Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Sustenance of Community

Moment of confession: I’m not doing as well as I wish I were. Now, I am sure I’m no different than most, but just because I’m a pastor doesn’t mean I can’t be honest and vulnerable about the fact that this seemingly-unending season of Covid has taken a massive toll on my body, mind, and Spirit. 

It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It’s saddening. It’s different. It’s disorienting. And it just won’t stop.

And the fact that there’s no definitive line on the horizon and we don’t really know how long before things will return to “normal” has just added to my struggle during this time. There’s indecision and doubt personally—tough decisions about school and work and family and vacations and holidays—but there’s also indecision and doubt professionally and pastorally—tough decisions about what we should be doing and how to keep people safe and how much we should be moving forward into new dreams and ideas.

And when you combine the existential exhaustion with the potentially-crippling indecision and disorientation, that makes for a nasty concoction. I covet your prayers.

But as I’ve processed why, despite all that we currently face, my spirit hasn’t ultimately been broken, I think it all boils down to the blessed community in my life. What has sustained me amidst this earth-shaking season? I think it ultimately comes down to having people in my life that can help shoulder the burden and lighten the load during this weird time. My family. Our church family. Our dear friends. All a blessing and encouragement to me during this rough moment.

Community is what sustains. We need each other. We can’t do this alone. And I’m so grateful to have a support system with which to weather this storm. 

So, let’s start by giving thanks for the beautiful network that is gathered around us during this time. But let’s also not neglect the power and strength of our community right now. Let’s be vulnerable with one another. Let’s be willing to tell each other our struggles. Let’s not put on a brave face and just grin and bear this rough patch. Let’s commit to helping and being helped. On your good days, find someone else to encourage and assist. But on your bad days, be willing to own the struggle and ask for help. Because we’re all fighting a great battle right now and we could really use one another, more than ever. Let your community sustain you through this time.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Unknown Enemy

“An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard.”

The origin of that quote is slightly ambiguous*, but I’ve been thinking about those words a lot recently. I don’t think of myself as someone who has enemies, but I certainly don’t struggle to find people I disagree with, am annoyed by, or dislike. I don’t (usually) treat them badly, but I also don’t always engage them with love, hospitality, and a desire for relationship. It’s a character flaw that I constantly work on.

And this unhelpful attitude resurfaced a few weeks ago. 

Many of you know that I play basketball a few times a week and we have a pretty set group of regulars that normally attend. But, being a college town, with each new school year we often see a few new players arrive at the gym. And one of those newcomers has been driving me crazy. 

He’s good—don’t get me wrong—but he’s not as good as he thinks he is. He rarely passes the ball, he shoots way too much, and he’s generally not fun to have on your team. When on his team, I often find myself checking out of any possession that ends up in his hands, knowing that any effort at getting open will be an exercise in futility. And (moment of confession) it even got so frustrating one day that I found myself subconsciously shouting out, “Pass the ball!” 

That’s not good. That’s not kind. That’s not pastoral. And something needed to change.

But that’s where this original quote comes back into play. I realized that the one thing I could change in this scenario was not the other guy, but myself. I had made him an enemy, but I didn’t even know him. I hadn’t taken the time to ask him questions, hear about his life, and make him feel welcomed into our little community of amateur hoopers.

And now that I have, it’s a whole lot harder to treat him as an enemy. I know where he’s from and what his family did for a living. I know what’s he’s studying at MSU and what he wants to do with his life. And while there’s still plenty of relationship-building to be done, just the little amount of time I have invested in hearing his story and starting to know him as a person has diffused my anger and turned him from an enemy to a potential friend. At the very least, he’s no longer a monster and finally a person.

I fervently believe this idea: that ‘an enemy is a person whose story we haven’t heard.’ So, in our quest to live and love more like Jesus, who constantly taught and consistently lived an ethic of enemy love, let’s start our enemy-loving-endeavors by simply getting to know them and hearing their stories. It’s a radical posture in a world that loves to create enemies out of one another, but let’s welcome this radical invitation to hear, know, and love our enemies.

*some call this quote an old Jewish saying, while others contribute it to Gene Knudson Hoffman (a Quaker Peace Activist)