Where We Are
After barely a few months of hearing about Coronavirus elsewhere... the stories have begun pouring in about us -- from communities around the US. Some engulfed in crisis, others still somewhat unconcerned. And we all know it's just the beginning.
In the face of a very serious disease and its economic aftermath, we can better understand the subtitle to the 2011 movie Contagion: Nothing Spreads Like Fear. The stories you and I have heard this week--whether first-hand, watched, or read--are simply unprecedented. We have no mental models for this... none of us has "been here."
And in terms of what people in our communities are thinking, feeling, needing… the general emotional response to each worsening headline, statistic, and experience with others is just that: FEAR. Fears about disease, fears about financial catastrophe, fears about our loved ones; fears of what our country and our world might become.
Fear, I might add, is not inherently wrong or evil. It’s a very useful and valuable human emotion. It can serve us well. Proverbs 22:3 reminds us “A prudent person with insight foresees danger coming and prepares himself for it. But the senseless rush blindly forward and suffer the consequences” (Passion Translation). Right now, there are many kinds of very real dangers. We are all seeking wisdom in order to be prepared.
To a person, your congregation is absolutely experiencing both the fears of what might happen, and the painful reality of what has happened to themselves or others. (Perhaps some remain in denial, but even that is declining as the evidence of large-scale losses pours in.)
We are collectively grieving global losses. Grieving the close-at-hand losses: weddings cancelled, funerals attended virtually, jobs evaporating, local businesses shuttering, and the general loss of confidence in a future.
That’s one place where you, pastor, can really step into these current events and provide both help and hope.
Where We Can Be
One message that remains as true during a pandemic as it is in less threatening times is this: the Kingdom of God is a present reality… as available as the air we breathe… and as we “enter” it, accessing it through the person and example of Jesus, we can operate amidst many dangers, toils and snares with an energy marked by the energy of that Kingdom. We can learn to place our confidence in Jesus, and in the availability of that Kingdom.
This is no simple-minded ignoring or denial: We can absolutely live in the midst of our circumstances, exercising wisdom and experiencing the full range of related emotions; taking action and making plans…. AND at the same time receive our life and strength moment by moment from another source. Directly from God.
Learning this vision of receiving life from God moment by moment is precisely where you can help your people as you guide them into the way of Jesus. Help them learn how to anchor deeply to the real-time presence of God, right here… right now. As you are working to alleviate suffering in your community… as you are working to spin up new ways to use your facility or direct your resources… please also lift our imagination to God’s Presence; his GRACE “God’s action in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own.” (Dallas Willard's definition)
It may sound like heresy for me to write this, but at this time, we don't really need to learn more about God or about the Bible. We need to learn to connect to God. And you can help us.
On the verge of Easter, it’s important to remember Christmas: God is with us.
So how can you help your people as they--and you--navigate the emotional realities of these next few weeks?
I urge you…. As never before… prioritize teaching your people how to be with God. How to connect in real-time to God’s presence with them. How to depend on God like they depend on oxygen. In an age of anxiety and runaway thoughts… teach them to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (Mindfulness defined!) What does that look like in Des Moines? Memphis? Boise? Boston? LA? Help us learn. Be super practical.
As they connect with God -- right here, right now -- God’s grace towards them… God’s power and life and energy will flow through that connection and like electricity empower you and your people to navigate these unprecedented times with the counter-cultural energies of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.
If there is any force, any wisdom, any energy to get through this time, it will certainly be through a people marked by these qualities. These are the people who, on mission, will roll up their sleeves, invent new supply chains, innovate around generosity, healthcare, economic strategy, and how to be good neighbors. And a thousand other things.
You and they will feel fear. Of course. You and they will experience loss and grief. Certainly. But they can press on in grace, and so can you.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The unseen is current and real, just as the seen. Anchor there.