to close their churches for a couple of weeks due to small outbreaks. People that I love are quarantined from their loved ones at Christmas. There are a great many people that I love more than perhaps they know that I have not seen due to the wisdom that God has given them to isolate as much as they can. I respect their decisions and I respect their choices. I minister to them virtually as best as I can and I celebrate the Eucharist in socially distant ways one at a time if they allow it. I absolutely never want to humiliate, judge, or make someone feel small for desiring to be safe, keep their family safe, and do what they believe is best as the circumstances in their life allow. I am not, and I pray I never would be, someone that is cruel or judgmental in this regard. Just because I think people ought to be free in their movement does not mean I do not respect free people to make free choices and make choices to be safe in their persons.
* I absolutely have concern about COVID coming to the church and her members. Of course I do not want anyone seriously ill; however sadly an almost as serious a concern of mine [and I recognize this as a sin of selfishness] comes from peers who have made different choices saying, "I told ya so!" There is such an ugly spirit of, "I told ya so" today. It is its own dagger. Every pastor makes different choices based on the circumstances of their parishes. I honestly wish we could respect each other as brothers in the cloth. I have seen the posts of pastors that have decided to close the doors to the churches they serve and write, "come on people - this is LOVE!" The implication of course is that if you do not follow their lead you are leading the people of the church you minister to to the slaughter. The opposite is true also. I have seen posts shaming pastors that believe that they should be virtual only as fearful and weak. The implication of course is that they cower in fear and have no faith in God.
I never thought I would live in a time when I would be questioned about whether I would allow people to hug in church. Even writing the sentence is horrifying to me..."allowing people to hug?" who in the world am I to disallow two consenting people to hug each other and show, what used to be, mutual love for one another?
People are dead. There are people that have died that would not have died if it were not for COVID. I have read posts about people attempting to belittle COVID deaths. That only works until someone close to you gets severely ill with this disease.
People are suffering financially. I have read story after story of people whose jobs have been jettisoned and deemed non-essential and they weep as they try and provide for their families. My income is secure as of right now. Many people reading this have secure incomes also. I do not think we rightly know the terror of being forced out of a job, losing an income, and due to government actions not being able to earn one. I try and put myself in the place of the single mother who has no gifts under the tree and lives under the threat of homelessness or immediate foreclosure upon the lifting of the government regulation forbidding it for a time due to this and cannot find pride in work because work has been disallowed her.
I minister to people who have lost jobs and are on the verge of financial collapse. I have done funerals for people that also would not have died if it were not for the lockdown due to the medical attention that was limited in the beginning shutdown in March. My sister-in-law's own mother died due to lack of medical care and to hear the story of the death of her mother is to hear a story of tragedy in itself.
There are no easy answers. There are no easy answers. Please hear me - there are no easy answers.
But perhaps there is a difficult answer. This is what the Lord has taught me this year more than ever before: I am not in control. Not even a little bit.
When human beings are scared they often try and exercise control. I personally believe this is what government is trying to do. The people in charge are faced with an uncontrollable situation. The populace looks to them to control that which is uncontrollable. They are trying. And the more they try the more control slips through their fingers.
In my own life due to God's providence my family and the church that I serve have as yet had no COVID deaths or related illnesses. Yet my anxiety sadly is at a zenith thinking constantly about all the implications. "What if that" or, "what if this" or, "what would happen if..." and it is all just me trying to gain control over a situation of which I have no control. I recognize this desire to control as a fault and I try - brothers and sisters in Christ boy do I try - to simply trust. But my mind veers back to all the what if's.
So I can tell you what conclusion I have come to. I need to let God be God and I am going to do what I believe God would have me do. I preach boldly. I speak the Scriptures boldly. Anyone who wants to be ministered to virtually I minister to virtually. Anyone who wants to be ministered to in-person I minister to in-person. I pray without ceasing. I may be wrong in some of my choices and when that is made clear to me I will seek God's forgiveness and restoration.
But here is the end of the matter: there are relevant Scriptures to consider:
Love your neighbor. What does love look like in this situation? That may differ from person to person.
"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." [Psalm 139] My life is in God's hand and it does me tremendous good to know that God ordained my birth and my death. Life and death are in His hands.
But most of all I rest in this - Jesus' words in John 11:25-26, " Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
The answer my Lord is, "yes." "I believe this." I will scream it, "Yes, I believe this!" His words were spoken to a woman who mourned the death of her brother. He is Lord over death and life.
It does me great good to know that my Lord, our Lord, your Lord has died for you. He has risen again for you. He is coming back for you. This place is not my home for I wait for a permanent country from God.
In the meantime, I will attempt to live boldly for Christ and do boldly what I believe He would have me do. "Lord, may my actions not be out of presumptive arrogance. Lord, may my actions not be out of fearfulness or timidity. Lord, may my actions be out of undying love for you and my neighbor, seeking the lost, and caring for the people who need to be cared for. Let me rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe in freedom because I believe in Jesus. That is my conclusion. That is why I fight for it. That is why I argue for it.
One last quote from C.S. Lewis that I think is helpful. He was asked how to live under the threat of an atomic age when any second one might be blown up. This is what he wrote [And please understand that I DO know the difference between a contagious disease and an atomic attack...]
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘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 at 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… 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.
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...
[This is me, Chris, simply saying my sin is that this situation has indeed attempted, and sadly often succeeded, in dominating my mind]
What the atomic bomb has really done is to remind us forcibly of the sort of world we are living in and which, during the prosperous period before, we were beginning to forget. And this reminder is, so far as it goes, a good thing. We have been waked from a pretty dream, and now we can begin to talk about realities...
It is our business to live by our own law not by fears: to follow, in private or in public life, the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal, and not the law of competition and grab, even when they seem to be necessary to our own survival. For it is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means.
Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love man less than God do most for man....
God bless you. Merry Christmas. I pray that we all have the hope of Jesus. Amen.