Hope and Mortality

Lent, fasting, uncertainty, and hope
Lent, fasting, uncertainty, and hope

Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Ash Wednesday is always a sobering occasion, to walk around with a reminder of one’s mortality inscribed–albeit temporarily–on one’s forehead. Ashes suspended in oil cling to my skin and I resist the urge to wipe them away as though I could avoid thinking about reminders of death so easily.

There’s been much social media chatter and headlines this past week around the novel coronavirus that has jumped borders and leaves the entire globe poised for a potential outbreak. The anxiety I sense from some friends and acquaintances is very high, especially as I think many can agree, our government is unprepared in this political moment to organize a response if it becomes needed.

And here we are, as branches of the church that observe Lent, walking around with black smudges on our heads declaring the reality of death for ourselves and any who might see us today.

Where’s the hope in that?

An invitation to a Holy Lent is, as one of the priests at my church, Lissa Smith, preached this afternoon, “a recalibration that leads not only to a Holy Lent but a holy life.” Another pastor friend, Megan Westra, recounted in her Lenten newsletter a near brush with death a family member had recently experienced and what that does to be living in the daily reality of possible impending death.

And yet our lives still need to be lived. Death is the counterpoint, the inevitable period that all of us face and the reality is we have no idea when that period will come. For most of us it will be in old age, but that isn’t guaranteed to any of us. We brush it aside and we ignore it until we can’t.

Or until we go to church in the middle of a dreary gray Wednesday and receive the reminder of our deaths on our forehead so we can walk around like individual sign-acts for the rest of the day announcing that each day is a gift, for tomorrow is promised to none of us.

Gee, Anna, I thought you said you had some hope in the middle of all of this.

And yet I think there is hope in the middle of this. Hope isn’t needed where certainty exists. Where we are certain of things to come, we don’t hope, we know. Hope is needed when the future is uncertain. And hope is here in the imposition of the ashes where they are a sign of both our mortality and a remembrance that we have been given life eternal through Jesus. It is, as Lissa said, “…the reminder that God made me, and God will take me back. It is a reminder that we live, we will die, and we will be resurrected.”

She also pointed out a principle of mindfulness: “That which we practice grows stronger.”
So in the face of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, I think the call to all of us this Lent is to practice hope. And practice as that great spiritual advisor, Pabbi Troll, said in Frozen 2, when it looks like there is no future, all you can do is the next right thing.

Reading any of our history as humans reveals both the beauty that humans are capable of and the brutality. Life on this green and blue globe has never been peaceful nor has it been free of tragedy. All we can do is the next right thing and make our Lenten fast one that is the fast the Lord has chosen: “to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… …to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin” (Is. 58:6-7).

There is freedom in embracing the inevitability of our own mortality and determining to do our best during the one thing we do have some say over–how we live.

Fog and Impeachment

Fog and Impeachment

The day is dark from thick layers of clouds and fog, and as my eight year old runs around outside joyfully he proclaims, “see how beautiful it is today, mom, with all this fog.” The day is dark because the senate acquitted the president on what should have been two no-brainer charges, some of the easiest things that congress could have chosen to impeach him on. I’m glad they took the step to impeach, and yet I can’t help but feel some ambivalence about the fact that it wasn’t the human rights abuses at the border, the children in cages, the asylum seekers deported to face murder, rape, and torture instead of being allowed in for safety. And then, empowered by his impending acquittal at the hands of a party who’ve decided that closing ranks almost unanimously behind someone lacking in any morals, he gives the medal of freedom to one of the most racist and bigoted voices in our country.

And it’s hard for me to see the beauty in that sort of dark day, the fog surrounding my house in a layer of wintery mystery feels very different than the fog surrounding the outcome of his behavior in light of this inevitable acquittal.

I know many of you feel the same.

The thing about fog when you need to get somewhere is there’s nothing to do but take it slow and move forward. You can’t rush in with your high beams on because you’ll decrease the visibility and increase the danger to yourself and those with you. All you can do is make sure you’ve got everyone with you and proceed slowly with determination through the fog. Each step we take the fog clears around us and we can see a little more in front of us.

History is always easier to read sections of when the sections are complete. The war ended, the sickness ceased, people moved on and lived their lives and accomplished things.

It’s harder to live through a difficult section of history not knowing how long it lasts and how it’s going to turnout.

And since we can’t know that, I would argue that the outcome doesn’t matter to our individual actions right now. All we can do is the next right thing (yes, I’m totally quoting Frozen 2, I have little kids and it was a killer song).

I do know that being sucked into the constant news cycle whether online or on television is draining. So turn that off. Anything major, you’ll hear about soon enough anyway. Get up, move your body, and find the next right thing.

I heard the news the vote was in and immediately got up, made a pot of coffee, and danced to La Bamba. Partly because I badly needed to move my body, and partly because the song choice would be an unwelcome one if the powers that be could see me doing it. Then I came in here to write this because I wanted to help give voice to the heaviness, to the uncertainty, to the disappointment, inevitable though it may have been, and to offer my hands, to pull us all together, to walk through the fog.
Now figure out what the next right thing looks like, get together for a rally, go register some voters, reach out to some friends so they know they are not alone, gather your people, check on them. And just take the next step.

What I lost: Ruby Woo Reflection Post 1


I’m still in the process of unpacking what happened during the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage because it was just so much in so little time. So in order to share that adequately with you, I’m going to start with before the pilgrimage. I’ve got some evolving thoughts on radical community and ways we should practice that here in our regular lives–especially as the church–without having to go off and experience it somewhere in as intense a way as a pilgrimage. Or in other words, I’d like to explore what it looks like to bring both the learning/stretching/growing experiences of a pilgrimage and the intentional community piece back and insert it into our regular experiences.

And I have some ideas what that could look like, and one I’m even going to be offering shortly to my local congregation, but I’d like to start a series of blog posts (that knowing me will be interspersed with other reflections as well) beginning with something Lisa Sharon Harper said on one of our prep calls.

In order to bring together 20+ women, most of whom were strangers to each other, we did some prep work via zoom calls the week before the pilgrimage actually began. In the second or third call, Lisa said something to the effect of, “Anything you lose on the pilgrimage, you never really needed.”

And of course I wrote it down, and then forgot about it. It was of note though because one typically thinks of these sorts of experiences as something you do to gain things and not to lose them.

For weeks after I returned, I was hard-pressed to come up with responses other than “It was really great!” when asked about the pilgrimage, and for something that had been touted as so life-changing I think people were surprised I didn’t have more to say. (That and they know me, so they were doubly surprised I didn’t immediately hold forth I think 😉 ).

It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I ran across my pre-pilgrimage notes and re-read that phrase that it struck me that perhaps what I had lost was equal to what I had gained and both contributed to the next phase of growth.

What did I lose, you ask?

I lost some of my anxiety and fearfulness over our current situation because I realized how connected our struggle is to so many struggles that have come before: ours is just the latest chapter. There has always been injustice and there have always been people to fight against injustice. There have always been dark times and there have always been people who banded together with their light to push back the darkness. Connecting our story to the stories that have come before puts so much in perspective. Of course it’s always hard to live through a story because we don’t know what the ending yet will be, though as a Christian, I feel our view of God’s ability to make everything new in the end gives us a hopeful ending arc even though we have no idea what the timeline for that is from our in-time perspective. More on this later, I think it could be its own post.

I lost some of my bad coping mechanisms because they paled so much in comparison to filling a deep need: like retail therapy (what little I could afford), and feeling dissatisfied with things like my trusty 2005 Camry with the oxidizing quarter panels and dent where someone backed into me in a parking lot years ago. Perhaps it’s strange but I just came back grateful for having something to drive, and lost my concern over what other people would think of me based on the condition or age of my car. I’ve also begun a cross-class dialogue circle and it really puts into perspective a lot of things on that front as well, inspiring both gratitude and a desire for economic justice. Also more on that later, it’ll take some processing to figure out what I’ve lost and gained from that, and it’s still ongoing.

I lost concern for the superficial and came back with a desire to figure out how to do some deep connections and intentional community on an ongoing basis. I think it’s something that on the whole we are missing in our society and need to re-engage in order to find our wholeness again. Again, more to come here as I figure out some ways to do this in my own life, but also in the life of communities I engage with, and also see where it’s already taking place and how that’s playing out in different ways in different places.

And I may have come out of the pilgrimage with more questions than answers, but I think that would be the final thing that I’ve discovered I’ve lost so far, and that is a dependence on answers. We all want to come across as having things figured out and put together and in reality none of us have it all figured out and put together. In the US at least, our myth of the self-made person and the ability to somehow pull ourselves up by our boot-straps… which, if I can interject for a second, is frankly silly as it’s physiologically impossible, so that should tell us something about its metaphorical value as well… but this idea that we can pull ourselves up by ourselves without reference to community or anything else I think makes us shy of admitting just how many answers we don’t have.

But we really really need to figure out how to hold the questions sacred, to find the right questions to ask, and then realize that the answers come from community. We were never meant to do any of this by ourselves. That’s one of the main driving factors that brought me back to the church after a dark night of the soul (and yes, that is so another post or series of posts).

So here are the threads that are starting to come together for me after now almost three months to reflect. One month for each day. Probably about right seeing as each day had so much packed into it.