Reading Stack

I feel like my reading material has been all over the map lately. I’m digging deeeeeeep into the Gospel of John right now and hope to write some thoughts on that soon.  Until then, here are a few links that have caught my eye.

  • BioLogos has released “A Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times.” The statement is signed by dozens of Christian leaders, calling on Christians to follow the advice of public health experts and support scientists doing crucial biomedical research on COVID-19. CLICK HERE to read and sign the statement.

  • We continue to learn more and more about the coronavirus that oftentimes leaves young survivors with lingering health issues. Read the story of the first COVID-19, double lung transplant patient in the U.S.:  A 28-year-old paralegal and member of the Latino community, one of the groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

  • “The 19th Amendment, ratified a century ago on Aug. 18, 1920, is often hailed for granting American women the right to vote. And yet most Black women would wait nearly five decades more to actually exercise that right.” Read “‘It’s a Struggle They Will Wage Alone.’ How Black Women Won the Right to Vote,” published in Time Magazine, to better understand how laws don’t always immediately guarantee rights – especially for those who have been socially disenfranchised.

  • Greenville University (Illinois) theology professor Benjamin Wayman sat down with Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, to discuss the nature of theological education. For Williams, Christian education and formation are like “learning to camp in a new land, a new creation.”

  • Looking for a little humor after all those heavy reading topics? Check out “Church is Gross,” a guest post on Experimental Theology from Kevin Makins author of the new book Why Would Anyone Go to Church?  Makins readily admits “there is a certain irony in releasing a book about going to church during the only time in human history when literally no one is allowed to go to church.” But trust me, he makes it work and will have you laughing as he tells you how!

Let’s end in a word of prayer…

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

On Being Thankful

Recently I was thinking about how much life has changed over the last several months, and how — thanks to COVID — we’re each discovering in our own ways how little we actually have control over.

It made me think of all the things I miss from “before”:  worshiping together in one location, sitting in a crowded stadium watching the Packers play football, laughing with family at one dinner table (and not over Zoom). At the same time, I realized how little gratitude I had for all those things when I had them.  How I rarely, or never, felt and expressed true thankfulness.

I think there may be a direct connection between how much control we think we have over parts of our lives, and the measure of our gratitude. Think about it. It’s simply impossible to be thankful or grateful to someone else when you think you’ve accomplished or experienced something all on your own merit.

If I think I have total control over the things in my life, then I’m it. There is no one else to thank. But friends, let me tell you: Every human being is a debtor. And until I admit how little I have sole control of, and how much difference others have made in my life, I’ll never truly be able to express appropriate gratitude.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens too often in my relationship with God. Saying thank you, showing gratitude, acknowledging God working in my life and the lives of others… How many opportunities have I allowed – continue to allow – to slip by?

Think about it. What gratitude and thankfulness is going unspoken in your life right now? How can we heighten our awareness of just how blessed we are, and then live out our gratitude? Pray with me…

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My Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings in my life. Thank you for providing me with wisdom and discernment in unsettling times. Thank you for providing me with strength and courage in frightening situations. Thank you for wrapping me in the reassurance of your love through scripture, and the working of the Holy Spirit through others during times when I think I’m completely alone. God, thank you. Jesus, thank you. Holy Spirit, thank you. Amen.

Time of Lament

From N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.,” Time Magazine Online, March 29, 2020.

“The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.

“God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.

“It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”

Reading Stack

It has been a tough and challenging time for humanity, hasn’t it? It’s hard to know what to say or where to begin. Today, I’ll refer you to the words of others who have helped me think about and process the hurt, pain, confusion, and sadness so many are feeling.

  • In Reaping the Whirlwind, Eric Crawford (WDRB) works through his feelings after being asked to comment on the recent shootings and protests in Louisville. Take your time with this one and pour over what he has to say. His writing is well worth it.
  • Esau McCaulley, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has written A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit for Christianity Today online. Based on his most recent sermon, this essay discusses how Pentecost can help the church find its voice during times of racial strife.
  • I’ve been blessed to be invited to join my best friend’s Sunday School class that meets over Zoom every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening from North Carolina. We recently read and discussed Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, which offers “a way to find spirituality in those times when we don’t have all the answers.” It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I highly recommend it.
  • Last, but most definitely not least, I found the text of the prayer given by Rev. C.B. Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, KY, during one of Governor Beshear’s press conferences. It was so moving to listen to Rev. Atkins’ words; I pray you find as much in the printed version:

“Let us pray together. Eternal God, the God of all people, because you are omniscient, there is nothing we can tell you that you don’t already know. So let me start by thanking you for clearing up busy schedules, for allowing us to pause to collectively acknowledge you today. We are aware that not all storms come to disrupt our life, some come to clear our path. Your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Isaiah reminds us that there is no searching of your understanding. So we did not come today to call you on the carpet to explain, we came to thank you for your power and willingness to sustain. 

“Worldwide COVID-19 has claimed 350,000 reported deaths, 100,000 in the United States, and 400 in Kentucky. These are staggering numbers of the arresting reality of this horrific pandemic. Still I refuse to be guilty either as a messenger of God or a man of color.

“I’m mentioning the racial pandemic that has been devastating a segment of your people in this country for over 400 years, emboldened now afresh by people in powerful positions in public places. It is not that the minority population has been silent, but rather that the majority population has been deaf. The high number of deaths from coronavirus has been needless, and the continuous deaths of innocent black men and women in this country is senseless.

“Frantic searches are underway in laboratories around the world for a vaccine for COVID-19. But even if one is discovered, and I pray it will be, but if we ignore the cure for that pandemic as we have ignored the cure for the racial pandemic, having done so for political, economic, and aristocratic expediency, then all efforts will ultimately be in vain.

“I pray God that you strip us of the false assurance that grows from pride in our powers and ignorance of our ignorance. After you strip us, then bathe us in compassion so our shared pain will generate a powerful passion that will eventuate in reaching a divine purpose.

“As dark as this day may be, I am assured you did not bring us this far to leave us now. Hatred, divisiveness, and even death are but finite happenings. We cling to an infinite hope. You’ve already given us the panacea for this and all pandemics. You have told us what is good and what you require, that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. You have not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

“If your people who are called by your name would humble themselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways and seek your face, you promise that you will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land. Comfort us, oh God. Guide, guard, and govern us. God of all nations. Known by many names. Do it through Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.”

-Reverend C. B. Atkins 5/28/2020

An Intercessory Prayer

From churchofengland.org

Let us pray to the Lord,

who is our refuge and stronghold.

For the health and well-being of our nation,

that all who are fearful and anxious

may be at peace and free from worry:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For the isolated and housebound,

that we may be alert to their needs,

and care for them in their vulnerability:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For our homes and families,

our schools and young people,

and all in any kind of need or distress:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For a blessing on our local community,

that our neighbourhoods may be places

of trust and friendship,

where all are known and cared for:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

We commend ourselves,

and all for whom we pray,

to the mercy and protection of God.

Merciful Father,

accept these prayers

for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Self Care

We will get through this. Be sure to take a prayer break whenever you need one… maybe even while social distancing in a patch of dandelions! May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Just Name The Place

Chapter 5 of Longing to Pray, by Ellsworth Kalas, is all about the places, schedules, and body language that provide the scaffolding from which we hang our friendships. We may meet a group of friends each month at a specific restaurant at a time certain, knowing that when we meet, everyone will lounge comfortably in his or her chair, slowly enjoying good food and even better friendships. We look forward to it, we aren’t in a hurry to leave, and we certainly aren’t thinking of other places or people. We settle in and enjoy the time we have together.

Right now, we aren’t able to make that lunch date. None of us. We’re trying as hard as we can to protect everyone we know (and even those we don’t) from contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Just a couple of months ago, we had no idea that our usual get-togethers – be they lunches, church, or even boring work meetings – would be our last for a good long while.

And because we never really thought about them ending… well… we sort of took them for granted, didn’t we?  Once all this “social distancing” is over, I bet we don’t do that again for a very long time. But… we’ll still have to be on the lookout because we’re apt to forget how blessed we are all over again. We are human after all, eh?

Dr. Kalas asks us to think about all those places and times that we share with friends, and how those things add to our friendships – especially our friendship with God. Do we have a favorite place where we meet with God regularly? Do we “hang out” and pray leisurely? Or, are we checking our watch, making our grocery list, daydreaming between sporadic scripture reading?

Are we giving God the same considerations we would give to our dearest friend? When was the last time we had a leisurely lunch with God rather than merely firing off a quick “text-message prayer” to check in?

Dr. Kalas writes, “Since you and I are human creatures, our human circumstances affect even our spiritual moments—including especially the moments of friendship, both human and divine.” (p.48)

Remember: God is always available. It’s up to us to set the place, the time, and the pace.

Psalm 62:5-8

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.