The Irrelevant, Feckless Church

I made my own meme in a truly middle-aged fashion; I typed my thoughts using Word in a typewriter font, screenshot it, drew some snazzy bright arrows, and posted it as an image. It was quite the tech accomplishment for this lady who googles Google in order to google a question.

Pretty nifty, yes?

What I wrote is provocative. It was meant to be. It was also heartfelt and, for me, subject to fair consideration and prayer before publication. But truth is truth. As a society we are wrestling with the efficacy, relevance and justice of our institutions–government, workplaces, communities, and yes, churches. And so I ask, how just, efficacious and relevant is your church?

I can no longer worry about who will be offended by my view, who won’t be my friend, who won’t like me. It is just that timidity that has led to so many of our institutions being impotent and feckless. And I’ve been a part of it.

I won’t be a part of a church that refuses, due to fear or willful ignorance or apathy or PR concerns, to speak out against evil, that worries about rich white donors who will withhold capital or not-rich white pew sitters who will spew disapproval. I won’t give to or attend any church that ignores the pain of its congregation of color, whether dwindling or burgeoning. It’s wrong. It violates my well-formed conscience. And I won’t do it anymore.

Today I got an email from my parish priest and the director of communications at the parish. It started with a caring note and then provided challenging content that was bold and, more importantly, necessary to my continued discipleship. And I know I will hear discipling preaching this Sunday. It shouldn’t be any other way.

May I never go back to being a consumer of cowardice from the pulpit. My part in that may have been considered benign, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t.

A church that lacks discipling content and opportunities that meet the relevant issues of modern day society, including topics of racism and the othering of segments of society, is feckless and impotent.

In short, a cowardly/apathetic/willfully ignorant/PR-obsessed church is an irrelevant church.

More the affiant sayeth naught.

Hindsight

It’s the last day of the year. Of this year. The craziest of years. The year of love and of loathing, of compassion and of cruelty. The year where we were so human it hurt. Love and hate, side by side, bumping into each other such that we barely knew whether we were sanctified or sanctimonious.

Today, December 31, 2020, I am gazing at the ocean, the place that gives me the clearest view of God over any church. I found an intact scotch bonnet shell, a rare acquisition, on my walk, and enjoyed (disclosure, am enjoying) a cold beer on the deck.

This has been a week of reflection. Usually, it’s a week of preparing for the upcoming year. This time, though, has been a year of real reflection, of all that I encountered and contributed to in this, the year of complete chaos that is in fact, a year of complete humanity. I’m not done reflecting, and I’m not sure how I’ll proceed.

My year has not been as hard as many have had. I have a job, a healthy family, and some hobbies that keep me out of trouble. I am thankful and grateful but also aware that I deserved none of it. And still, it has been a year of worry and fear. My husband has been a front line health care worker through it all this year, and I’ve worried about his physical and mental health. I still do. I have children and other family members who would likely have tragic consequences if they contracted Covid-19. I’m your garden variety 53 year old–with a slow thyroid, a bum digestive system, lots of opinions and too much time to worry. I’ll be last in line for the vaccine, and that’s ok with me. Let’s be honest, 2020 would have been a bit brighter without the likes of me about.

I had professional luck this year, both in law and with my fledgling writing hobby. I returned to the pool in a consistent but not maniacal fashion, which is the sweet spot. Again, I didn’t earn it, but I’m thankful for it.

I lost (or discarded? the jury is out) a trusted friend this year, and I’m trying to decide what to do with that. I hosted really invigorating book clubs, and I’m trying to learn what I’m supposed to, to continue in that vein. I’ve stayed pissed off for weeks on end, which isn’t helpful but then again is helpful. I’ve embraced that I’m a lot, and also sometimes not enough, and always, regardless, filled with passion.

I want, like many, to think 2020 is over. And of course it is, in a few short hours. But many of the issues and hates and dislikes remain. And that’s inconvenient and annoying and also real. And right. You can’t blink away human failings ever, and this year showed me how failed we can be as humans. And I’m first in line.

GK Chesterton, when reportedly asked what is wrong with the world, answered, “I am.”

This year is a reflection of me, of all of us. I dare say there are decisions I made that reflect quite poorly on me, and I frankly don’t want you to know what I said/wrote/thought in those, my darkest hours. Sadly (rightfully?) some of you do know.

So I sip my beer, listen to the waves crashing on this windy day when the sea is a tumult, and think, what a perfect end to a year that is over and yet still carries over some of its remainder, like any math problem as yet unsolved.

Rest up, friends. Celebrate. Get ready to recommit to what you need to. Prepare for apologies that are right, or to live by your decision to refrain from reengaging if that is right.

In the end, we are human, and the problem with the world is, of course, me. And you.

2020: That Schitty Year

When I give up on a show, it’s usually for good. Like unfamiliar cuisine that I am not sure about upon first taste, shows do not usually get second chances with me. I’m not forgiving when it comes to such things. But this is no ordinary year, so I tried Schitt’s Creek again after the crazy run it had at the Pand-Emmies.

Many agree this has been a shit year for most. For me, it has been a breakthrough year, but in a slow burn kind of way, where I’ve had a lot of success in some areas of my life, but also areas where I’ve experienced real difficulties, most having been blessings that nonetheless left me feeling like crap. Still, I’ve been fortunate in many ways—I have family, work, and faith that keep me growing even though great disillusionment at times, a home that is secure, and healthcare. The last part is important as I continue to navigate all things autoimmune. I’ve spent a good part of my life hating myself; it is with hilarious irony that as I have moved more towards loving my soul, my body has decided to take over that self-loathing and turn it inward, quite literally.

I’ve had time for passions that I left behind before, like swimming. I’ve read a record number of books for a year, including deep dives in different disciplines that interest me. I’ve waded into online book clubs, and I’ve entered a new season in my faith life.

But I’ve also worried, been overcome with sadness, and been angered, even enraged at times.

Enter a show that seemed so vapid at surface glance: a family that’s lost everything material and can’t cope, a family that didn’t connect well until they were mashed in a motel with no prospects and nowhere to go. Life imitates art in 2020.

There is so much that is hugely impactful about this show. I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but I can’t promise I won’t give way a bit along the way.

Here are my random thoughts about this gem that I can only imagine has been life enriching for so many:

  1. It is completely relationship based, with amazing dialogue but with the nonverbals that are perhaps the best I’ve ever witnessed. The pauses, the looks, the body-speeches between the dialogue are like astonishing little bombs of happiness and hilarity, which bridge the humorous and the serious much better than the whatever-word of “dramedy.” The relationships feel authentic and even when not perfect (and they aren’t), they are clearly growing in a positive way; they just plain leave you happy and with hope. I’m grateful that I didn’t discover this until 2020, frankly. It’s been bone broth for my crepitus joints, a shot of orange juice for my plummeting blood sugar, and a cup of chamomile for my jaded psyche.
  2. It’s Canadian in the very best sense of the word: belly-funny, understated while still somehow being over the top, and a bit self-conscious but full of love. The cast was well curated and the show’s leader Daniel Levy is a crazy-amazing gem we didn’t know we needed in this world.
  3. It provides different relationships where you can see yourself—your best self and your most insecure self. You can see yourself in the romantic relationships, the sibling relationship, the work relationships, and the weird neighbor relationships. I don’t live in a tiny Ontario town but a large eastern city. Nonetheless, we all have a Roland and a Ronnie, do we not?
  4. For the first time ever, I observed (or perhaps I appreciated) the arc of a beautiful LGBTQ+ relationship that wasn’t stilted—it wasn’t only fun, or only slapstick, and it wasn’t ever cringey and sad for the hardship and hate they faced. Maybe that last point isn’t realistic, but dare to dream, right? It was also a relationship that this 53-year-old straight woman who has been with the same guy for 33 years related to. I could see myself in David, in his worst and even best moments, and I was floored to recognize I’d had a Patrick all along. This coincides with having more than just a passing acquaintance with couples who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community in the past few years. What I love about this friendship experience coinciding with this show is that I’ve connected more deeply with what it means to be a good neighbor and a real friend.
  5. It left you wanting more. It did what The Office (may its memory be blessed) didn’t–it ended as well, even better, than it started. It made you sad to see it go. It made you stalk the actors for their other works (ok, that’s probably just a Kathleen thing; I tend to the stalker-like, in the non-criminal sense of the word). If you haven’t heard Noah Reid’s music, you are missing poignant lyrics with a voice that keeps coming back to you throughout the day. If you haven’t seen Daniel Levy’s scene in Coastal Elites, it’s award-worthy.

In a nutshell, this piece of art made 2020 more beautiful and bearable.

What did you love about it?

Your’s in this Schitty year, and with love,

Kathleen

The Scalene Existence

The binary and grey of today is astounding. “I said what I said, I am right and you are wrong. Also, I love you and won’t desert you like you deserted me. And yet you are wrong, right? Are you?”

Repeat.

I wonder how often each of us play this refrain in our minds. Some may say this out loud. As I sit on my patio, feeling the warm, lovely September sun on my face, smiling at it’s grandeur while attempting to see my computer screen through the glare, loving the escapism that unfiltered sunshine gives yet thumping away at a keyboard that facilitates the power of words. I think of the conversations in my head, so many, with myself and with others. This time in history is real and raw and wretched. But I said what I said. And I meant it. And I still love you.

This time in history is like a strange, scalene triangle, with white and black and grey switching places so you never know when you will land in the feels of grey, or in the drama of white and black, corners. This extends not only to relationships, but also to all of life as we know it right now.

For those who think I’m a full-on social justice machine, no. I’ve been binge-watching Glee. Sometimes after a day of working on your racist self and voter turnout efforts, you just need a little Jesse St. James. I’ve taken a break from reading hard material for just a spell; Jane Austen novels lull me to sleep each night. The beauty is I know the plot, and I know who wins in the end, and I know who is stupid and wrong, and there are no surprises. You don’t get a hairpin turn in last chapter of Sense and Sensibility and learn Mr. Edward Ferrars is really in love with Mom Dashwood and Elinor has to be the bridesmaid at that horror of that wedding. Jane Austen, with all of its social commentary, is the anti-2020 for me.

For those who think swimming everyday at noon (the beauty of the outdoor September chlorine bath cannot be overstated) and filling my mind with both nerd pablum like Captain Wentworth, Lizzy Bennet and George Knightly but also the vapidity of a Glee Marathon is not befitting of 2020, sorry, I need it. And so do you. Or your version of it.

Even my work is not immune to chaos of today. As I build a client base for my small law practice, I vaccilate between “you must take every client” to living in the bliss of “no, you don’t, it’s 2020, you’ve found your voice and you can damn well do what you want.” The beauty of now, at age 53, is I can. say. no. to. a. client. I. don’t. want. At first it feels bad, like rejecting someone who asks you to dance or join your virtual small group, and then it feels amazing, almost like that noon swim, you leaving the prospective but ill-fitting client on the pool deck of your life as you stroke down that thin black line.

So, as we all bounce amid this scalene triangle, never knowing which corner we are lodged in, only to be upended, without knowing when we’ll arrive at the next corner or how far away it is, remember this.

Take today to remember this.

You are important enough that we need your work on (fill in your blank, e.g., voter turnout, education equity, feral cat rescue).

You are deserving enough to take in your own daily dose of Glee-binging.

You are loved enough to be able to say, “I said what I said,” even when people dislike you for it or even desert you for it.

You are human enough to mourn being friendship- or family-dumped.

You are loved enough to disagree with me about everything. And I am loved enough to get to decide how I engage with that.

I said what I said.

It’s time for a swim.

The Lowly Quahog

There is a very ordinary shell that I love. It’s the clam. A particular kind of clam–the quahog (pronounced “co-hog”). In its whole outward appearance, it is a dull, prosaic shell. You would walk right past it on the beach. Only good for an ashtray, in the days when an adult needed a makeshift one and sent you scurrying to the ocean’s edge to retrieve one.

Like many things that appear whole, outwardly, the quahog seems ordinary, even boring, not cool, like your parent saying the same thing for the fifth time and expecting you to laugh. Eye-rollingly ordinary.

But the quahog breaks up in the waves. Over time, the dull, greyish white wears away, the bits of shell emerge to reveal the most lovely shades of purple, from deep violet to light lavender.

The whole self, my whole self, can seem ordinary in its exterior. I know, as I grow with each year, what value I have. But that doesn’t mean all see it or that people will, in fact, ever see it. One great gift, one benefit of age, is being content with that truth.

There was a time when I needed an audience. I never met a microphone I didn’t love. The more people sitting in front of me the better. I needed to be the fastest swimmer in the lane, the pool, the state, the country, the world. I needed a perfect legal filing for a judge to appreciate my value. I needed a full sheet of billable hours, more than all my peers, to prove my worth. I needed great outward success in any church program I was a part of. I needed to appear violet in a sea of dull grey and white shells. Of course, I never achieved all of that–some of it, most of it, I never achieved.

Like most people who need outward success (and recognition of that success) like they need oxygen, it has taken me too long to arrive at a place of content. Oh, I’m not really there, not fully. That’s the way life works. You continue to grow, or you die, at least in your soul if not in your body. And of course, the minute you write something about foibles is the minute you are faced with your own foibles, yet again.

The lowly quahog in time dies off to become a new thing. I’m feeling that. I have served the machine of business, I have served the machine of organized religion, I have served the machine of children-raising. Yes, I still work. True, I am still a person of faith. My children still exist and I am still their mother. But I now realize that you don’t need to see my violet and lavender for me to have done right, done well in the best sense of the word.

I don’t need to work 50 hours a week (I don’t) AND tell you about. I don’t need to have gotten an award (I haven’t) AND announce it on social media. I don’t need to announce constantly that I’m on top of my game, because 1) I’m not and 2) that serves a nefarious purpose. That’s not to say we shouldn’t make an impact. But is that what our outward, sly boasts are really about? Making an impact? Maybe, sometimes. Mostly, no, it’s not.

We all reveal our violet and lavender at times or in time, but we don’t need everyone to see it all the time. And in getting to violet and lavender, the thing you always craved, you realize you need fewer people to know about it. You can serve in a church but not be its face or even a face. You can work but not broadcast your claimed importance, hours worked, or money made. You can love your children but not proclaim to the world their every success (while, of course, leaving out their failures or disappointments).

And yet, the drive to be that outward violet and lavender will always call, in all that you do and say and write.

Yes, especially when some of us write.

Ideas for White People – Follow the Dollars

One of the most interesting things about the time we live in right now is when obvious truths are put in your face, and you realize how dense you have been not to see them before. One of the most obvious ways for us to be part of combating institutionalized racism is seeing where our dollars go.

But it was never obvious to me.

I’m going to put some facts and numbers here. They aren’t meant to horrify you or impress you, depending on how you think we are doing as a family with our money. They are meant to be an exercise in self-assessment for me, with a degree of accountability by putting it “out there,” and yes, an exercise in repentance as well. It might give you thoughts about how to assess where your dollars go too.

  1. What’s my belief about money?

I think this is important. We may all have different answers. That’s ok. But what I’ve been asking myself recently is this: what do I believe about money and where it should go? That’s a hard one—like most, I want my savings pot to grow without effort, my spending pot to be endless, and giving . . . well, where should that fit?

This states the obvious: there are three things we can do with our money—we can give it away, spend it, and save it. I’d like to say we always handle our money in this order of priority, but that’s not always true. In addition, this is an indication of privilege. Not everyone can make ends meet day to day. I’m privileged to be able to do this because the road was paved for me in ways it wasn’t for others. (Perhaps another topic for Ideas for White People is replaying my life and supposing what it might have been like as a non-white person. I wonder how I would have been able to get that swimming scholarship to Penn State when my local pool in Portsmouth, VA, where I learned to swim and competed until I was twelve, didn’t allow black people to be members or visitors?)

I do believe we should give, save and spend, and I do believe it should be in that order (you might change that order; that’s fine), even if I don’t live it perfectly. So, that takes me to the next question.

  1. How do I give?

When it comes to giving, I also believe in giving to our place of worship first. In the past year, that has been muddled somewhat as we moved to Baltimore City and wanted to worship where we lived and struggled to find a fit. That’s a book unto itself but suffice it to say my family gives to three churches: our current church, our former church, and a church we attend in Massachusetts when we visit our daughter in college. We also give to a faith-based organization in the City as well that I’ve been involved with for a number of years. Thus, our monthly giving amount is roughly allocated like this:

40% Faith-Based Organization in City

30% Church A in City

30% Church B in County

A smidgen: Church C in MA

What I am assessing now is how these organizations (organizations I love and care about) are impacting their city, state, and beyond on a myriad of important areas, and for the first time, how they are handling or entering into discipleship about religious social teaching on the issue of racism—personal, yes, but most especially institutional. I’ve made some early decisions about this but nothing final (and nothing ever will be, since we should be constantly evaluating our finances, actively thinking about where our money should go). I’ve stopped automatic giving so I can make sure I am evaluating this. I don’t agree with giving or withholding money based on how well you think an organization did the last week. The point, though, is to ruminate about this, to challenge ourselves around the topic of how we give, where we give, and what that says about our priorities. Perhaps set a reminder every three months to consider your giving (and remember, being able to have automatic giving is also an indication of privilege). We need to be wise and self-evaluate our giving over time.

  1. How do I save?

Our family put money in retirement accounts (another clear indication of privilege). We are not financially savvy folks, so we’ve recently retained a financial advisor with a firm that we were drawn to because, yes, they do a very good job in their area of financial planning and investing, but also because we saw the way they also give charitably, with progressive goals for how much they will be giving away – a long term plan for giving, in fact. We also want to learn more about social conscious giving, which we’ve considered in the past. There are issues with that type of investing as well (my early and elementary learning thus far: it’s not as “socially conscious” as you might want it to be), so this will take far more study and thought.

  1. How do I spend?

When we moved to the City, our goal was to live locally as much as possible—worship locally, work locally, and spend locally. As for spending, we almost exclusively shop in Baltimore City. However, I can’t say we had a goal of specifically patronizing minority-owned businesses. We are researching that more now. Of course, for now, we are still on quarantine, but I will say that I am learning how to do this more online. This is not to say I won’t shop at places that are white-owned, of course. But as we know, like attracts like, and where do I mostly shop and dine? You guessed it. By broadening my shopping and dining experiences, I put dollars into minority-owned businesses and broaden my own experience as well.

***

I don’t know what I’m doing, folks. This plan may well be flawed. But it seems like the right direction for us. For me, prayer is important and so I take these matters to God. In typical fashion, he doesn’t lead me to answers as quickly as I would like.

I do know that thinking about what we do with our money is important. If you are a person of faith, you know what you do with money–which belongs to God and is not yours anyway. If you are not a person of faith, this is also important to you and the causes that matter to you.

Where do your dollars go? More importantly, where should they go?

Ideas for White People: Sitting With the Voices I Consume, and then Increasing Them

Here were my social media numbers as of this past weekend:

Twitter: Was following 2 people, both white.

Instagram: Was following about 115 people, all but 9 white.

LinkedIn: Was following about 400 people, all but 46 white.

First, I sat with those numbers. What did they tell me about me? What did they tell me about the viewpoints I was exposed to each day?

Admitting that this wasn’t acceptable to me, I did hours of poking around (and it does take hours). Who could I follow to broaden my view of what I consumed each day on social media? I thought about things I’m into: faith and theology, swimming, law and public policy, cooking, basketball, and comedy.

Then I thought of voices I knew of and liked, but for whatever reason, didn’t follow. I added these voices. From there, I viewed the lists of newly followed people to see who they followed, and found others that interested me. At times, I was saddened about how few black voices I could think of in some areas, but kept at it.

My Twitter and Instagram follow lists are now half black voices and half non-black. My LinkedIn is going to take far more work since that is mostly about networks that I simply haven’t established. I was fairly horrified to find that my connections with black professionials on this platform were only in the high teens.

Are these newly adjusted numbers “right?” No, I’m sure not. There is no magic number here. This whole excertise may seem crass, even wrong, to be counting people by race (let’s be honest, on some of these platforms there didn’t need to be much counting at all). But if I want to broaden the diversity of the voices I interact with daily, the only way to do that is to take a (rather hard and convicting) look at the platforms I set up. I had to ask, what areas of my life (I’m looking at you, faith and theology) were almost completely devoid of any lived experience outside of my own?

Referring back to the Four L’s (listen, learn, lament, leverage), the work of diversity expert and unity champion LaTasha Morrison, here’s my plan. I’m going to use these three social media platforms to listen and learn. At the same time, for some time, I will walk through lament, in prayer and in dialogue with others. I’m kicking around ideas regarding leverage, but that will have to start later.

This isn’t rocket science and I didn’t think of it (and no one gets a trophy for doing something they should have done 10 years ago). But positive change is still positive change, and I’m grateful for this suggestion (I read it somewhere; I wish I could attribute it to the source).

There is no timetable here other than to start, to do, and to keep it going. A new person I follow reminded me on live Instagram today that the Montgomergy bus boycott took over a year. I have a feeling the Four L’s will take a lifetime.

Lucky for me, that’s exactly how much time I’ve got.

Ideas for White People (a/k/a Stuff I’m Doing Now)

LaTasha Morrison, a speaker, author, reconciler, bridge-builder and leader, believes we should be practicing the four L’s: Learn, Listen, Lament, Leverage. Here’s what I’m doing now to start practicing this.

  1. Learn: Take a look at your platforms. Do you follow black people, or people of color in general? Balance the books. Make your platforms as diverse as possible. I’m not on Facebook, but Twitter is easy. Find diverse voices to listen to. I am following @dribram, @latashamorrison, @austinchanning, @deray, @michelleobama, @barackobama, and @blknunhistorian, among others. I stopped following individuals some time back, and now am re-adding individuals with an eye towards voices I haven’t listened to as well I as should have in the past. Also, there are lots of good books out there, but I suggest getting your list from a non-white person. See above, or there is also a very comprehensive list curated by black voices here.
  2. Listen: Zip it. Don’t give an opinion if you disagree with the new voices you hear. If you don’t agree, no one needs to know (and, sorry to be rough, but no one is probably interested). You will never fail to grow by listening.
  3. Lament: For me, this takes place mostly in prayer. Lament, or a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, including repentance, is important. But relational, even public, lament is also important. If you’ve done wrong, if you’ve done too little, if you’ve been complicit in something as huge as our institutional racism (and yes, very likely you were), or as localized but hurtful as not speaking up when racist discussions were happening, make it known. If you are a person of faith, yes, tell God, but confess to anyone you’ve hurt by your complicity, actions or inactions.
  4. Leverage: What can you do to act? This is a personal decision, but for me, one thing comes to mind quickly–where your treasure is, there is also your heart. Consider donating to causes that further the work of activism (for me, I am making sure I am giving to black-stewarded organizations). Maybe rethink where your dollars are going now; has your money been complicit too?

Recognize that you will do this imperfectly. That’s ok; do it anyway. When you screw up, or say something dumb, admit it, ask for foregiveness and try to do better. Our behaviors and attitudes will not be unlearned immediately.

But please, whatever you do, don’t stand still. Don’t atrophy further. Act.

Social Media, The Pandemic, and CS Lewis’ Best Character

One of the best decisions I made in 2019 was to leave Facebook. There is more than one reason why, but the biggest is this: I’m done with the fighting, and holding my fingers in check on a keyboard is something I’m still working on.

In many ways, I’ve taken a break, perhaps a long one, perhaps a forever one, from most social media. I have a boring Twitter account that only follows organizations, other than Pope Francis and my governor’s director of communications. I have an Insta account that is pretty much for foodie reading and me posting pics of my flowers. LinkedIn is for business.

My blogging has also slowed down, or at least taken a new turn: I blog now for my law firm, and thus about legal issues.

There have been other changes (I don’t know if you know, but there is a pandemic) and I’ve been adapting a lot there too. It’s the end of week 10 for me in isolation, only leaving my condo once or twice a week for groceries or the pharmacy.

I know fighting on Facebook and perhaps other places continues, mostly over the pandemic. I’m glad not to be there. I don’t need anyone telling me I’m stupid for wearing a mask or isolating, or my husband’s front line health care worker view of COVID19 and the havoc it wreaks isn’t real. And I get that some places are in different stages of exposure and recovery. But I’m in Baltimore City, where drop-in, no-appointment, free testing is still sparse (which is what is needed for vulnerable populations). I’m married to someone who was and is on the front line and cutting edge of COVID19 medical care, working long shifts transporting positive patients while working hard to keep the infection from entering our condo, where we are currently living with our two immunocompromised adult children. So foregive me if I’m not interested in your armchair view.

I also mourn the loss of the pool. I was swimming about 5 times a week and was in the best swimming shape of my life post-children. For now, though, its YouTube videos, from mixed cardio to latin dancing. Let’s just say my salsa skills are light.

Last, it’s going on 3 months since I’ve physically attended church. Unlike the pool, however, I don’t need to simulate a poorer form of worship. I can still go to church virtually and be in a small group virtually and even engage in outreach virtually. And yes, I’m annoyed when Christians make pronouncements that suggest they believe church is a building, that without in-person communal worship, some how we are less potent.

I want churches to reopen as soon as is safe for the general public in localized areas, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for me to go. Or rather, that doesn’t mean it is safe for those around me for me to go.

Who is my neighbor? What does my witness look like right now? Perhaps for some, like me, the best witness is by not physically showing up.

We live in a culture that rewards us for being seen. Let’s be honest–some of us need an audience to pat our backs because we can’t or won’t do that for ourselves. For some who claim to be people of faith, our faith is actually weaker than we care to admit. I’m not talking about extroverts who are struggling right now–that’s not a character flaw, and it is harder for extroverts than those of us who might be secretly thriving because of the ability to “introvert harder.” But sometimes I feel like those out there demanding their rights, especially Christians doing so, are really just showing everyone how weak their character is, how superficial their faith is.

It’s not easy for me to stay home. While I don’t want to hang out with 50 people on any day, I do want to be in the pool and go to restaurants and see my extended family. For now, I can’t, and even when I can, I likely won’t do things that, after consulting science, I believe risk my family’s or my neighbors’ health.

In my favorite C.S. Lewis work, The Great Divorce, an spot-on allegorical if not theologically accurate work, people in hell can take vacations to near-heaven, and are given a choice as to whether they want to stay or go back to hell. Almost no one stays.

One of my favorite Lewis characters won’t stay because it’s all about his rights and the well-worn chips on his shoulders. He meets up with a former work colleague who is in heaven. The traveler from hell, who like the other travelers, is a ghost and not a solid person, can’t walk on the painful grass in the near-heaven because of his physical and spiritual lack. He reminds me a great deal of those who can’t think of anything right now but their own “rights,” perhaps most especially those who also claim to be people of faith.

Don’t be like this traveler.

Who is my neighbor?

***

Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce:

“Look at me, now,” said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). “I gone straight all my life . . . . I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”

It would be much better not to go on about that now.”

“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”

“Oh no. It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong . . . . I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought . . . .”

“I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so . . . . Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go snivelling along on charity tied onto your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.”

It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten.”That’s what I’ll do,” it repeated, “I’ll go home, I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you . . .”

In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.

(emphasis not in original text)

Holy Saturday

I sit outside on my porch this morning, too cool for just a jacket but too lovely not to partake in the sunshine. My small pots of pansies and herbs sway in the breeze. I hear birds, more than normal in the City (I can’t decide if they have moved back to the City after their own suburban flight due to a calmer, less frenetic City these days, or if I can simply hear them better with the dearth of traffic). A slight hint of marijuana in the air, I know I am at home, in Baltimore.

Yet today and all of this week reminds us we are not home. Home is elsewhere. Perhaps April 11, 2020 is a smidge, an inkling of the Holy Saturday. Quiet, perhaps both peaceful and fully mournful at the same time, with the expectation of something better, hopefully soon but possibly not.

City life is more transient, and I’ve learned in this year and a half of living in the City that making connections is harder, especially in your 50s when there is no local school concerns to tie families together. I admit too that making connections in a new parish seem harder as well. Then again, my timeline is and has historically been not the same as others. With age and effort my timeline has softened and mellowed. But you can’t beat my nature out of me, and I will always push to move things along. This Holy Saturday, more than any other, pushes back on me.

There are blessings–family who are well for now, work that is busy for now, and exercise that has been lifegiving for now. I’ll let you know when my Crossfit Studio, a/k/a the dining room, is getting old. As for the future, of course, that is unknown. Next week I launch my new business website, and hope there will be business. I will, and we all will, pick up where we left off: on consistent calls, grateful for work but at a loss how to solve all the issues, and trying not to clean out the refrigerator, or perhaps, dare I say, the wine bottle.

But for today, Holy Saturday, we pause, in a different way perhaps than we’ve been forced to pause this past month. We wait. We expect. We hope.

This will end. We don’t know precisely when. We do know things won’t be the same. How can we fashion that as as good thing? It can be done.

Pause, at His feet, and ask how. Then listen.