Friday, March 27, 2020

Viral Learnings, Part Five: The Yeast Remains


found at theclevercarrot.com
One of the things I've started doing during Covid-19 is making Sourdough Bread. A few weeks ago, I made a starter--Some flour, water, a little honey, and some yeast, mixed and punched and put in a zip lock bag to be left out for 5 days while the yeast fermented and did its work. At that point, I put a few cups in a sealed container in the fridge, and baked the rest. I'd give the end product (my first loaf) a "B" grade. I'll get better.

But what I really loved was the starter. Every once in a while if I was making something, I'd pull out a bit to add to what I was doing--bread, pancakes--you name it. And then, a few days ago, I "fed" the starter, adding new flour and a bit of sugar. Lo and behold it started growing again, replenishing itself, replicating, the yeast reactivated, resurrected, providing a new expression of dough from the same strain. 

As I understand it, this could go on forever; the yeast replicating itself, the exact same strain and makeup, as long as I take care of it and feed it well. That is why businesses like Guinness Beer guard their strain of yeast so tightly.
Photo by Sam Barber on Unsplash
They keep a strain of the original yeast under lock and key in case anything would happen to their working stock (these strains are hundreds of years old). It wouldn't be Guinness without the yeast that works it's way through.

What a metaphor for life. During this time of Covid-19 quarantine, I find myself asking, "What yeast am I feeding to grow living bread in me?" Because the fact is that whatever the yeast is that I'm tending will be what the "dough" my life will taste like. 

"A little yeast works itself through a whole batch of dough," Paul writes in Galatians 5. What is the starter yeast that is working it's way through me today? Is it Grace? Love? Mercy? The story of Scripture and God's faithfulness? Or is it fear? Anxiety? The stress of the nightly news? Mad Men (which I'm currently binging)?  All of these are a part of life in some respects, but the yeast will likely be the thing I feed the most. 

The reality of life is that even when the bread is gone, the yeast remains. What am I feeding today in my soul and spirit that remains and replicates for tomorrow's daily bread?

Something for me (and for us) to think about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Viral Learnings, Part Four: New Rhythms of Grace

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash
I realize what I'm about to say is said from a place of privilege, but one of the new learnings for me during this season of world shutdown is the opening up of new rhythms of grace.

It's pretty amazing how easy it is to get in a rut that you can't get out of. Even if it's a good one filled with good things, our lives seem to lean towards patterns of normalcy. Wake up, put your feet on the floor, find your glasses (a daily trial), make your way to the coffee pot, and it's off to the races. I think that is why vacations are so 
longed for--Not because you hate your work (although I suppose that may be true for some), but because you stop for a second from the regular routines and pick up a new rhythm for a while. The change resets your regular playlist of life and invites you to hear a different tune. I often find that it's only when I'm forced to stop and listen in a new way that I can hear the heartbeat of the Divine once again. 

Now I realize that for some, this may be the opposite. Change is terrifying and throws everything good out the window. And yes, of course, house quarantine is a far cry from a vacation on the beaches of Hawaii. And if one is trying to work from home, entertain kids, or just forced to be alone within the four walls of your abode, these new rhythms may sound more like dirges and horror movie soundtracks then lines of grace.

But make no mistake, there is grace being composed and played. It may be a subtle, distant tune from a far away land, but God is playing the song and invites us to listen in. 

For me, here are some of those grace rhythms I'm picking up...
  • More regular check in's with friends around the country, calling in to see how we are doing in one of the epicenters of the virus.
  • (Almost) nightly movie nights with our family.
  • Watching my kids navigate online learning, and the miracle of that statement alone.
  • Watching our church family care for each another in new, creative ways.
  • Family devotions in the morning.
  • Social distancing happy hour in front of our houses on the street with neighbors.
  • The generosity of our community towards local restaurants and towards first responders and health care workers.
  • Staff meetings using Web ex, which feels the Brady Bunch in good ways (seeing faces in rows of squares).
  • The Psalms as a new home to place my anxiety.
  • A new appreciation for tik tok dances performed by my kids.
  • Watching my Kristi do her work as a school nurse remotely for her community.
  • Spending time with our almost 9 year old Great Dane who is on borrowed time at this point (and let's face it, our animals are the ones who are really loving this, aren't they?).
  • Family dinners. Every night.
  • An excuse to even write this down and process this experience. 
Of course, everything isn't a welcome rhythm. The fears of life and the future, enduring the nightly news and press conferences, the worries about getting a virus with no cure, the longing to give people you love hugs, the concern for those who have lost their jobs or shuttered their businesses; those things remain. 

And yet, if I listen closely, even these longings and pains come with subtexts of hope. For they point to a deeper truth that we all need to hear. 

That this world is not the end. 
That those who sow in tears will reap in joy (Psalm 126). 
That the One whose name is Love identifies with us in our suffering and will never leave us alone. 

Those are the rhythms of grace that are appearing. I, for one, need to hear that tune more and more.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Viral Learnings, Part Three: It's Not a Maze

Living life with a deadly virus on the loose is more than a bit unnerving; it is downright upending. You watch the news at night and the experts say one thing. The next morning, the experts say another, something even darker, thing that makes you clamp down tighter and worry even more. You just get your footing going down one path, when all of the sudden it feels like that path is shut down, forcing you to backtrack to find another path to the answers of inner harmony and peace in the midst of chaos. If life is a maze, this one feels like it has no discernable pattern, no direction to give on solace and hope.

But what we believe as Christians is that life is not so much a maze but a path that leads to God. This path may be winding and long. It may come with times when God seems far away and times when God seems very close. But regardless, the path is not for us to decipher as a puzzle but as a journey to pay attention on, knowing that it is God who is drawing us in. 



That's why to me, our journey right now is less like a maze and more like a labyrinth. Labyrinth's are ancient spiritual practices that are meant to replicate the walk we take through life. There is only one path on a labyrinth, and while compact, if you were to spread it out in a straight line the walk would be a long one. When you enter the labyrinth, the path is a lot like real life. Sometimes you find yourself close to the center, feeling close to the Source of all life. And yet sometimes, the path leads you farther away, on the fringe, wondering if you will ever make it to the end. 

But the good news is there is no way to get lost on the path. It leads to the center, a metaphor for God himself. And there are very few times I find after walking the labyrinth, that my head is not calmed and my heart is not centered on the One who guides all our paths and has his hand on all our ways.


If you are looking for a little social distancing, St. Marks Cathedral on Capital Hill has a fantastic new labyrinth on their front lawn. There are also mini labyrinths you can trace with your finger you can order online (that is what I use most regularly). There is even an app or two you might try, or even beautiful pieces of wall art you can download and use.

Regardless, what's really important is to remember the truth; God has us snugly in God's hands on this journey, with the end result being known fully in his glory. The struggle we are in is not a maze to figure out but a labyrinthian journey, with God directing our path. That is good news, in my book 

Psalm 23 is a good reminder...
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Viral Learnings, Part Two: The Pandemic Songbook

It's interesting to see where you go to find comfort and peace in the midst of life's storms. It turns out we turn to a lot of different things--TV, movies, food, drink, unhealthy relationships--You name it, we try it as a sedative for the crashing waves we find ourselves in.

For me this year, it's been the Psalter. 

The Psalter is a fancy word for the book of Psalms, that 150 chapter songbook smack dab in the middle of the Bible. It's been said that while the rest of the Bible speaks to us, the Psalter speaks for us. In its pages, I can pretty much guarantee you will find words that will both match your mood while giving you hope. Feeling good, bad, angry, hurt, lonely, joyful--Whatever it is, your emotion will be in there directed at God, with God often speaking (or whispering) a response.

But when you are without hope, feeling like you are being tossed in life's storms, the Psalter is at it's very best. 

Over Lent, one of my spiritual practices has been reading the Psalter through Psalm by Psalm, roughly one per day. And what I've noticed during the course of this season is how very close the Psalmist knew that God was. 

I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my foundation, and my refuge, and my deliverer.--Psalm 17

Our God is our refuge and strength, a helper in afflictions which mightily befall us.--Psalm 45

Save me, O God, for the waters are come into my soul.--Psalm 68

O Lord, hear my prayer, give ear unto my supplication in Thy truth; hearken unto me in Thy righteousness.--Psalm 142

All throughout, whatever the setting, one thing is for certain when you read the Psalter; the firm and certain knowledge that God is near and is within earshot of your call.

I need that right now. WE need that right now. More than anything else, I'm thinking. To know that we are not alone. To know that "social isolation" does not pertain to the God of love. To know that we can find hope even in a pandemic because nothing in our life is lost on the God who will never lose us. 

The Psalter. It's the Pandemic Songbook. And for that I am grateful.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Viral Learnings, Part One: Not In Spite Of but Through



At the start of this week, I was seeing this challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic as something like a tunnel; just something we need to buckle down and get through. Since I pastor a local church where pretty much everything we do is about tangible, in-person relationships, the idea of going only online for Worship, having every meeting through Zoom, and not being able to meet people for coffee or lunch to talk feels like a complete reversal of the incarnational nature of the church. But we do it because we are forced to. 

With that in mind, my mindset was wartime; bunker down, send up smoke signals once in a while (aka weekly online Worship and emails), make it as good as possible, remain a non-anxious presence; with the goal to come out on the other side as unfazed as possible, pick up the pieces, and carry on where we left off.

But now, I'm not sure that's true. Or even possible.

First off, there are no experiences of tragedy and fear that fail to leave indelible imprints on the heart and soul. Just as men and women who have endured war torn pasts as refugees, soldiers, or victims of violence, one doesn't get through life unscathed. The scars always remain. It's impossible to make it through a dark tunnel without bringing part of the tunnel with you.

But maybe that is ok.

My Dayle came home from school Thursday knowing that school had been cancelled as said, "I'm really sad to not be able to see my friends and miss out on all the fun parts of school. But we are living in an historic time, and we will be affected by it forever." From the mouths of babes (or teens in this case). She knows that this is a sad and scary time, but it will be formative. Forever. Her life (and all of our lives) will forever be changed because of this challenging season. 

That is good for us to remember. This isn't just a dark tunnel to go through. It is a dark night where we will come to learn some things about ourselves and ultimately about God; that God walks with us through the darkness and we come out changed. 

"If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You" (Psalm 139:11,12).

And so because that is true, we don't keep going  in spite of the pandemic, but we look to grow through it. The core of our faith in Jesus Christ is that God chose to walk with us through our sufferings. In so doing, we are drawn closer to him and actually have the possibility of a deeper experience of him than ever before. 

Because of that belief, we can have comfort and hope that we will grow through this pandemic, not in spite of it, but through it. Looking at it this way helps me lean into this fearful, anxiety laden, and destabilizing time, asking God what we might learn through it all. 

Because the fact is that we will learn something. If we are ready to see it.








Saturday, March 14, 2020

Viral Learnings, An Introduction

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As a 49 year old, I've never experienced this sort of thing; a virus burning its way through every corner of the world simultaneously.  I realized we aren't the first to face a pandemic like this (it happens every 100 years or so, they say). But when it is your own and yet everywhere, and promises to affect pretty much every part of your life and world, it brings you face to face with what you know (and what you don't) and what you have to trust in (and what isn't worth trusting in at all).

With that in mind, I've decided (as much as I can) to blog through this global challenge and discuss some "viral learnings" (pardon the pun) we can glean through times like this. 

Why? Because while God doesn't create pandemics to wipe out his creation, God can use even them to grow us in what is truly important--Our knowledge and love of God, our understanding of our selves, and our care for one another and God's creation. I'm praying for that, and expecting it to be true.

The thoughts shared are my own musings and done partly for myself to listen to God through this challenging time. But hopefully they can be of help to you, too, wherever you are at, in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. My hope is that we can take this time in the fire to be forged into something different, even better than before, as individuals, communities, the Church, and as a global family.

That's it for now. Take care, friends.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God."--Psalm 20:7

Loving Jesus and washing my hands,

Jeff


Monday, December 9, 2019

Advent Voices


O Emmanuel
by Malcolm Guite

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us,
O long-sought with-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness,
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

(from Sounding the Seasons)