On Memorial Day

Today is the day our nation has set aside to remember our fallen soldiers.  The many brave men and women who gave their lives as they fought to protect our freedoms. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Too many times, people take for granted the freedoms our nation affords its citizens.  We are free to speak our minds.  We are free to take a stand against our elected leaders. We are free to live where we like. We are free to go to school. We are free to worship where we want. We are free to worship in a way that is meaningful to us. We are free to work in jobs we choose. We are free to bear arms. We are free to not bear arms. We are free to wear clothes we like. We are free to eat what we want. We are free to protest the injustices we see around us. We are free to drive cars if we want. We are free to choose who we love. We are free….every last man woman and child. We are free. And we have these and many more freedoms because many brave men and women fought and lost their lives protecting our freedom.

On this Memorial Day, I encourage you to stop for a moment and say thank you and a prayer for all the freedoms you have.  They did not come cheap.

Peace,

Beth

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On Being Fragile

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”                                     Matthew 6:19 – 21

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have broken a plate, cup, vase, glass or other fragile item over the years.  The interesting thing is that of all the things I or my children have broken, I only remember one and that was because it was something my Grandmother gave me.  Other than that I don’t specifically remember any of the broken plates, cups, etc. that no longer exist because they were dropped or knocked off a table or something.  They were things that while I liked them, they were still things.  They were nice to have but like our scripture says in this world the things we own may be stolen, destroyed, or just wear out over time. No “thing” is permanent.

While our things or stuff don’t last in the long run, I hope our impact on the world will last…at least for this lifetime.  Our impact comes from how we treat the people in our lives.  They can be family, friends, and neighbors….they can also be the strangers we meet day to day as we go about our daily activities…which right now isn’t a whole lot of activity…but our state of Florida, along with many others, are beginning to cautiously open back up.  For Florida, today we begin a full phase one operation.  And while there are some businesses still shuttered many are allowed to partially open back up. This is good and this is bad.

You may wonder why I think it is both good and bad.  I am glad you asked! It is good that we are beginning to open our economy back up.  Many businesses and the people who work for them have taken quite a financial hit. We cannot continue to shelter in place without destroying our economy.  So we need to find a way to be able to open our economy up for businesses. Unfortunately in opening back up, we do this while we still do not have either herd immunity to Covid-19 or a working vaccine. So getting back to normal, whatever that might be, is filled with risk. We need to continue to find ways that keep people safe from becoming sick. There are no easy answers. Which means that opening back up is both good and bad.  Especially bad if we all don’t take precautions when we venture out into our communities as some individuals state of health is fragile.

Unfortunately there are many who scoff at all this and refuse to wear masks or take other safety measures seriously.  Worse there are many more who are quite frankly just plain rude and entitled as they go about shopping and other errands.  They are not taking kindly to the slower pace or changed work hours of many businesses who are trying to do their best under some very trying circumstances.  It is shameful the way they are behaving.  Yes…I know I am using some pretty stern language there. The difficultly is that in addition to many people being more susceptible to the effects of the virus we are all in a fragile mental state of mind to begin with as we begin to emerge from sheltering in place. We all have some form of cabin fever. We all have some form of anxiety over our financial health. If there is a boat we are all in it is this one: our hearts are fragile.

The trouble is we have all been socially isolated for nine weeks…I think…I am not sure as my days are running into one another.  It is Monday right? Anyway…people have a serious case of what I call cabin fever and it effects each of us differently.  For some it is no big deal. For others it is a nightmare of epic proportions.  Some may feel a little antys…some may turn into a full blown Dr. Hyde and rampage throughout the streets where they live.  The reality is that most of us are fragile to some extent.  Now is the time to not only be good to ourselves but to be good to others. We don’t want to emerge from the effects this virus has had on the world as really unpleasant human beings.  We don’t want to break one another as if we were nothing more than a china cup.  Because there is a big difference between our fragile hearts and china.  China can be glued back together or repurposed into cool art.  Our hearts…our fragile souls…sometimes like Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together.

My prayer for you all today is that you choose to be good to others.  Even if others are not being good to you.  Give those who are difficult some grace knowing that we are all a little fragile in a variety of ways because our world has been turned upside down, our economy is in dire straits, and we have been isolating for….how long has it been…..? Most of all if you find yourself struggling and unable to deal with the feelings you are having find someone to talk to. And remember, you are not alone in this.

Peace

Beth

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On Being Congealed

I love old cookbooks.  I find some of the names for recipes, how they measured ingredients, and what they ate 50, 100, 150 years or more ago facinating.  One type of dish that used to be very popular was called a congealed salad.  You would know them better today as Jello salads.  I personally happen to like them. I like the flavors and versatility Jello allows the cook.  In fact, you can be pretty creative with Jello.  I have to be honest with you, if I had been introduced to them under the name congealed, I can’t say I would even try them.  In this case it would have nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with eating something that is called congealed.  It conjures up something that is incredibly unappealing.  Congealed as a word is a lot like moist both are rather unappealing words in the English language. No one really likes being moist…it is uncomfortable…a little like wearing a damp bathing suit. So while I like congealed salads, I think I will stick to calling them Jello.

The thing is when something is congealed it means that a substances has gone from a fluid state to a rigid or solid state. It is why cooks will put homemade broth into the refrigerator.  The fat in the broth congeals on the surface when cold and can be scraped off which removes most of not all the fat preventing it from congealing in arteries. But something doesn’t have to be a food to congeal.

People can also become congealed. The word doesn’t just refer to liquids becoming solid but according to Dictionary.com it also refers to ideas, sentiments, or principles becoming fixed or rigidly adhered to.  Now more than ever we don’t want to become congealed but instead need to be careful to continue to stay fluid in our acceptance of things that are new or new ways to do old things.  Why? Well we are living in unprecedented times.  We haven’t been through a pandemic that impacted the world since the Spanish Flu of 1918. That is just over one hundred years. So, as we process the information we get each day and make decisions based on that information, know that we and our leaders will make good decisions and we will make bad decisions.. But I hope as we work through every choice we make we will not become congealed.  Because here’s the thing: we will not emerge from this pandemic into the same world we lived in before the world shut down.  Some things might be the same, but more things will have to be different. If we have spirits that are congealed, it will only be harder on us. Congealed spirits have a tendency to become complaining, curmudgeonly, and disagreeable.  Keeping our spirits fluid is a much better way to live, especially through the massive changes we may, (probably will) face in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Why do I think all this? Well…I have been working through the recommendations from conference on what we need to do as a church once we get to the place where we can have in house worship once again.  They are pretty extensive and will mean some significant changes for worship in order to keep people safe and continue to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by anyone who may be infected but not showing any symptoms.  None of these are suggestions. And worship is only one aspect of our lives. So not allowing our spirits to congeal helps as we accept the changes we will face in worship. Some of those changes may even make worship more meaningful.  Some will mean we have to let go of meaningful aspects hopefully only for a season and not permanently.

Through it all keeping our spirits fluid like water, recognizing that life is different at least for now helps us to embrace the changes that need to happen for now.  And while “congealed” salads taste good, (I still prefer the name Jello), a congealed spirit is not at all attractive.

For anyone who is struggling with the changes that are happening, please don’t hesitate to get some counseling or at least talk with a trusted friend or pastor.  While our circumstances may be different we are all going through the effects this virus is having on our whole world.  Talking about it helps process the many feelings we are having.  Talking about it offers us a release valve. And if you don’t have anyone you feel you can talk to, may I highly recommend God who is always available, always there, and who will, when you allow yourself to be still, answer.

Peace,

Beth

 

 

 

 

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On Psalm 131

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”                                                        Psalm 131

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement would ask those within the small groups he formed to help people with their discipleship, “How is it with your soul?” So, today I am asking you: How is it with your soul?

In the midst of this pandemic, as we in Florida are beginning phase one of reopening, are you calm? Are you looking forward to carving out a new life post-pandemic? Or are you scared? Are you worried about how you will recoup losses and re-engage with the world around you? Is your soul calm and quiet or does it feel frantic and filled with chaos?

We live in times that are uncertain at best.  But reality…history even…tells us we have been here before.  There have been other times that life was uncertain due to war, disease, and economic upheaval.  We have lived through those times and we will live through this one as well. But life will look different.  How? I honestly don’t know.  I think the answer to that question will depend on how you respond to the effects of this virus.  Will we trust in God that all will be well? Will we try to fix everything on our own? Will we retreat into our homes, fearful of going out ever again? Will we brave this new world and still try to experience all life has to offer? How will you respond?

I have read many times through many sources that “we are all in the same boat.”  I think we may all be in the same ocean but our boats are definitely different! For some of us, we will go back to life as usual.  In fact, for some of us, life didn’t change all that much.  A few alterations here in there on what we did and how we did things but for the most part life continued with no real changes.  For others, jobs were lost, major life activities were canceled like graduations, weddings, proms and more. We had to learn how to home school children from platforms we are not familiar with.  People had to stay home to keep them safe from the virus but they live in homes that are not safe from abuse. Their schools or their jobs were their safe spaces. Many lost loved ones, some to the virus and some to other causes, but all could not celebrate the lives lost with memorial services. Our emotions may be all over the map. Grief may have become a constant companion and will need to be dealt with. We are definitely not in the same boats as we will all respond differently to what our experiences of the corona virus has been and will be.

So, my prayer for all today is that we will ask for help when we need it for any reason.  We will continue to work one day at a time getting at least one small chore done…even if it is just brushing our teeth.  We will continue to help others.  We will not be arrogant enough to think we can fix this overnight but will in time come though this hopefully better people living in a better society.  My prayer is that we will be more like the psalmist who wrote with a heart that was not lifted up or eyes raised too high: a stance of humility as we rebuild what has been lost.

And so I ask the question: How is it with your soul?

Peace,

Beth

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On Seeing

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37 – 40

Last Thursday I was out in my backyard garden checking on how things were doing and seeing if there was anything that needed done when I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. I quickly turned to see what it was just as a hawk landed not 8 feet away from me on my fence. As soon as the Hawk landed s/he turned and looked directly at me. We stood there the two of us staring at one another for what seemed like an eternity but was in reality only about 30 seconds or so. In that moment it seemed to me that this hawk was saying: “I see you, do you see me?” I am not sure why I had that distinct impression maybe it was because the lectionary reading for this past Sunday was what is known as the walk to Emmaus.

This particular passage occurs after Jesus’ death and before his resurrection is well known among his followers. It has two people, walking away from Jerusalem and they are in a fog of negative emotions as they grieve what they have lost: Jesus. Jesus who was their friend and mentor and in this fog of emotions, who comes along but Jesus himself. And yet even though they see Jesus, they don’t see Jesus. They do not recognize him. It isn’t until they pressure him to stay with them for dinner and Jesus breaks the bread that they realize it has been Jesus with them all along. They just couldn’t “see” him.

I wonder how many times do we see and yet don’t see the world around us? How many times do we see but don’t see the people around us? How many times do we miss opportunities because we just don’t see what is right in front of us? Many times the reason for our blindness is that we are too wrapped up in ourselves. We can’t see beyond what is important to us and our own agendas. Or we can’t see beyond our over full calendar as we race from event to event or activity to activity becoming more and more addicted to the drug of busyness. Or maybe we can’t see because we are too wrapped up in our own negative emotions to the point they have descended on us like a thick fog. For whatever reason, we go through life unseeing the beauty, the love, and the wonder that surrounds us every day. It seems we may all need glasses.

I am a part of a lectionary group with other pastors from various denominations. This past week one of them wondered about the prophetic voice. Specifically he wondered what is the prophetic voice saying about this time of Covid-19 where we are having to isolate ourselves from one another in order to keep from getting sick to the point we are seeing a massive impact on our economic health. Both the virus and its impact will change our entire world. But in thinking about the prophets and the words they said to Israel in times of dire distress, I wonder too, what is the prophetic voice saying to us now?

Would the voice say we should have an emergency fund of 6 months expenses so we can withstand economically against a global pandemic? Would the voice say we should monitor our time so we don’t live frazzled lives of busyness? I wonder if the prophetic voice in this time of distress wouldn’t ask: God sees you…do you see God? Do you see God in the beauty that fills the world through the animals and plants that live alongside us? Even more, do you see God in each individual that walks by you, beside you, or with you in life? Do you see them as God sees them? Do you see them as God sees you? Can we see past the hurts and other emotional scars to truly see people as God sees them?

Scripture teaches us that we are all made in the image of God and we are all fiercely loved by God. And yet we fight and quarrel with one another. We see reports of rape, murder, harassment, abuse, wars…all against other people. People who God sees and loves…people who God wants us to see and love…people who while they may look different than us still love, care, need, want, feel…just like us. Jesus was once asked: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus’ answer to the question: we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” In order to love one another, we first must see one another. So I wonder if the prophetic voice coming out of this time of isolation might be to see the world and everything in it as God sees the world: as beautiful, valuable, and loved… every rock, plant, animal, and human.

On Thursday, a hawk saw me.

Peace,
Beth

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On Rhythm

I love old movies.  I have a few favorites like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Double Indemnity.  And If you haven’t guessed by now: I like film noir.  I also love the old comedies and I am especially fond of those with dance scenes in them.  One (of many) of my all-time favorite movie actor and dancer is of course Fred Astaire.  Although Danny Kaye is a very close second!  I am amazed by all Fred or Danny could do in rhythm to the music. And when you team Fred and Ginger Rogers together…well they just made film magic when they did their dance numbers!  Every time I watch them I am amazed at how they could keep time to the music and how the choreography matched the various rhythms as the music played and they danced.

Rhythms aren’t just for music. Rhythms also exist in life.  The ebb and flow of our days here on earth have a rhythm all their own and when we are out of sync, we feel it.  Something is off.  Sometimes we can put our finger on it but other times we just know life isn’t as it should be.  The rhythm to our life is discordant.  We are living in a minor key so to speak.  Right now we are in a time when the rhythms of our lives throughout our nation are discordant.  Life isn’t as it should be and while I don’t want to speak for any of you I think it is safe to say that we all long for a return to normal…a return to the rhythms of our lives, whatever that looks like for each one of us.

For myself, I find that during this quarantine we are under, If I maintain some semblance of what once was normal…and I am not sure I will return to all that when this is over…I don’t feel so out of sync.  So while I work from home most days, I do go into the office to work at least twice a week.  This is a rhythm in my life I need to maintain.  I also make sure I am getting enough sleep. I try to get to bed at a decent hour (not always successful) but I do still get up at my normal time. I am also getting outside more as one of the benefits of living in Florida is most days are filled with sunshine. So I am getting out in my garden and getting my yard and flower beds in shape…they were in quite a state and now they are not.  And because my yard is getting the TLC it needed, I am seeing a lot more wild life. I love having all sorts of wild life visit my yard and in the middle of a subdivision you don’t get a lot of wild life.  So I enjoy the black snake that lives in my yard – I don’t enjoy getting startled by him but like having him around. I enjoy the Hawks that sometimes stop by in their search for food. I love the woodpecker, the cardinals, and the blue jays.  I even had a snowy egret drop by to search for bugs and I just discovered a possum visits my yard in the evenings.  Getting to watch nature up close is a great stress reliever.  So for me, during this time of quarantine, I am trying to maintain my normal life rhythms as I also enjoy the world around me.

I think this is what the writer of Ecclesiastes meant when they wrote: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun…” These times signify the rhythms of life.  Unfortunately in our too busy lives we don’t pay attention to these rhythms.  We should.  There is a time we need to sleep.  Studies have shown that we all need good sleep and not just one or two hours but eight.  Studies show we need to exercise (I am talking to myself here) we need to eat and not by wolfing our food down in cars on our way to the next thing.  We need to sit down and enjoy our food.  At the very least we need to taste what we are eating.  We need time to be with other people and we need time to disengage so we can unwind and process our day.  There is a time we need to work but we also need time to play and have fun.  We need times of solitude spent with God as well as times we are out doing for others, making a difference in our world. Altogether these times make up the rhythms of our lives.

So, we need to pay attention to the rhythms in life. They are important.  They keep us sane.   They keep us in sync with the world around us.  The problem we will need to be mindful of when things begin to open back up and life begins to return to some semblance of what we each consider normal is our busyness. We can get so caught up in what everyone else is doing and think we should be doing what everyone else is doing…that we end up exhausted most of the time.   There is a time and a season for everything in life.  Don’t rush through life trying to fit everything in that you forget to stop and enjoy the journey.  Life is precious and filled with music set to a rhythm that is made just for each one of us…we just need to learn to dance our own rhythm.

Peace,

Beth

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On Easter

Sunday we celebrated Easter in a way we have probably never celebrated Easter before and I hope and pray we never have to celebrate Easter in that way again.  It was definitely different.  Typically we are used to going to church on Sunday where houses of worship are pretty full if not packed with people singing praises and offering their prayers.  This past Easter Pastors across the world preached to empty sanctuaries or from the privacy of their living rooms.  In the Past we would gather with family…in some cases more family than we can count. In other cases it is with our created families and our homes would be filled with the wonderful smells of good food, laugher, and the stuff memories are made.  This year, we celebrated alone, with only those who live in the same household as we continue to shelter in place doing our part as we try to stop the spread of this Covid-19 virus.

But here is the thing: Easter still happened.  We just found different ways to celebrate.  Music filled the air via our connections through the internet.  We were able to hear many different musicians from around the world offer their talent for us to enjoy.  We were able to hear many different sermons.  It also meant that we got to hear different perspectives on the Easter story, the wonderful way that in rising from the dead Christ broke our bondage to sin and death.  It was an Easter unlike any other and yet some of us may feel as if we are still in the tomb…and to a certain extent we still are.

I think we might get a better understanding from Easter and the singular saving event of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament if we were to take a look at the singular saving event of the Exodus in the Old Testament.  There the Israelite nation was saved from their bondage to slavery in Egypt just as we have been saved from our bondage to sin and death through Jesus.  For the Israelites, the first thing God did was to take them to Mt. Sinai to give them the Ten Commandments…but then instead of finding themselves going in a straight line to the Promised Land…they found a very circuitous route that lasted forty years through the desert.  They were free….But they weren’t in paradise just yet… they were not ready to receive the Promised Land and all it offered.  Freedom from slavery or in our case sin and death doesn’t mean we still won’t have suffering.  Life is not easy and in this age of Covid-19 that is quite the understatement!

But like the Israelites who wandered for forty years with God going with them every grumbling step of the way…they were a complaining lot…God will go with us every step of the way no matter how difficult the journey gets.  We are not promised a “Rose Garden” style of life.  We will endure hardships.  We will have suffering.  We will be buffeted by many events we would like to erase from our life stories.

So the questions becomes: “How is it with your soul?” I remember a woman years ago, when she received the diagnoses that her cancer had returned and there was nothing they could do, made the decision to live what life she had left with joy and when the time came when she knew the end was near, she was going to show her family how do die well.  She did just that as her daughters made the comment to me after she had died that their mom left them with a smile.  We all have choices in life.  We can live well through the storms and trials or we can grumble and complain.  We can face all that comes our way with courage or we can crumple.  We can blame God for all that is wrong in life…BTW…God does not cause our pain and suffering but God will be with us through all the pain and suffering we go through in life…or we can recognize we live in a world that is filled with pollution that harms our health, we live in a world that is filled with violence that threatens our lives, we live in a world that is prone to natural disasters…and we also live in a world that is filled with beauty, good people and mild weather.  And in the midst of all we live in, where ever we live, life happens both the good and the bad.

We are now in the season of Eastertide…it is spring, Jesus Christ, is risen, and it is the time for renewal.  So…the question remains: How is it with your soul?

Peace,

Beth

 

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