A Year of Lent

A few days ago, we marked one year of all of this. Like many people – and many pastors – it feels like we never got the Easter release from Lent; we never found an empty tomb and never received the visit from the risen savior in the midst of the darkness and pain of the world.

We just experienced a year of Lent. No Easter, no Advent, no Christmas, no Epiphany, nothing but Lent. We absolutely went through the motions, singing the right hymns for the season and making sure the right paraments hung proudly for each liturgical movement, but the darkness of Lent never left us.

Or at least it never left me.

We did not just experience a pandemic. We saw 400 years of anti-Black racism come to a head – and just how much force the system will use to silence any sort of dissent. We saw anti-Asian racism used to distract from incompetent handling of a respiratory virus – and fanning anger and hatred to sow seeds of division to protect the ruling class. We saw a political system weaponize division and tear us apart by deifying an adversarial justice and political system.

And nothing got better. The world never got less dark.

We have some hope now. Well over 100 million Americans have receiving their first dose of the vaccine that will – hopefully – give us a path to being with each other without introducing risk of exposing each other to a deadly virus, but people still die every day and variants continue to prove their increased transmissibility and strength.

But still the virus of racism and White Supremacy ravage our nation. Just a couple days ago a man – taught to feel deep shame over his natural sexual desires and filled with racial hatred – killed multiple Asian women and had his actions absolved because he “had a bad day” by the very law enforcement officials we pay a lot of tax money to protect us.

All of us. Not just those who look right and/or have the correct amount of money.

The darkness of Lent never went away. At least not for me.

The holiday of Easter shines in the near distance. I find myself wondering if we will feel that relief of seeing the empty tomb this year or if Lent will continue to cover us.

Have we reached the Holy Saturday of our year long Lent? Have we finally reached the end of this liturgy of wailing and darkness? Will we experience the resurrection?

Will I see the empty tomb and have our savior enter the locked room?

It all makes me wonder: what differentiates between falling into despair and naming the reality of the darkness that surrounds us? Where do we delineate between hopelessness and the prophetic reality? Have I failed to see any hope or simply spoken the truth of God’s call in our lives and the state of what we have made God’s creation into?

I don’t know, but I have hope.

I have hope because Jesus died on the cross and so many more have sacrificed their comfort, their treasure, their livelihoods, and their lives to share the message of his sacrifice. I have hope because we can make those sacrifices, we can repent to bring about Earthly reconciliation, we can bring light into the world.

Easter did not end the story; Easter started the story. The cowards, the scoundrels, and the proud gave all of that up because they saw the risen Christ – and they gave themselves up to try to heal the world.

I have hope – reckless and idealistic hope – that our collective dark night of the soul will end, our year long Lent will get its Easter relief, and collective repentance will happen.

Darkness still covers our world, and I still long for light. My preaching and writing will speak to bringing light into the world, even if the comfortable and contented find its taste too bitter.

This is Holy Saturday; I don’t know what the empty tomb looks like, but I long for it.

Peace,
– 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