So I woke up this morning, the day after my siblings and I buried my Mom, feeling odd. Found myself asking, “What do I do now?”
We’ve been laboring along with Mom for many years, seen her decline with dementia, moved her from the only home we have ever known growing up, to navigating through a Godforsaken pandemic that seems to be taking a lot from everybody.
And now that we have given our sacrifice to the gods of who knows what, what do we do now?
So as life would hold, this morning I ran into a church member at the grocery store who extended his heartfelt condolences for Mom’s loss. I guess I needed to hear that. However, over the past few days tons of sympathy cards have rolled into the house. More than what usually comes at Christmas time. They are a reminder that I am not alone. As a part of our conversation, this member shared about losing his Mom when he was 15 and his Dad in his 50’s. But that we never forget about those people in our lives. But their deaths don’t keep us from living a good life that is before us.
So what’s next? Get on with living.
So I bought some flowers for Rebecca (Sunflowers, on sale, for $1.99 a bouquet. She actually got two bouquets!). We also have enjoyed eating our lunch today on our fine Lenox with a glass of wine. Which goes to say: don’t wait, just live, and live life to its fullest.
My Mom gave her three children a great life of strength, adventure, and willingness to allow us to discover our own paths. If I can extend a fraction of that to my kids, well then, I will have done well by Mom.
The loss of a loved one at whatever time in our lives, causes us to reflect on the living and dying in many different ways. Words help to release what gets stuck down inside and need releasing. For others, a long walk or some physical exertion. And thank God for friends and those people who are connected to us who are there to listen, to make the heartfelt expressions of compassion, and for those who just stand back and allow us to bawl our eyes out.
I’m am very fortunate to have Rebecca along my side and our three children we are guiding to become who they are becoming.
We all have different ways we will move into our tomorrows, but we are not alone. In this case, I’m one of Shirley’s kids. She’d be proud. I’m glad she got to my Mom.
I am also called to be your pastor. This year has been a year of loss in many ways. And so, when we begin to add the typical things into life that would have occurred at some point in time, along with the chaos of protecting each other from this virus, it’s so easy to not feel alone. There is a lesson in here for us and I hope we can figure it out. But I do know for certain, that among this cross we bare at this time, we also know a resurrection that follows. I believe this. That after we figure out how to do life again, when we gather for worship and when we sit to watch movies, concerts, and dine at the finest of tables, we will have come to that place that reminds us to live life and to live life to its fullest.
Don’t wait for it. Do so now. Take out the fine tableware, open a favorite beverage, turn on a song and be embraced by the melodies we make with each other.
My love and my prayers to you.
When have we heard this before?
Oh, that all too familiar question bellowed from the back seat from many a child to their parents while traveling on some form of a vacation or to a special event. It seems many modern vehicles are now equipped with drop-down screens for passengers to watch a favorite movie or to play a video game while donning a set of headphones so as not to disrupt anyone else’s riding experience. Gone are the days when impromptu sing-a-longs broke out, made-up games where the license plates on passing cars are used to go thru the alphabet, and God forbid someone notices a Volkswagen Beatle and gives you a “Slug Bug” punch directly to the arm. Oh to have that moment of human connection, when at least someone asked, “Are we there yet?”
While daily statistics are still rattled from the television of who is sick and who has died the question for many of us is, “Are we there yet?” Has the curve flattened or is it still on the climb? Can we let ourselves believe that we have come to the end of a global health crisis that leads us to start-up a back to the way things where before the first Cough was reported? Personally, I wish this were so. But then a sense of caution raises its head and says, “Do you really want to go through something like this again?” I pray, “Dear God, not again.”
As states are being told to take their own steps to social reentry, we can’t get so caught up in the excitement to publicly reconnect with family, friends, and strangers without considering precautions, steps, and potential risks. But it won’t be too long when we begin to ask, “When can we begin meeting for church again?” “Are we there yet?”
As I write this reflection, my heart and my mind tell me, “No, we are not there yet.” However, when we arrive, we will need to be ready to accept different forms and means of functioning from what will be a different norm than the normal we lived within before we first made laughter about virus with a name of popular beer. As we have learned and lived through this ordeal, this has been no laughing matter.
So, if we are not yet there, then, where are we? This is a good question. A cartoon comes to mind with God and the Devil engaged in a conversation. The Devil says to God, “See how this virus has closed all of your churches?” To which, God responds to the Devil, “Yes, but it’s opened a church in every home.”
There will be some lessons to learn from having to adapt to be the church because of COVID 19. One lesson is, “The church will always be the church.” I have been in awe how people of all faiths have found new and old means to be in community and to give thanks to the Divine. Another lesson is seeing how we have been able to reach out to others through online means. From the winter visitors who have joined us for Sunday worship who say, “Don’t leave us when you return to the building,” to the family who gathers in Zimbabwe to hear the Good News from Scottsdale, there is no stopping how we share God’s love that reaches out to others locally and around the world.
Perhaps the big lesson will be an epiphany, “If I felt this alone only for this short amount of time, then what must this be like for the people who experience similar isolation all the time?” The work of the church has not come to a screeching halt, rather, it’s allowed us to ramp up our cause and purpose that calls us to be the hands of Jesus that touch the heart and embrace the soul of everyone.
Are we there yet?
We’re getting closer.
My best to you!
So, I don’t know how you feel about the Holy Spirit, or how the Divine moves among humanity and all things created. But I know this as truth. Every once in a while, I get this idea or tingling that is far more than an impulsive knee-jerk. There is this action that calls me to look beyond myself and my family and to do something for someone that is unknown to me.
Case in point. Last October, my family traveled to a small beachside town on the Oregon coast. There, we fell in love with a family-owned pizza restaurant. Since we were there on the off-season, the two times we partook in dinner allowed us to have the entire place to ourselves. We felt a love that spoke to us, “Come and make our home your home.” In the southwest we say, “Mi casa is Su casa.”
My wife and I hold a fondness for small local businesses. So while on vacation, like back home, we always try to stick to taking our meals at some local establishment. Suffice it to say, we fell in love with our new-found pizza shack alongside the shores of Oregon.
The other night, while looking at locations for our next get-a-way (after this plague is behind us) my wife and I kept returning to the western coast. We love the Pacific coastline, and we love the small communities that make these locations their year-around homes so that they can serve visitors, like us, who search to make lasting memories.
So the other night my wife said, “Hey honey, do you remember that little pizza restaurant we went to in Oregon?”
My response, “Oh I sure do. We ate there two times, and I bought a baseball cap with their logo.”
My wife edged, “I think we should do something for them.”
Curious I poked, “Oh? Do you mean something like the time we bought meals for those two people celebrating the end of their chemo treatments at the restaurant near home?”
She smiled and replied, “Something like that.”
After a quick Google search for a phone number, I picked up the phone and made a call to the pizza place in Oregon. When someone picked up and said the name of the memorable place, we identified ourselves as previous patrons, and we wanted to do something special. “Was there anyone in line placing an order?”
“No, we’re doing a lot of call-in/online orders during this health crisis. And we’re about to close for the night. We’ll be open on Thursday.”
I told them fine, and we’d be calling back. We contacted the owner on social media and again affirmed our desire to do something for some of their customers and would be calling back later. Although a small amount, my wife and I will be committing to pay for some three to four meals.
We’ve experienced this ourselves when someone unknown to us has picked up the tab when out to lunch or dinner. We’ve come to discover this anonymous joy ourselves to return the favor to someone else.
It doesn’t take a world-wide pandemic to become grateful for others to express generosity. This caring act is something we can do all-the-time. But it has come to mind in these days of distancing that we can say thank you to others who go the distance to make us feel special when we least expect it to occur.
Now don’t get us wrong, this is not something we do willy-nilly. This spark of the moment comes from out of nowhere and calls us to be a part of greater flame of hope that goes beyond a means of doing unto others and becomes that glimmer that I believe marks a touch of the creator’s hand.
I thought I’d never be saying this to my wife, who is an accomplished seamstress of many things. To date, she’s always made me my stoles I wear with my robe for worship services. Now it’s all about a swath of material and some elastic she’s found at a local store to keep me from coughing or sneezing beyond my mouth when in public. Well, so be it. “Make me a mask honey, but I want the Spider Man material to make me look cool.”
So we now live in a stay at home, no toilet paper available, time to get another bottle of wine, society. When this whole COVID thing is over we’ll either come out with less than we ever expected or packing an additional twenty pounds from all the food and booze we’ve stocked up on and have eaten or drank throughout our days.
I about lost my mind the other day. I found myself so rapidly trying to prepare for my work that I counted some seven or more computer programs and applications I’ll use to produce a worship service that I pray my congregation will attend via online come Sunday. (God, that was a long sentence!)
THEY NEVER TAUGHT US THAT IN SEMINARY!!!
But the hell with all of that. (Yes, clergy use those words too.)
What I’ve discovered is that beyond the liturgy, beyond the hunting for YouTube hymns with imbedded lyrics so that my peeps can sing along, to the staying in tune with the liturgical season, to the moments when I want to cry, and the fact I get up way too early these days to begin working is all that matters is the sixty minutes of multiple screened images of my congregation being in community with each other.
Oh my God, I sure do miss being with the people you called me to serve in the first place. Now I know what Moses felt when he stood before Pharaoh and demanded, “Let my people go!”
I have no idea what the first Sunday will look like when my congregation will gather after this plague of biblical proportion. But a hug would be nice.
Right now, I’m more occupied with government documents that allow me to keep paying my staff, who hope and pray they keep receiving a paycheck for the work that is demanded behind the scenes these days as we do our work electronically and telephonically.
In the meantime, I demand a mask to cover up all of this minutia.
These days, I’m cooking more, have learned to make bread, and when the day is done, I get to sit on back patio with my wife with a glass of wine as we play some card game that we yell “UNO” to each other. In the meantime, we pray neither one of us gets ill, and for those who can’t sit at a table and drink a glass of wine and play some card game where they get to yell “UNO” to each other.
My life, these days, is about reaching out to my congregation through telephone (that aged-old device) and this new thing called ZOOM where we gather on our computer screens and see a headshot of other as we engage in business, care, and worship.
I know we’ll get through this thing, but it’ll take a while.
In the meantime, I’ll ask my wife to make me a mask so that I can go out in public to get some food, hope I find some toilet paper, and to bring home a bottle of wine.
I’ve been awake way too early these days, but I’ve at least had a moment to reflect, and to know, that I’m not alone.
Thanks for being present.
I miss you.
So by now, the phrase “Social Distancing” has become a part of our daily vernacular.
This means in some circumstances, keeping a distance of several feet between you and the next person. Social Distancing may even mean functioning in a stay-at-home environment where the kitchen table has been converted into a make-shift version of one’s office. My sister and nephew both work for Verizon. Their dining room table is an image of spaghetti-ed cords and multiple computer screens as they continue to provide service for the customers that are electronically funneled into their home from the corporate office.
The Rennick home has become an outpost of the Attorney General’s Office to accommodate Rebecca’s work along with an extended office of mission for this United Methodist Pastor. I pretend not to listen-in to Rebecca’s court proceedings via telephone while I continue running ministry from the back patio where I attend meetings and conduct worship services. In the meantime, the day also includes a mix of playing board games, watching the latest Disney Classics, and providing loving care and direction for our two-year-old.
Welcome to our new norm or as some call it, the “new future.”
Until recently, my greatest concern was the separation of the United Methodist Church. Today, it’s more about providing care and hope for the survival of the human race. (I know that sounds a bit harsh.) But so it seems to be what many of us clergy-types are doing these days: navigating care and hope amid the winding roads of fear, concern, and hope that our meager supply of toilet paper lasts into next week. Our hope and prayer is we can sweat-out this health crisis and come out a better people. In the meantime, we start to question an annoying cough that keeps lingering from one day into the next. I keep blaming the blossoming lemon tree in the backyard. That’s all this is right; another season of bad allergies?
Jesus of Nazareth had socially distanced himself from the death of his dear friend, Lazarus. Some four days earlier, he had received news that Lazarus had become ill. Upon his arrival in Bethany, Jesus is greeted by a grieving and frustrated family member of Lazarus. Lazarus’ sister expresses that her brother may still be alive if Jesus would have shown up a few days earlier when he got the news of her ill-fated brother. The writer of this biblical account would lead us to see this as a moment in Jesus’ narrative to point toward his own death and resurrection. To this extent Jesus then says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus then goes to the tomb of his friend where he prays and commands life over death and so goes the miracle, “Lazarus comes forth!”
The fear of illness and death surrounds much of our thoughts these days. It doesn’t help that news stories from the television and social media continue to fan this flurried frenzy. But one can’t help the desire to be in the know as we look for answers to the question, “What’s next?”
What’s next? Jesus says what’s next is life! It’s always about life. The life that is before us each day, the life that is before us now, and the life that is to come tomorrow. As we look past the “what ifs” that drain us more than feed us, we discover a joy that is before us: in family, in serving others, and in us. Social Distancing is an oxymoron. We are a social people and the more we are held apart, the greater we will desire to be together.
I encourage you to look and to discover the new and different, and in some cases old ways, to connect with other people and with your loved ones. Pick up the phone, write a letter, facetime over the computer, embrace those whom you are held up with in your home. You see, we too, are the resurrection and the life that Jesus speaks about. Rise forth into the new day that is before you. Awaken into today. Today is your Easter too!