Pause

Before we formally take a pause with today’s message I need to ask: Has anybody become an expert in living with this pandemic?  We are now five months in.  Surely that is enough time for some expert talent to develop.  I am going to put this week’s cover image on the screen and give all of you time to share any expert tidbits of wisdom and wise coping strategies in the comments section. Here we go…

The view from the pandemic…

In 2014 I began taking daily pictures of a particular spot on my commute to work at Amazon.  This spot is on 300 W  just south of IN-32 which runs between Noblesville and Lebanon.  The first picture I found in my archives from the county road 300 W was from February 14. 

February 14, 2005, 300 W just south of IN-32

I think you can see why I stopped and took a picture.  With full disclosure of my sinful nature I must confess that sometimes I didn’t stop to take a picture.  “But officer, I wasn’t texting I was taking a picture of the beautiful sunrise over the icy fields.”  With Indiana’s change in law where it is now illegal to even have your phone in your hands while in the car I have become more attentive to stopping before picture-snapping.

On July 23 I stopped at a particular spot on 300W for the first time. 

July 23, 2005

A 40 MPH Speed Limit Sign on my right became my marker.  I don’t think I stopped there intentionally as if I had any conscious thought that this would be a great spot to take a picture every morning for the next six to eight months.  Look a little further down the road.  What do you see?  A pair of headlights coming right towards me.  I think I stopped for self-preservation and, in case there was some sort of evidence needed for insurance purposes due to a collision, I took a picture. CYA stuff.  Who knows – God only knows – maybe it would be the very last picture that I ever took if the possible, oncoming accident turned deadly for me.  (As an aside, one learned very quickly to be extra cautious driving to work as the previous 10-hour shift was leaving.  People were so darn out of it and drove with no awareness of the outside world after putting in a shift at Amazon.  I know, because at the end of my 12-hour shift – supervisor hours – I didn’t give an owl’s hoot how straight I drove north along 300 W.)

Day after day I would stop before the 40 mph sign and take a picture.  I did so for eight months never really knowing how or if I would “use” the pictures.  Until today. 

Sixteen pictures out of a couple hundred to use as a metaphor for life in a pandemic.  I certainly did not have THAT in mind, let alone using them as a sermon illustration some sixteen years later as an example of the day after day after day after day of now.

Surely some of us have become experts and perfected our pandemic wardrobes?  Menus and food preparation?  Circulating clothing and laundry?  Let’s see.  I put those shorts on after lunch yesterday.  Or was that two days ago?  Better wash them.  How is it that it feels like I am actually doing more laundry during the last five months than at any other time in my life?  I think the best decision I made was to buy six black t-shirts at the start of this crazy time; all organic materials, safe-dyes, manufactured by human beings – a small and intentional decision on my part to support local economies during this time.  If the shirt is folded than I haven’t worn it.  Put it on.  And it’s really easy for me to tell which black shirts have been previously worn because my dog’s favorite activity is to drag my shirts out of the laundry basket and bring them to her nest on the couch.

So, where in the world am I going with this?  I have no idea other than…to…PAUSE!

Pause.

Where are you now?  Do you know what day it is? Many of us are retired and not seeing much fluctuation in the days’ routine.  Some of us are working from home and…not seeing much fluctuation in the days’ routine.  Even those of us who have returned to a life closer to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, routine-ish?  Where is the “routine” in the midst of the largest three-month drop in economic output our country has ever seen?  Is there “routine” as 150,000 of our neighbors have died from COVID-19?  Will protests or riots or demands or calls for justice become “routine”?  One routine that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic is the inundation of election ads during this time of an election year; those ads would have been nice to have disappeared because of the pandemic.

For all that is going on around us, whether it’s our routine, our lack of a routine, the events of the world, the state of the pandemic, the craziness of different opinions – some scientific and some not-so-scientific – the worry of this parent (and I know that I am not alone) of a child going back to school. 

I think it is helpful to remember that we are all complicit in one way or another for the mess that we all are in.  Biblically speaking, we all took a bite of the apple and, as a result, are removed to some degree – some more removed than others – from the garden of bliss.

Here we are in the real world, a world turned upside down and around and about, needing…a pause…  Which if you think about it is like any other day of our lives, pre-pandemic or now.  Challenges.  To try and NOT get caught up in that first way of being in human community that scripture tells about after humans were removed from the garden of bliss.  Right away, humans got in to trouble.  Cain killed Abel.  Sometimes I think the whole condition of what it means to be human can be found in the second and third chapters of Genesis.  Bliss in the garden.  Bad choice.  Consequences.  Another chance.  Kill your brother and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Consequences.  Another chance.  And that short story, powerful story, plays out over and over again, differently in each of our lives.

Pause. 

Let’s step outside that story for a little longer.  Yes, same road.  Same 40 mph sign.  Different weather conditions.  Different times.  What can WE control?  And, I LOVE these verses from Paul for giving us a focus for this time of pause and also a way of life for each and every day of our lives.

Take care of your bodies.  Constantly renew your minds.  Do NOT be conformed to this world but always transform your minds, your way of thinking so as to discern the will of God.  And do this, take care of your body and renew your mind, for the sake of the larger body of Christ of which we are all a part.

During this pandemic I have switched over from eating a daily banana to eating a daily apple for my body.  I have done this consciously, as a reminder with each bite of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to work for good in some small way each and every day.  And my mind?  My mind has never been more intensely and provocatively renewed as I read the black thinkers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi and Resmaa Menakem and the white thinker Robin Di’Angleo, the black novelists N.K. Jemison and Octavia Butler and the black poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Marilyn Nelson, Claudia Rankine and countless other black poets.  And I do so because a large part of our body is crying out in pain from the bondage of injustice.

Take care of your body today and tomorrow and the next day.
Delight in the transformation that happens when you renew your mind.
And if you’re stuck in small ways or a bunch of big ways, ask for help.  Call me. 

Because as Paul also writes, there is a still more excellent way…

Wonderfully depicted this week on the marquis of the Hamilton County Fairgrounds – and, yes, I did stop the car to take this picture.

Eat ice cream.
Read books.
Be happy.

And with one small adjustment, you can read Paul’s very words…

Eat ice cream. Take care of your body.
Read books. Transform your mind.
Be happy to another person for we are all one body in Christ.

“…so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Will-full, God,
who gives me the ability to discern your will,
is your will singular or plural?
Who is the "you" You are referring to?
For while I may be clear
on what is good and acceptable and perfect,
the plurality of "you",
the second persons plural,
them, those people and the Others,
discern a different good and acceptable and perfect.
Amen.