Be sure to read my latest piece for Red Letter Christians just released today: “Untethered: Chronic Illness, Exile, and Finding Shalom in a Pandemic”
Last year about this time as I looked forward to 2020, I pictured many things for this year. I didn’t picture this. Time is strange. It expands and contracts in our perceptions. This season of pandemic life feels like each day is the same in some ways, and yet the seasons are still changing, moving inexorably forward, and as I am sitting in the same house or on the same porch day after day, it feels as though I am standing still and the seasons are revolving around me. Until it doesn’t and you get hit with the news of hurricanes and explosions or worse--you get hit with them--and then time moves too fast and it’s hard to keep up.
On a personal note, I had so many plans for late 2020 in particular. I had been homeschooling my kids--well mainly my oldest, as my youngest is starting kindergarten this year--and I was looking forward to enrolling them in the small, local Episcopal school. We were working on finalizing all those details in February. I thought that I would have more quiet, dedicated writing time with the house to myself for hours each day with them in school and my husband at work.
What is said about the best laid plans of mice and men? As the poet Robert Burns reminds us, they “often go awry.” If that’s not a motto for this year, then I don’t know what is (yes, I’ve seen the scream inside our hearts meme, that was rhetorical). This year has brought all of us face-to-face with the stark uncertainty of life. All of us have had plans changed or canceled as part of our “regular” life, but never on this scale. Well, all of the healthy folks anyway. I keep coming back to the realization that people who live with chronic illness and disability and mental illness are already used to this to some extent.
Those of us who find our functioning impaired by whatever condition are often used to staying home more, canceling plans more, making plans with trepidation, especially if we have a condition that flares or comes in some kind of cycle. I might feel like I can do that now, but will I be okay when the time comes? And I really never know. Big plans are often a leap of faith that also require careful planning leading up to it so the chances will be higher that I’ll feel okay or at least okay enough to push through until I can collapse on the other side.
So one personal silver lining is that I never have to go anywhere, ever. Of course that’s also wearing. Folks who were asking me and other homeschooling parents for emergency advice last year had to grasp that this isn’t normal homeschooling. Normal homeschooling involves play dates and zoo trips and hanging out at the Martin Art Quest at the Frist Museum in Nashville: it is not this forever at-home-ness.
I’ve written recently about how we are all experiencing a collective untethering, a time of wilderness and exile (today on Red Letter Christians). Times of wilderness and exile in scripture are frequently found to be fruitful times in terms of learning and progress made by the community. There is much to be done in our world as the pandemic renders bare so many injustices and inequalities that many of us were not fully aware of. If we allow it, this time of disorientation can lead us not back to normal, but to a reoriented way of engaging with our world so that we can build a more just future together.
In some ways there’s more opportunity to hear different stories and viewpoints because of everything shifting to online. Conferences and trainings might now be more affordable, for example, as they don’t require travel. And while these connections still lack the richness of in-person meeting, they at least partly make up for that with variety. Let us use our exiles to learn about and seek to understand as many different points of view and ways of being in the world as we can. Let us expand our understanding of the struggles and oppression that face our human siblings by virtue of a difference in location, or race, or class, or sexuality, or whatever it may be.
I started this newsletter to answer the question: “What if we used Shalom as a lens for everything?” What if we looked at how the pandemic is making it clear just how far we have to go to live in a just and equitable society and what if we faced all of that and figured out what our part was in making our world better? None of us can do all of it alone, but all of us can do our part--the part that grabs us by the gut and says, this, work on this--and if we all do that to the best of our individual capacities, we can change the world.
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Relief for Beruit
The world was shaken by the horrendous explosion that caused so much grief, bereavement, and injury this week. I looked at who people I trusted were recommending to support financially and saw that Jeff Chu (subscribe to his substack here) is recommending an organization called Preemptive Love. You can support their relief efforts here.
What I’m Reading/Listening to this Week
“Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of our Nation” by John Lewis
Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann
Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God Vol. 1 by Katherine Sonderegger
“Circus” by Kaitlin Shetler
The Way Up is Down by Marlena Graves
Rise of the Truth-Teller by Ashley Abercrombie (Marlena and Ashley are also part of the Global Writers Group so I wasn’t sure where to put these links, lol, but there you go).
Global Writers Group Published Work
I’m part of an awesome group of writers called the Global Writers Group (we have space, you can join us!) sponsered by Freedom Road. Since we started in April, a number of us have had pieces published including the following:
“Where Peace Lives” by Lisa Sharon Harper (our founder and one of four moderaters) in a new interactive story-arc magazine. You can find Lisa’s essay under “Material”
“Hope Out of Breath: On the Lynching of George Floyd” by Deborah Masten
“Can the Church View Disabled Bodies as Jesus’ Body?” by Amy Kenny
“Brace for Impact: Normalizing your Existential Crisis” by Marisa Leal
“The Witness: A Letter from the Angel Oak Tree” by Gigi Khanyezi (video of her performing her powerful poem)
“The Dangers of Adoptees as Blessings” by Sara Easterly