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Bishop's Monday Message: Nevertheless!

Posted: September 14 2020 at 10:06 AM

Spanish Translation
Korean Translation
“I don’t know how much more I can take!” I’ve heard people say—people I know, people interviewed in the news around our country. It’s just a pile-on of uncertainty, suffering, destruction, and death. It’s been a tough year! One clergy posted a meme at the beginning of September:

Dear September, I don’t want any trouble from you. Just come in, sit down, don’t touch anything and keep your mouth shut!

Someone added, “Wash your hands and wear your mask.” 

Really, it’s like could we have a month without suffering and disaster? Oh, but no! It continues in so many ways.

You know, it feels like an interminable Good Friday: every day something, every month, all six months long and counting! When Jesus was on the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is the first verse of Psalm 22. Then for 31 verses, the psalmist describes all kinds of metaphors for physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual pain and suffering; all of which, I might add, Jesus was experiencing on the cross. 

We, too, are experiencing all kinds of pain and suffering, individually and together as churches, communities, and a nation. 

Physical pain and suffering is represented by the number of new cases and deaths due to COVID-19 each day. These aren’t just numbers: these are people, increasingly people we all know, with COVID-19. It’s a devastating illness for some and asymptomatic for others—even within the same family. Old and young alike: my “uncle” (not by blood) has survived COVID at age 93, but one of the healthiest young women I know nearly died and still suffers its effects. And of course, some people do die. Our lives are turned upside down in an attempt to avoid it ourselves.

Some congregations have come back to in-person worship, mostly if they can outdoors. But some are small enough in numbers and large enough in sanctuary space that they are able to worship. But it’s a risk. All precautions still need to be taken in any gathering of people, including family and friends, as well as church members. This isn’t over yet! Please maintain strict precautions, following the state guidelines for any gathering! While the governor appears to be reluctant to set specifics for faith communities, there are specifics given for gatherings of people; that would include churches!

Psalm 22 doesn’t address the economic suffering that many people are experiencing, especially around job and business losses. But the mental and emotional anguish of an uncertain economy is clearly reflected in the metaphors of sleeplessness and loss in the psalm. We see how the effects on the economy painfully affect some more adversely than others, specifically, communities of color.  

Then, of course, a huge stress has been at the opening of school—colleges and universities, K-12, and even preschools. Nothing has been normal or easy about any of it. If students go back in-person, it’s a worry for the health of the students and teachers. If they’re online, it’s difficult for working parents and we know that it poses questions about how this will impact these young people for years to come. Even if you don’t have a student in your family right now, you worry about the COVID-19 impact on the future for all young people and therefore our whole society. But I believe people are doing the best they can to provide the best education with what our public funding of schools will allow…and the availability of the internet and access to electronic devices. Again, its effects are uneven, particularly negatively affecting communities of color. Please pray for students, teachers, and parents!

Frustration continues to build for those who have endured the injustices of racism for generations. The psalmist describes those who consider him “less than human,” scorned and despised. We have a national history of the sin of racism that has treated some exactly like that. Yet another meme puts it well (I like memes because they’re concise and to the point): 

Unless you were born Black, raised Black, loved Black, marry Black or wake up every morning Black, you won’t understand the pain, the hurt, or the disgust that we feel.

And yet as people of faith, those of us who aren’t Black have a responsibility to listen for understanding. Where and how are you doing that?

Various communities have undergone specific kinds of suffering; few have escaped something. Across our annual conference, some have experienced the adverse effects of the strong winds recently. Some farmers are experiencing another year of uncertainty as weather conditions affect the prospects of a good harvest. Across the country, natural disasters are taking their toll. Along the eastern and southern sides of our nation, there are hurricanes. (The good news is that those from our own conference’s trained disaster teams have already been at work in Louisiana, bringing hope and help to those who have lost everything.) Out west in our country, fires have ravaged whole towns and filled the air with smoke so as not to be able to see the sun all day long! Climate change is a thing: it isn’t something in the future. It is now!

And then there are the personal situations that inevitably arise over these six months. Family members dying of things non-COVID-related.  Friends diagnosed with cancer. Many of us can’t visit our family members for months now and it’s uncertain when we can. The sadness of not being able to properly grieve those who have died and have been such an important part of our lives and communities adds to our loss.

Churches struggle with uncertainty. When or even will people go back to church again on any kind of regular basis? What will the church be like: not like it was and yet not like it is? How many times will we have to adapt to this new reality we find ourselves in? Clergy are exhausted and I would guess that some are considering their calling. As the psalmist cries, “Be not far off; my strength, hasten to my aid…then will I declare your name and praise you in the very center of the congregation!” May it be so!

If I were more poetic, I could put this all into a Psalm 22-type outpouring of agony, agony that even Jesus experienced on the cross.  None of us—none of us—is untouched by the suffering of these months.  But then, you know: what comes after Psalm 22? You don’t have to be a biblical scholar for this one: Psalm 23. Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 was the ending of Psalm 22 but became separated from it because it was the go-to psalm for when we face those moments of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 

It’s as if there is an invisible word between the pain and suffering of Psalm 22 and the assuring words of Psalm 23: NEVERTHELESS. From “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” to NEVERTHELESS… "the Lord is my shepherd! I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters, he restoreth my soul, he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name sake.”

When we’re experiencing any or all of these forms of suffering, loss and grief—and certainly more than I have mentioned—whisper this word: NEVERTHELESS… "Yeah, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me; thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”

NEVERTHELESS… "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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