Pastoral Ponderings . . .

Christmas was not going as planned, for the Whos down in Whoville. But it came, “just the same!”  As dear Dr Seuss said. That’s comforting.  That’s gospel.But what if comfort and joy aren’t what we really need? Why not?

Think of any sudden, tragic loss you’ve gone through.Or if you haven’t had one, try and put yourself in the shoes of someone who has.Suicide survivors.  Accidental death next of kin. Sudden traumatic unexpected death of someone know, or someone you heard about. When a 6th grader named Winnie was killed crossing the street by a speeding pick-up truck at the intersection of 1300 South and 2100 East on December 1, that really hit home for us.Soren’s 11, just like Winnie.  So are the oldest of several of our YWCA families.Winnie’s best friend, walking just ahead of her that day, is 11. She watched it happen.Comfort and joy doesn’t fit for Winnie’s family and friends. Yet so many survivors get that message.  It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year, “like the Andy Williams song.And sometimes survivors feel like they have to perform.  Fake it, for the sake of their neighbors’ feelings.Act like everything’s ok.  Just the same as always. But it isn’t and it never will be, ever again.

I think it’s all about how we learn to live with the new reality.How Winnie’s family and friends slowly, painfully, directly, eventually, learn to live into their new reality.How any of us who are survivors, learn what that looks like, and feels like?  If we don’t, that profound trauma isn’t going anywhere.  It’s going to come out like a bear after hibernation.  Hungry.  Trying to survive.

It’s really hard work. I hope to God I never have to do it.  Everyone does.But the worst thing for survivors is to think they have to fake it.  Ignore the Bear.Just get over it.  (As if there can be anything more important in life right now).Owning it.  Talking about it, every day if possible. Being asked “what’s it like for you today?”  Grieving it.  Weeping at unexpected times that are beyond anyone’s understanding.I think those are the foundation of living into the new reality.  Nothing less will do.And nothing more is really needed.Until the road becomes very, very familiar: “This is new.And we’re never going back to the way it was.”

 As a congregation, we’re only now beginning to process and try tounderstand the traumatic experience of the Covid-19 pandemic of ’20-’21. Two and a half years later. What happened? What’s the new reality we’re living in today? All we know is that we can never go back to the way life together was before Covid-19.We look around, and we don’t see the once familiar faces.They’re not coming back.We don’t see the old familiar Sunday School days.We don’t see the old familiar ways of Youth Ministry.We don’t see the old familiar ways of doing Committees, or WELCA.Or the old familiar ways of staffing our Church Office, or Gordon’s pipe organ.

I wonder how many of us feel like “Lazarus at the gate” these days.Having just enough energy to lay at the door of the church?The pandemic and the social changes in its wake have created a new reality for us.We can try and deny it.  Say we can go back to everything the way it was before.Or we can accept what we’ve gone through. Name it.Share what it’s been like, to lose so many old friends, and familiar patterns.

I think the challenge for us is to begin to describe how we’ve been fractured, but not destroyed.  We’re still here.Things look and sound different in many ways.But we’re still here.  God is still here.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well!

I think what we’re given now in 2023 is the opportunity to tell a continuing story.The story of Mount Tabor’s Resilience. How Tabor has changed before, several times, yet still is here.  And about how God is still here.What new narrative do we have as a result of what we’ve learned in the pandemic?What has changed forever, for you?What’s it like for you today, here at Mount Tabor?Who are we grieving?  Who are the people we’ve said good-bye to, and the oneswe didn’t get to say good-bye to?We’re different now than how we were.

I believe Mount Tabor’s narrative is a story of resilience.Certainly from what I’ve heard from your stories of the days when the Synod sent Tony Auer to close down the church, back in the 80’s and how, in spite of everything, that didn’t happen.

It’s true isn’t it? Pastors come and go. But you have found how to care for each other.The compassion we receive from God at our round table, we extend to each other and our neighbors everywhere. That’s just one fundamental value that we share in common here.  Compassion. But compassion is different from co-dependence.Co-dependence means pretending things are one way, but they’re really another.Compassion is accompanying each other into the new reality, the way God does.

Another thing I’ve heard you tell in the stories of Tabor’s resilience is this:“Let’s do this work together.”“If we fail, let’s try something else!”That’s creativity at work! Creativity is fun, exciting, and sometimes scary. But so rewarding! As the Episcopal priest Matthew Fox says, “Creativity is where the Divine and the Human meet!”To me, there’s nothing more exciting in parish ministry than being creative.Because I think that’s modern incarnation:the meaning behind the decorations, lights, and carols.Incarnation through creativity.  Where the Divine and the Human meet!

Nothing was going according to Joseph’s plan either.He and Mary hadn’t even been together, and now it was all happening.  Nothing like he thought it was supposed to be.How could he continue? It was over. The engagement was off. But he didn’t want Mary to be embarrassed, or ashamed.  He would have compassion, but their relationship was over.

It seems like life has a way of showing us how little control we really have.We make our plans, and then life happens, right? I think that’s when we need resilience the most.I like to think of resilience as the child of self-compassion.  Our Synod Spiritual Director at Mount Tabor, Pastor DanaLee Simon, talks about self-compassion all the time.When the plans we’ve made fall apart;when our bodies break down as they will, too often we can believe the lie we can tell ourselves:that God is punishing us, or we aren’t good enough to deserve better.Too often we believe the lie, as Pr. DanaLee says, that we are separate from God.That broken plans and broken bodies are something we should be ashamed of, and that somehow we deserve.                                                                                                                              

But into that lie we can so easily tell ourselves, comes the good news of Emmanuel; of “God With Us”through the people, the friends and neighbors, who bring help and love and walk us back home to ourselves, we creatures that are the very dwelling place of God Most High.Our friends and neighbors. Us, who are the community of grace that is the Body of Christ,help us find resilience we never knew we had; resilience that overcomes adversity, and turns the unexpected into the birthplace of new hope, a new beginning, a new chapter in our storiesof how God is still, truly, With Us.                                    

Angels came to Joseph as he slept.“Don’t give in to your greatest fears” they told him. “Birth plans become birth storiesthat unfold in unexpected ways. And no matter what, God is With You” they said.And surrendering all he planned into God’s hands, Joseph let go and let God, and the birth story of Emmanuel, God’s Holy Gift, began to unfold.

We can do the same thing.Surrender all our plans to the loving will of God.  Seeking, discerning God’s will together, that we may be made resilient in the face of the unexpected, strong for the hard journey to Bethlehem’s stable, and out from our walls into the world like the Magi of Epiphany.      – Pastor David