Friday, July 17, 2020

Calloused Hope

Devotion for Being Apart -
July 17

This summer, I will share new devotions from time to time,
and invite you to browse through devotions that have been posted on this blog.

I heard a couple weeks ago that while Japan has reopened some theme parks, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, screaming on roller coasters is outlawed. Signs at the parks now say, "Please scream inside your heart."  Someone shared this news on Twitter with the comment, "After 6 months, 2020 finally has a slogan."

Please scream inside your heart.

From time to time this comes back to me and I like it, because I feel like that's what I am doing, and it makes me smile to be given permission - nay, encouragement - for this activity.

We are not off this roller coaster any time soon, so please scream inside your heart.

Also feels true: Screaming in each other's faces could spread infection, so please scream alone and quietly. That message I am actively resisting.  We need people to scream with. Even virtually.

But of course the whole thing breaks down as an analogy pretty quickly. Nobody chose to get on this roller coaster, and certainly none of us is here because we think this is fun.

When I was first starting out in ordained ministry, I was part of a group of new pastors assembled by the wise and gentle Rev. Cal Cooper, a retired minister who would convene us monthly to share lunch and support.  One thing he was insistent on: you must have something on the calendar to look forward to.  Each month he would go around the table and ask us what ours was. It didn't have to be huge, or even soon, but some trip, some adventure, some plan that tickled our fancy, something outside the regular pattern should be shimmering out there in our near future.

I am remembering the wisdom of that advice this week. It goes deeper than I realized at the time. Having something to look forward to helps us remain present right here and now. It somehow anchors us.  In my house, in the past five months, we have had only the opposite, as plan after plan has dropped off the calendar and fallen into the abyss.

 But suddenly we have a few things on the calendar: god-willing and if all stays stable, the kids are quarantining in preparation for (highly-adapted, bubbled-up, masked and socially-distanced) camp next week, and while they are there I will lead a silent retreat for tired pastors, each tucked into our own cottage for a few days of prayer and rest.  Then in mid-August, my family will spend five greatly-anticipated days in a cabin on the Gunflint Trail.  This is the one we've buckled our anticipation to most.  My daughter keeps asking, every few days, "So if everything else gets canceled, the cabin up north is still happening no matter what, right Mom?"

After mid-August, we'll have to put something else on the broad, empty, white expanse of our hall calendar, because having those things to look forward to these past few weeks has fed our souls and stabilized us a bit.

We're strapped into this wild ride for a while, you guys.  Things are not improving, indeed, with school just around the corner, and winter coming soon enough, this ride is only getting more twisty and nausea-inducing.

We could look ahead to the sharp turns and sudden drops with so much anxiety and fear.  We're debating between the terrible possible repercussions of exposing our children and teachers to great risk, or the challenge of keeping kids isolated trying to learn through screens.  We're dreading the frigid elimination of the outdoor spaces we've become so dependent on to meet our needs for connection and engagement in the world.
For me, considering both of these upcoming thresholds leads directly to projecting the complete failure of America as a nation.  The virus hijacks the next few years, destroys our economy and quarantines us from the rest of the world, the whole structure of our society crumbles, and my children inherit a dire, dystopian future. (Please scream inside your heart).

But then I remember we have a death and resurrection faith, and God is always moving, and this is part of the story, but not the whole story, and the world belongs to God.

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent opinion article this week in the New York Times called, "We interrupt this Gloom to Offer: Hope."  He talks about how our needless suffering right now may be a precursor to real change. "Perhaps today’s national pain, fear and loss can also be a source of hope: We may be so desperate, our failures so manifest, our grief so raw, that the United States can once more, as during the Great Depression, embrace long-needed changes that would have been impossible in cheerier times."

The pandemic has glaringly exposed the brokenness of our system.  "The grim awareness of national failures — on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs — may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country."  Fifty years of economic and healthcare policies crafted for systemic inequity have taken a terrible toll on our nation, and we've been largely indifferent, until now.
“There was something about seeing a man’s knee on another man’s neck that woke people up,” Kristof quotes Helene Gayle, the chief executive of the Chicago Community Trust.

Drawing from examples in history, he then goes on to lay out what is possible, when we've seen how bad it really is and have the motivation to build something better.  He spoke with President Jimmy Carter: “I know we will see a better future... Sometimes there must be a reckoning and course correction.” And Senator Cory Booker: “Hope right now in America is bloodied and battered, but this is the kind of hope that is successful. It’s hope that has lost its naïveté.”  Booker calls it "calloused hope" - hope that is tough and resilient.

(I highly recommend reading the whole article). 

The article shifted me back into the space of remembering that America is a long story, still being written.

But even beyond that, whole nations rise and fall, kingdoms come and go, but the story of God's world continues: death and resurrection, always redemption, always toward life.

There's no disembarking this roller coaster. But we can keep making sure there is something on the calendar to look forward to. Even if it falls off shortly.  Our naiveté is gone.  We know it's all up for grabs.  We have to hold all our plans lightly and hang on for the ride.  Our looking forward can be with dread, or with calloused hope. I choose calloused hope.

So today I lean into calloused hope, and remain ready to scream inside my heart (and over zoom with others) as the need arises.  

Perhaps tonight before we go to bed, whatever time that is in each of our homes, we can pray in this way, and so join our souls with each other and the people of the whole earth:

I scream my fears and dread into the abyss,
You hear my cry, O Lord.

And I feed the tender shoots of hope,
with memories of your faithfulness,
with reminders of life coming from death,
with recollections of despair giving way to newness,
with gratitude
that what is dead,
and broken,
and destructive
within us,
can be rooted out,
and a new way can be planted.

Deliver us from evil.
Free us from temptation.
Feed us with the bread we need today.
Bring your Kingdom way into reality now,
that we might truly live our belonging to each other,
and find our life to you.
Give me the courage to plan for joy,
and the strength to hold plans lightly.
Give me the trust to rest in your love,
and to join in your trajectory of justice and peace.
for yours is the Kingdom, now and forever,
and in you is our hope and our future.


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