Episode 4: Hoodies and Fruit Salad

Finally get caught up on editing episodes! This week Ashley and Rob – and the third wheel, as she affectionately calls herself – discuss appearance and race in stores, in ministry, and in life. Also, Rob is given more grief about not drinking smoothies.

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 4: Hoodies and Fruit Salad

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Two Letters to My Beloveds

(This post started as just the first letter. I have felt the push to write that letter for months – maybe years – as a call for people after my own heart to see their real enemy and to stop serving as weapons of the powerful against other poor people.

I long to see the loving people I love vote and act according to that love and not political talking points force fed to them. I want them to vote and act according to their true identity and not a convenient, falsified identity given to them by the powerful.

Since starting that first letter, Iowa – my heart, my soul – suffered significant destruction, including 10 million acres of crops destroyed and 20% of the counties under a state of emergency. This happened to almost no acknowledgement and almost no national coverage. A forum post actually said, “I know we’re a flyover state, but still…” like being a flyover state is a legitimate reason to ignore the suffering of people.

As I thought more about the first letter, I realized I needed to write the second letter, something I have thought about for many years and wrestled with as my beliefs moved to what the American political spectrum would call “Left.”

As I write them, please read them in love and a desire love – and justice. Truly I love the people who I want to hear both. Both groups lovingly formed and molded me into a loving, compassionate, universal justice-loving pastor who truly wants the church to live as a reflection of Christ’s love, especially to the marginalized, the ignored, the impoverished, the despised.

I want the people I love to love each other and work together to make Christ’s love the definition of the church and the world.

I love you all, so I write you these letters.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To My Rural, White Siblings

I see you. You may take this as a liberal ploy to endear myself to you, but I do see you. I hear your frustrations and laments, and I feel your pains.

You are my heart; you always have been, and you always will be.

I know you are unheard and unseen. I come from you – you created me, raised me, and taught me how to be a pastor – and now that I find myself in an urban area serving on our presbytery council, I see more clearly how much the larger church – and the larger society – ignores you. I speak for you every opportunity I get, and my voice almost always goes unheard.

So, as I write you, I want you to hear me in love because I believe my path and your needs align. I believe a better way forward can come if we focus our anger and frustration at the people actually causing the pain and not everyone just trying to find a way to a better life, a better country, and a better world.

I have heard many blue-collar workers lament the disconnect between laborers, service workers, and the general the working poor and lower middle class, and those who govern us. A common refrain of, “I just wish someone like us would get in there; then things would be better.”

Your lament the poor treatment you receive economically. You lament how gutted your schools become. You lament that your bosses can – and joyfully do – underpay you. You lament seeing the rich keep getting richer and the poor staying poor. You lament the Sophie’s choice of either leaving the area you love – I love – and your home or working exceedingly hard to live in poverty until you die. You lament no one hearing you or caring about your pain.

I feel your pain my heart. When you hear phrases like “white privilege” while you suffer poverty with no opportunity or prospect to improve and while the people in Washington/Des Moines/Indianapolis/(insert your capital city) ignore you unless they want your vote, and then ignore your more until they want your vote again, you feel attacked while you presently suffer. You lash out – at people of color, at our “ruling class” of a different political party, at educated elites who tell you how awful and sinful you are – because no one sees or hears you.

It pushes you toward a political agenda that lies to you, saying “they” are the problem – they being the people who look different, live differently, think differently than you. If you just obediently follow a particular party, the party says it will protect you and punish “them.”  They lie to you – they do not provide for or protect you, and they only harm those who threaten their power – but at least they hear you, even if they will do nothing to help you and twist your concerns for their own greedy and racist agendas. They lie to you, but at least they do not call you “evil” because of where you live and what you believe, so you vote for them.

I get why you believe, but things continue to get worse. Their promises go unfulfilled, yet they tell you to keep believing because, eventually, you will get what you need.

Instead of seeing a system that oppresses you – that takes away your economic privilege, educational privilege, and many of the other privileges that, frankly, people like me enjoy – you only see people who want to oppress you and people who promise to stop them from oppressing you. Instead of seeing that a system built upon racism but also built upon keeping all working poor beaten down so they do not have the energy to revolt against it, the system feeds you a lie that Black and LGTBQ+ folks hate you because you are White, straight, and Christian.

They lie to you, promise fixes that will never come, and use you as a weapon to keep our anger focused laterally and down instead of up at the system that oppresses you and keeps you poor.

The system does the same to Black and LGBTQ+ people, just focusing their anger on you.

It breaks my heart when loving, gracious, good people act and vote hatefully because powerful people lied to them. You are gracious, loving, and good; I want the world to see that.

I will not lie to you and tell you the party you hate has treated you well. I will not pretend you do not get ignored and condemned as uneducated bumpkins who revel in joyful ignorance. I hear you, and I see you; I want your lives to get better, and I want people to see and hear you.

So, I will tell you what I see as someone who loves you.

In the war to control the lower classes – keep them underpaid while making billions for companies and select individuals – the wealthy have weaponized you and your pain, distracting you from the cause of it and convincing you to blame someone lower than you instead of the system.

If you blame people of color for your lack of opportunity, if you despise “educated liberals,” if you believe the LGBTQ+ community does not share your values of love, compassion, and authenticity, then you cannot see someone benefiting from hatred derived from your real pain. You become a vocal weapon in a battle pitting the poor against each other to distract from the real war of systemic oppression that, again, keeps you nearly as poor as our Black siblings and other siblings of color and nearly as minimized and ignored as our LGBTQ+ siblings.

They convinced you to righteously hate the “other” and rebel against identity politics. To do this, they have convinced you your identity aligns with theirs.

Whose identity do you actually align with?

  • A poor laborer who often loses his job because of his unreliable car and who cannot afford good work boots and tools, or a billionaire who started life rich and has never had a real job?
  • A bartender elected to a first term in office, or a senator who was first elected to public office in 1959, first elected to federal office in 1975, and has been a U.S. Senator making over the 2020 equivalent of $150,000 since 1981?
  • People told their culture is violent and they are the cause of their own misery, or people who have never served in the military sending your young people to war – causing literal violence and death?
  • People condemned by the church because of their consensual relationships and chosen identities, or people protected by the church after grooming and preying on vulnerable people?
  • People hassled by the cops, or people who the cops allow to commit crimes without repercussion – and whose political and financial influence helps them in court?
  • Normal people just living their lives and wanting basic human rights and the economic power to live comfortably outside of fear, or rich people who govern and create laws based upon donor requests and political party agendas?

If you take the race, sexuality and gender, and political party away from every person above, you look, act, and live more like the first person listed than the second. I know this, because I hear you and you raised me. I know you want a better world, I know you want no one to suffer, I know you want everyone who works hard to have enough to live comfortably; I know, because I hear you say it.

So, please do this for me. Listen to the stories of people who suffer and listen to their cries for justice. Listen and realize confessing the privilege of your Whiteness – lack of police and societal violence, representation in entertainment, etc. – does not minimize the lack privilege you have from economic disparity, educational disparity, opportunity loss, and generally being ignored by most of the system unless they want something from you. Share your own suffering and help them see that you, too, need what the system promises to provide but never does.

Unless you have vast wealth gained on the exploitation of workers, your fight for what you deserve as a human is the same fight that #BlackLivesMatter and PRIDE fight.

You have sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia to repent of, and smarter people than me have spilled more ink on the subject than a person can consume in multiple lifetimes to help you wrestle with those sins and your confession, but know that system built on racism was also built on keeping the poor, poor. It does not do the same violence to you, but it keeps you poor and ignored all the same.

Stop fighting the people the system also harms – and harms more – and instead focus your anger up at those doing the harm.

In love, my beloveds,
– Rob

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To My Justice-Focused Siblings, Especially Those of Faith,

I grew up with a definition of Christian – conservative, gun-owning, LGBTQ+ condemning, convinced of judgement upon others but not on real Christians who espoused those values – but I found myself questioning how we could believe those things that clearly conflicted with the person of Jesus attested to in scriptures. I could never reconcile my believes about Jesus and this image of Christianity.

Many of you loved me into a space where I could wrestle with the views I held and actually address the inconsistency between what I read and believed about Jesus and what I believed about the world. I have too many to name, but you telling me your life experiences – especially those beloveds of color – and embracing me as my full self unconditionally allowed me to grow and see the pain and injustice we must address.

You helped me find my faith. You helped me see the path of compassion and sacrificial love that I could not find on my own. I owe my soul to so many of you. I would not be the pastor – nor the person – I am without you.

I write you to remind you of the lesson you taught me: give special care to the suffering of ignored and marginalized.

When you call rural people privileged because of their race without acknowledging – or willfully ignoring and/or blaming the victims for – their poverty, lack of opportunity, educational disparity, and how our institutions, especially the church, ignore them, you make it impossible for them to hear you. You pass judgement for the sins of the powerful onto the powerless instead of helping them see how the systems harms BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people and that it harms them, too.

Please try to not mishear me. As I have become more vocal in my calls for justice, many racist views of people I love have become louder and more angrily and forcefully thrust at me. I do not, for a second, believe you should stop the calls for personal repentance and systemic justice. Many rural folk – especially those not encumbered with poverty – hold and act upon incredibly racist beliefs, and those beliefs cannot be ignored.

I do not want you to absolve them of the sin of racism; I only call for you to also see their pain and poverty.

We cannot equivocate rural poverty with the horrors of chattel slavery, violence against Black women and girls, white supremacy, and the unique sins of creating the mirage of race and building our system on racism. We cannot equivocate rural minimizing with violence and silencing of the LGBTQ+ community. We must acknowledge the difference in degrees of magnitude of suffering between the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities and poor, rural communities and definitively name that the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities have suffered more – especially in terms of violence and destruction of identity.

But same system that harms BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people also harms poor, rural folk. The same system that drives educational funding away from inner city schools also drives funding away from rural schools. The same system that keeps inner city laborers poor keeps rural laborers poor. The same system that enriches a select few does so in urban and rural communities.

The same system forces us to see each other as enemies instead of allies in the same war, forces us to see each other as victims of the other side instead of victims from a system of greed and weaponized hate.

The same system harms us all, and many I address this letter to do not suffer the economic and living hardships our rural siblings do because of other privileges you have – education, opportunity, location, etc.

If we want to fix the system – or burn it to the ground – and end the suffering of the marginalized, oppressed, and ignored, we must not ignore the suffering of people who look and act different than us; we must all start working on repenting of our own sins and working together instead of working to only improve the lives of those who look and act like us. For many of my justice-focused Christian siblings, that means you have to stop believing poor, rural folk do not suffer systemic poverty and marginalization.

Instead of attacking poor folk, attack the system that lies to the them and keeps them poor. Love them in the same way you loved me. Tell your stories to them, not accusingly but vulnerably and honestly. Try to not place the sins of the powerful on the shoulders of the powerless.

We cannot correct – or destroy – the system if we continue to punch those who the system has already beaten down. Punch up at your oppressors, not those the system has placed slightly above some of you only to make an ally an enemy – and so the system and pick their pockets while they focus their anger at you.

I truly love you, I truly owe my soul and life to you, I see the holiness of your calls for justice, and I long for our calls for justice to include – and come from – all oppressed peoples.

I know some of them hate some of you because of your identity, I know some of them celebrate your pain, and I know some of them refuse to understand racism and their role in it, but propaganda and lies shaped them and keep them beaten down. Given the fair opportunity, most of them would feed your – our – entire community with their last dollar instead of watching anyone go without.

They want what you cry for: to be seen, to be heard, to have enough, and to live as they want to live (as long as it does not harm anyone else). If we want them to hear our cries for justice, we must also hear their cries for justice. If we want them to see the pain and suffering of racism and homophobia – and their role in it – we must also see their pain.

Rural people value community above almost anything else; community is family to them. If we start treating our rural siblings as our community and not the other, we can help them to see their sin and also how they can fight the system with us.

We are not enemies and neither group is evil nor unredeemable; may we, as the one who know and understand, start fighting our battles in that truth.

In love, my beloveds,
– Rob

The Difference in Murders

My Facebook newsfeed has many pictures of Cannon Hinnant on it, a young boy who was murdered this past week.  And I am as horrified as everyone that someone – anyone – could murder a 5-year-old in broad daylight.

The world became darker that day.  And I cannot imagine the pain and rage his parents feel.

I weep for them. And I cannot believe I need to write the rest of this blog post.

Something dark and nefarious comes with these posts.  The refrain read, “White Lives Matter!”  Some include unsubstantiated and probably false claims the man murdered him due to his whiteness.  Comments about the “urban community” and how “awful” George Floyd was flood the conversation below the photos.

I notice one stark difference between Cannon’s murder and Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and even George Floyd: they already attested Cannon’s murder and charged him with first degree murder. 

Breonna Taylor’s murders still go free, Elijah McClain’s murders still go free, George Floyd’s murders were only charged because of a video and the protests – and only one received a second degree murder charge.

Why call for protests for this young life?  Who will you protest against?  You only need to protest justice not given, and the justice system came down hard on Cannon Hinnant’s murderer.

No one claimed his life didn’t matter, and the system declared his life mattered.

His death was senseless, and we long for something to make sense of it.  Making it about race helps the world make sense – even if horrific – and without that, we lost a little boy for no reason.

And people took advantage of that vacuum of pain and made it a story for pushing racist agendas.

Shame on you if you use a child’s death to further your racist beliefs.  Shame on you for creating a false narrative and claiming anyone – including the system – said his life was less than sacred.  Shame on you for caring less about the death of a child and more about you and your insecurities as a system of racism finds itself more reveled every day.

All like is sacred, and the justice system treated Cannon’s life as sacred.  The protests and cries for justice come because the system does not treat Black, Brown, and other lives of color as sacred.

As soon as you see people of color the same as you see this child, then you will see; until then, I cannot engage with your racism because we have no common ground.

I weep for you, Cannon. I weep for your parents. I only wish I could not believe people took your death and made it into something worse.

Episode 2: We Got Deep Fast

This week Ashley and Rob invited Rasheena to join them in their conversation, and it got deep quick. We talked about being black in the workplace, fear-based policing, and how the United States doesn’t even treat black bodies as fully human and worthy of saving.

BUT, on the lighter side, at the end we did get a smoothie recipe from Ashley involving broccoli…

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 2: We Got Deep Fast

Check us out every week on Facebook (and YouTube eventually) at 1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Central!

Episode 1: Detox Weeks and the Realities of Race

Ashley and Rob(ert) talk about food stereotypes – including the white food stereotypes Ashley follows – and address some questions from people at the beginning of their antiracism journeys (including Rob’s mom).

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 1: Detox Weeks and the Realities of Race

Check us out every week on Facebook (and YouTube eventually) at 1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Central!

Saying, “I’m Colorblind!” is Racist

(Disclaimer: Because I have to say it, please be smart and know I did not write this post about the actual inability to discern colors.  I also read an article recently about an Autistic person who cannot discern race; not about that, either. You know what this is about.)

Let me give you a quick thought experiment, an online quiz if you will.  What race are the children in this picture:

Answer key to the world’s easiest online quiz: Black, White.

You see race.  You see the level of melanin in people’s skin.  You know why this picture would be posted with the caption “I don’t see race!” like some kind of hyper-enlightened, hyper-woke person who lives somewhere above everyone else.

Why not choose a picture of children of the same race?  Right, because you do, in fact, see race, and everyone else does, too.  In White schools all over the country, though, they teach children to say things like “colorblind” and “I don’t see race.”  The education system teaches us to ignore differences and create a homogenous society.

Which does not work.  Before we get into race, let me guide you to thinking this issue with a more generic issue: bullying.

We all have a child in our life who gets bullied – or a friend who got bullied as a child.  Go find that person, ask them what advice their teachers gave them to fight bullying, and if it worked.

No really, if you did not experience profound bullying as a child, literally go find someone who did – or who current does – and ask them what their teachers told them to do about bullying and if that thing did anything to lessen their experience of bullying.

Did you go ask?  If you did, good; if not, well, I will answer for you, and my answer will match almost anyone else’s answer.

“Ignore the bully.”  “No, it did not help.”

(Honestly, if you did not ask, go ask now.  The internet will wait for you to get back.)

Unless you acknowledge the problem and take steps to actually fix the problem – education, rules, enforcement, systemic changes – it will not go away.  Without changing who I was inherently and situationally – poor, unathletic, intellectually gifted, weird – bullying would not stop without someone intervening and addressing the problems that allowed it to happen.

And it happened because of what and who I was, not indiscriminately.  Only acknowledging reality and changing the system would fix it.

When you say things like, “I am colorblind” and, “I don’t see race,” you only deny the real lived experience of people of color and pretend you have universal lived experience without any connection the privilege of your race.

You deny history.  You deny the destruction of Black Wall Street.  You deny segregation.  You deny chattel slavery of Africans in America.  You deny that the very country whose flag you worship got built by enslaved people taken from their homeland and sold as property – and denied their humanity.  You deny everything that happened to lead us to this point.

You deny statistics.  I know I grabbed a strange source, but I have mostly – if not universally – white readers and the super-white Ben and Jerry’s website has a surprisingly comprehensive set of statistics of racial disparity in the United States.

You deny the lived experience of the beloved Black people in your life.

When you deny these things, you empower those who enforce a system of racism and White supremacy.  When you deny these things, you give the system a free pass to keep oppressing people of color.  When you deny these things, you allow racism to continue to exist.

Notice I said racism and not prejudice.  I did not use the word prejudice for a reason.  Humans will have prejudices against people forever.  I have prejudices against “woke” pastors, lead pastors, Princeton graduates, and generally anyone in leadership at a presbytery, synod, or denominational level.

Racism requires something prejudice does not: power.  Racism in America goes one direction because of power and racial history.  This country built itself upon the ideal that white skin = human and dark skin = animal, or less than animal.  At its highest ranks, this country still functions on that belief and uses race and prejudice to continue to control.

When you say, “I am colorblind!” you enable the system of oppression to continue, but when you finally acknowledge that no, you are not colorblind because that is impossible, and that you benefit in a lot of ways – safety from the authorities and provided by the authorities being pretty freaking major – systemic racism, you can start helping.  When you acknowledge race, acknowledge racism, acknowledge American White Supremacy, and say, “This is not right and I refused to willingly participate in it any longer,” then you threaten the powers that continue to oppress, and you weaken their ability to oppress.

If you want to see this end, if you want to see rioting end and police brutality end, if you want your middle class, White experience of America to be given to all people, then you have to confront reality.  It really hurts initially, keeps hurting, and feels really uncomfortable in the best moments – and, when you make some headway in your own journey, it starts to feel hopeless when you watch the world’s journey (or lack thereof) – but only acknowledging and refusing to allow this system to continue will help fix and heal things.  You can fight this in your voting, in your speaking out, and, for those in positions of power and authority, in your hiring practices, justice practices, and education practices.

You are not colorblind.  Saying you are colorblind empowers the system of racism.  You do not get to absolve yourself from the difficult conversations and the reality of your own prejudices by saying this; you convict yourself and show how little you care about the reality of racism and American White Supremacy.

Christians, our savior was murdered by religious authorities, given the permission to murder him by the (likely) White Roman authorities.  Do you follow a poor, first century Palestinian Jew who died a horrific and painful death on a Roman cross, or White Renaissance Jesus who looks really buff and powerful nailed to a pristine wooden cross?

If you view racism like you view bullying, do you stop bullying by saying bullies do not exist and you do not see any difference between the bullies and the bullied?  No.  Stop pretending that, by saying you see no difference between the oppressors and the oppressed – the perpetrators of racism and the victims of racism – you magically fixed all the racism in the world.

I see race, and I want to see how our country can help every race shine brightly without fear.

Peace,
– Robby

Remembering Aunt Darla

My Aunt Darla was one of God’s special beloved.  The medical community has words to describe her – nonverbal, neuro-atypical, differently-abled, and more hurtful words – but to us – to me – she was just a loved and special part of our family.  Many people in my family have a special connection to beloved children of God like Darla, and I never ceased to be amazed at the love and compassion that she was shown by people I would not necessarily describe as loving and compassionate otherwise.

That ability to connect with her did not come easily to me, or maybe not even at all.  I always felt that love for her, but that connection was not my gift (which saddens more than a little today).

But in her I saw a special gift I pray for myself: an ultimate vulnerability, a complete lack of mask or deception, fully bringing everything about herself to every moment.  I pray and dream of the moment where I can bring half of my true self to anything; she just naturally did it.

She was a complete and whole beloved child of God, no need for correction nor fixing.  I do not say that she had an easy life – or a pain-free life – but she was beloved exactly as she was.  I could not always see that, but I know it to be true.

Last night my Aunt Darla passed away from COVID-19.  She spent a week on a ventilator but was, ultimately, too weak to recover.  Thankfully my grandparents were able to spend the last moments with her, but most of that time they had to stay away.  I don’t know if she knew what was going on before they sedated her, but I know it had to be very confusing to be without anyone she knew in those last moments awake.

For the past week or so, a verse from Matthew has not been far from my mind: “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

I know Darla was well cared for her entire life – my grandparents, the staff at the facility she lived, the doctors and nurses who cared for her at the end.  Those people are light in this world, a reflection of perfect love.

On Friday my family will be wearing red – her favorite color – and you are welcome to join us, but I more hope and pray that you can find your way to do for the least and the lowest.  Protect the most vulnerable, support the most downtrodden, lift the most beaten, sacrifice your own desires for the needs of those whose needs aren’t fulfilled.

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

You will be dearly missed, Aunt Darla.  I pray I can someday reflect as much of Christ’s love as you did.

– Robby

“Where are you, God?”: A lament

I wake up almost every morning and look at my phone. My social media reads a litany of pain and suffering. The news reads a litany of ever-evolving chaos and glaringly inadequate response. Fear, anger, sickness, hopelessness; we have almost nothing else to share in this time, they have nothing else to report at this time.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Two white men chased down and hunted a black man like they would a wild animal. The wheels of justice has just now – after months – started to turn after the African American community had to risk their lives protesting to make it start. No one has charged them yet. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations basically said the men had the legal right to perform a “citizen’s arrest” on him and, when he rightly resisted, murder him.

And I have no words.

My savior, my teachers, my parishioners, my God require that I speak out and condemn racism. My dear friend lives in fear of when her beautiful young son can make someone “fear for their life” by simply existing. My heart aches in remembrance of a time when I would have defended these men instead of seeing the blatant racism at work. My soul demands justice, yet justice seems to retreat as racism takes a stronger hold on our nation.

And I have no words.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

The past few days have fill themselves with conspiracies. People I love – and people who serve congregations as pastor – have spread misinformation about COVID-19, dangerous misinformation that threatened to harm the people they served. People want to resume normal life – a life that will no loner exist when this ceases – and that desire has blinded them to truth.

Some of our governments have chosen the economy over the least and the lowest. They demand the poorest and most vulnerable risk their lives to survive. They have suggested churches serve as the “test group” for reopening everything. They have the ability and resources to create safety nets for those most at risk and instead create safety nets for the richest and least at risk.

I have words, I have spoken words, and they have fallen deaf on the ears of those who can make decisions.

Our governments have all but said these decisions will unnecessarily kill people, but the economy needs the sacrifice. Our market economy – not the makers, not the producers, not the laborers, but the market that declares values on nothing more than speculation – demands a sacrifice, and the weakest and lowest will serve as that sacrifice.

We can protect human survival of the least and the lowest, yet we protect the economy.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Exhaustion has taken me. Though so many other things – much more important things – weigh heavy on my shoulders, the hours and energy I must exert to keep a church going have drained me. When I feel guilty over only working 50 hours this week – and that exhausting me – I know burnout has come.

And I have no solution. I have no alternatives aside from scrapping our entire worship service and creating something less – which also will take energy and creativity I do not think I have.

God instructed the Israelites to plant gardens in their exile, but I do not even know what seeds and vegetables look like in this exile from what I know. I cannot till ground I do not see, I cannot sow seeds I do not have, and I cannot harvest something I would not even recognize.

But I will stay in this exile for as long as the safety of the people I serve requires. I just do not know how I will survive it.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

I do not hear your voice, God. I do not see your hand. I do not know how to keep sharing your Word in this time. I do not know how to speak as a prophet in this time. I do not hear your calling me in the night, I do not hear you calling me to your temple, I do not hear your calling me at all.

I thought I had experienced a “Dark Night of the Soul” previously, but I realized now I had heard God calling me. God did not answer my question of “Why?”, but God did keep calling me to continue on, preserver, and fight for the privilege of sharing God’s Word and Christ’s sacraments.

Now I do not hear God. I believe God does not call people to simply survive and for churches to simply survive, but I only hear that call. God has stopped making God’s presence known to me.

I need guidance now more than ever, yet God’s voice has left me.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Other voices have not. When I post this, someone will try to fix it. Someone will admonish me for not feeling God. Someone will say, “It will all get better.”  Someone will lovingly ask me how I am in a week, expecting things to get better and unprepared to hear that nothing gets better right now, just varying degrees of bad.

I need to lament, and my lament will not end. My pain has not lessened, my frustration has not lessened, my exhaustion has not lessened. I have no end in sight; I find myself exiled from all the things I know and all the self-care practices I have used. Even if I could take a vacation right now – which I cannot – I would spend that vacation in my house in which my living rooms serves as my office and my pulpit.

Someone will have the answer to my lament because they cannot bear to sit with my lament.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

I lament, and yet, like the psalmist, I continue to ask God for relief.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Please, come to me and speak to me again.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Opening Too Early

I will start this by saying that, if I have unfounded fears, I will very publicly eat my words.  I, like everyone else, pray that this all declines and life can resume.  I want to, in four weeks, say, “I was wrong, and my fears were unfounded.”

But my observations of history, the current trends, and the words of experts make me thing that we have not found the end of this and a second wave will happen as we open back up.

I first must say that I do not have an argument against everything people have said about the downsides of closing.  Yes, closing has exacerbated socio-economic problem.  Yes, closing has exacerbated mental health issues.  Yes, limiting elective surgeries – and declaring some necessary surgeries elective – has exacerbated and risked lives.

No one can – or will – argue the truth of these issues.  They are real.  We may wildly disagree on how to mitigate these realities, but we all know they are real and serious.

When someone says that we should not reopen too soon, they do not argue we should ignore these realities or sacrifice those suffering from these realities for the good of other people.

Our concern lies with the second wave because the second wave will also exacerbate these things, likely exacerbating them longer than if we had just stayed closed long enough.  Opening too early will not have a lasting positive effect.  It will temporarily relieve it, but the ensuing wave and closing will re-exacerbate everything, and for longer because the second wave is always worse than the first and will force a longer closing.

I must address something else.  I have seen zero debate about this.  I have seen virtue signaling, accusations of “vileness” and “hatred,” name calling, and blinding anger.  And, as a confession, I have been as guilty as anyone.

Accusing each other of disregarding the needs of the least and the lowest without actually naming their ways and simply angrily repeating your concerns – or worse, parroting the talking points provided to you by people who care not at all about the least and the lowest but benefit greatly by those least and lowest returning to work – will not help and will only sow divisions in this time of isolation.  And frankly, it does not move us to a better understanding of what we should do.

I will not say much publicly on the issue as I have been doing, but I will covenant with everyone that when I do, I will address what I see, why I disagree with it, and do so without accusations and name calling.  I ask that you do the same.

We can get through this, we can find a path that addresses the pandemic and the societal problems exacerbated by it, and we can do so without hatred, but we must actively and intentionally do so – and maybe sacrifice our own desires and needs in the process.

Peace,
– Robby