One True Sentence: Remembering RHE

Looking up at my clipboard wall from where I sit at my desk
Looking up at my clipboard wall from where I sit at my desk

One year ago, I was in California. I’d just attended the wedding of a friend the night before, and I’d been visiting with my brother and his family and other old friends, so I’d barely had time to check my phone. The evening of the fourth I scrolled my facebook feed and amid the star wars memes, I saw the news that Rachel Held Evans had died. A loud and involuntary “no!” escaped my lips and startled my brother. “What happened?” he asked. And I tried to inadequately explain why I was so upset over this person who I hadn’t known personally.

I’ve been sitting here this morning, crying over all the posts from her friends remembering her and feeling like I didn’t have the “right” to grieve her in the first place, much less this much now. She wasn’t a friend of mine, after all.

But then I called myself up short. Grief is grief, and if you feel it, you feel it. Sometimes one grief is access to other grief, and I may be feeling this heavy today not just because of Rachel but because of, well, everything right now. Several actual friends of mine have lost relatives to the pandemic.

And gee, I bet Rachel would have some really good words for all of us in the midst of all the strangeness, and all the sadness, and all the disappointment, and all the grief.

Trying to process grief on a plane ride home when you’re trying not to turn into a bawling, snotty mess in front of total strangers is no fun, let me tell you.

The loss of Rachel is first her family’s loss and her friends’ loss, but it is also a loss to all of us. Her voice was and is so needed, and while her words will live on, I’m mad she won’t be writing more of them.

Glennon Doyle tweeted part of her new forward for Searching for Sunday: “Then, she’d turn to us. She’d promise us that the giants of power, fear, and shame could never prevail because they didn’t have truth on their side. Then she’d tell us the truth: That we were made in God’s image, fully loved and fully free, and that we were to use that freedom to free others. We believed her.”

In my grief I asked, “Who will replace her?” And of course the answer is “no one.” Each of us are irreplaceable and each of us has our own voice and our own story. But I also felt the answer was “all of you.” All of us who were touched by her life and her work and her story, especially because she used her story to help all of us get free and if that’s not a mandate to get out and tell our own stories, then I don’t know what is.

Her legacy page on facebook has a picture of her desk, as I can only imagine it was left when she got sick. A haphazard pile of books towers on one side, and papers and more books are scattered amidst a couple of jars holding pens and a mug. Above it hangs a corkboard with notes she’d written to herself. As I studied the picture in the days after her death, one stuck out at me. Across three scraps of paper pinned side-by-side she’d written: “ONE TRUE SENTENCE” in all caps and underlined.

When I created my clipboard wall last fall, I included a graphic I made with those words both as a reminder of her work, and as a mandate. Just try to write one true sentence. Imagine what the world would be if we all tapped into the power of our own stories and figured out how to tell them to each other, one true sentence at a time.

Holy Saturday and Disorientation

Holy Saturday and DisorientationLike many of you, I haven’t left my house in over a month at this point. Unlike many of you, this isn’t the first time. Chronic illness as it turns out is fabulous mental preparation for quarantine and social distancing. It’s funny how the things you most wish hadn’t happened are the things that shape you the most.

We wait this Holy Saturday in a world that is holding its breath in a way that has never happened in my lifetime. Too many things are buried and it’s far easier to identify with the grave right now than with the resurrection to come. We Christians walk through this reenactment each year, but we know the ending. We sit with the loss, but we know exactly how long we have to wait for Easter Sunday. But not this year. This year, Easter arrives and we all stay inside. This year the weight of those lost presses on us and the unknown of when this will end is ever-present as though the smog that has lifted from so many of our cities has moved into our collective psyche.

“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:4-5).

All of our souls are watching and waiting but unlike the morning, there is no predetermined time that will lift us out of the dangers of this night and start a new day. More like the plague of darkness that came onto Egypt that for the average citizen came from nowhere and must have felt interminable, this night is not an ordinary night. If in the order of things the night stands for chaos and the light for order, this plague of darkness represented a “reversal of creation” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). And even though night and day are coming with their normal regularity, in so many ways we are experiencing a collective unmaking.

For some of us this is a completely new experience. For others, it’s another round in a series of unmaking. When one has experienced chronic illness, disability, mental illness, and/or dark nights of the soul, the only way to survive is to sit with the unmaking. The unbecoming.

You see, I haven’t always been sick. Once I was healthy and energetic, but a combination of things gradually chipped away at who I thought I was and what I thought mattered. Chronic illness that came with mental health struggles and a series of crises of faith has given me a lot of practice at unbecoming.

I’m not sure if it gets any easier, but it does become recognizable, and it helps to put a name on the season at the very least. In seminary, one of my Old Testament professors, John Goldingay, led us on a journey through the Psalms, looking at each of them as either a Psalm of orientation, disorientation, or reorientation. This cycle was imprinted in my mind in my early twenties and has helped me remember that our lives–individually and collectively–often match this pattern.

“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord” (Psalm 130:1a BCP)

Psalm 130 is a Psalm of disorientation that moves towards a positive declaration of hope “With him is plenteous redemption.” Not all the Psalms do. Psalm 88 is a notable example ending with “darkness is my only companion.” We humans are always searching for meaning, plugging in answers so that the story is complete. We need a narrative to hold onto and to fit our lives into so that we can tell ourselves that our stories make sense. This can be thought of as orientation. When we are oriented, our narratives fit into the metanarrative, we can make sense of our lives and the world.

But then something happens. Usually it’s not on this scale. Usually the disorientation is personal and limited to a small sphere of influence. In many ways, that makes it ever so much harder. Our world gets turned on its head through a death, a diagnosis, or a loss: of a job, a home, a marriage, our faith. And the world keeps puttering on around us even as our personal world comes to a grinding halt.

It’s like the sunshine that hit Nashville after the flood and after the tornado. The days had no business being that bright and beautiful after such heart-wrenching tragedies had just been wrought by the weather. The least nature could do was look ashamed of itself for a while.

We move through the disorientation that hits our lives and eventually we find a new orientation, a new way to process and make sense. We rejoin the world and shape a new narrative for ourselves about how we fit into everything.

This time it’s different. We are experiencing a collective disorientation. We have been plunged into darkness and we don’t know how long it will last. My hope this holy Saturday is that we sit with our collective unmaking, and as we move toward re-orientation in the days and weeks to come we will make something new of our world. May we make a place where there is justice and space for everyone to thrive.

Something Remains: Maundy Thursday in Pandemic

Something Remains: Maundy Thursday in Pandemic

“On Maundy Thursday we discover that even when everything has been taken away, something remains,” Richard Lister said a few years back. I sit here looking into a strange and isolated Holy Week where much of how we live our lives around the globe has been stripped away. We have entered into a period of waiting, feeling naked in the dark, struggling to find our footing in the midst of isolation and anxiety. Like wood and stone laid bare when the richly embroidered linens are yanked from the altar, we stand here with our basic selves revealed. It feels vulnerable, and cold, and exposed, and painful.

The stripping of the altar in the traditions that include this as part of Maundy Thursday comes after the texts and the liturgy leads us through the steps Jesus took on his last night with his disciples. Stripping himself of his own robe, and taking on the role of the lowest of the slaves, he begins to wash his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-15). Dusty and dirty, tired and sore–and probably more than a little stinky–God-in-the-flesh tends to the flesh of those closest to him in a simple, menial, profound act. He bases the role of leadership and teaching in the duties of a servant, a continual reminder that any interaction with our neighbors is based in service of their basic needs.

Not only do our lives feel stripped down to the bone during this isolation, but the cracks and injustices of our society have had light shined on them, the facades are being stripped away. The ugliness and oppression that has always festered in our system is being exposed in ever more obvious ways to those with eyes to see. For those inherently oppressed by the system these cracks, gaps, and chasms have always been exposed, but to those the system benefits, its design hides the insidiousness in order to perpetuate itself.

Jesus reveals himself to us in the feet washed, the bread broken, and the wine poured out. It is only in service to others and in the sharing of our lives with the intention of meeting the basic needs of our neighbors that we truly imitate the one we claim we follow.

In the liturgy for Maundy Thursday in the Book of Common Prayer, the minister leads the congregation in a call and response as a part of the feet washing. The minister says, “Peace is my last gift to you, my own peace I now leave with you; peace which the world cannot give, I give to you.” And the people respond, “By this shall the world know that you are my disciples: That you have love for one another.” This oft-quote text that the world will know us by our love is perhaps so familiar as to have become opaque. For what is love if it is divorced from sacrifice? What is love if it does not desire the total well-being and thriving of all our neighbors? What is love if it is removed from doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8).

It’s been said that Christians are an Easter people, but the Triduum (The Three Days), leading up to Easter contain some of the most profound truths of our faith. Jesus instituted communion or the eucharist as what we do in remembrance of him. We are called to proclaim his death until he comes. Easter Sunday is often the most crowded in our entire liturgical year. We love to show up with our new outfits and our clean and shiny faces, to put flowers in our crosses and make beautiful an instrument of torture. We proclaim the resurrection and are filled with hope. And that is as it should be, but sitting here, the Thursday before, with our altars stripped, washing the tired and dirty feet of our neighbors, and hearing anew the words of institution, “To proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corintheans 11: 26b), we are invited into a new way of being. If we don’t sit with these truths, we may too easily find ourselves proclaiming a shallow gospel: trying to preach hope without sacrifice and resurrection without death.

This year we face a unique Holy Week. Everything has been taken away. What remains is an opportunity to discover what loving our neighbors completely–loving them enough to fight for shalom for everyone–really means in the context of a society that offers a thin gospel and thin freedoms. For a gospel of resurrection without death, and freedom that isn’t offered to everyone is neither gospel nor freedom.