Reflections on a Pandemic 9: Protests and Plagues of the heart

What do riots and protests have to do with a pandemic? Quite a lot apparently.

 

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What does systemic racism have to do with me? Apparently also quite a lot.

I didn’t want to write about this.  I didn’t think it was “my” issue. I count people of various skin colours amongst my friends. I live on the West Coast of Canada. We have a large South Asian population, but until recently, few black people lived here. Minorities didn’t seem to be experiencing much racism or so I ignorantly thought.  Indigenous people? For a long time, I thought—and I cringe to admit this,  in a country like Canada, surely they could rise above victimhood. Couldn’t they?

I also reasoned, there are so many other “issues:” the death of unborn children, child slavery, human trafficking. In terms of other black people in the world, Nigerian Christians are experiencing terrible persecution. Their lives also matter.  Plus, George Floyd’s life was complicated. (Though don’t get me wrong here, his death was not complicated.)

The rioting, looting and general anarchy that followed the events of that murder put me off. Protesting during a pandemic when we are supposed to be keeping apart, ignores the health of other vulnerable people around us. Even though there might be merit in the ideas behind it, I don’t agree with the slogan “defund the police.” It sounds like people are trying to get rid of the law and order that Western civilisation is built on. When the populace is willing to follow the moral consensus required for democracy, it is the best system of government. If you don’t believe me, take a look at history and at government in other parts of the world. Talk to people who have lived under dictatorships and communism. Or read my novel, based on true events.

Rioting and marching is newsworthy, but while these events draw attention to issues and might eventually affect external change, they don’t change the root cause of discrimination and racism.

Protesting will not change people’s hearts, for that is where racism begins, and the only place that it can end.

What began to change it for me is the power of story.

Last year I worked with marginalised women, many of whom were indigenous. Much of my job involved just listening, without judgement, to women who had suffered. I often found myself interjecting, “really?” or “why didn’t you?…”  One of the hardest things was to convince minority women to go to the police and report the crimes that had happened to them. The laundry list included offences such as these: assault, sexual assault, rape, sex trafficking and unlawful confinement.

The first time I saw the shrug and heard the “police don’t do anything,” I thought it was just personal defeat. I could not fathom that the RCMP or the city police—many of whom are wonderful by the way, would not pay serious attention to these women. I didn’t get it, but the more I listened, the more I observed a pattern to their stories. I could no longer be naive. A lifetime of trauma and abuse, both inside and outside their communities, was often followed by either indifference or hostility by social services and multiple levels of the legal system.

Discrimination was their true, lived experience.  As hard as it was for me to initially believe, systemic racism exists, here in Canada. To fight a system that is simply against you, is terribly difficult, if not impossible.

Yes, we got rid of residential schools. No, we did not get rid of racism. The same is true in the US. Segregation laws are officially gone, but racism still exists. Why?

Because hearts did not change.

I begin to understand why people march. People are angry enough to make the rest of the world take notice and it gets headlines. But noticing will not change anyone.

Instead, I believe it is the power of story that will move people hearts. Tipping me over the edge to write this was a Facebook post from a man I once met. He is a talented musician, a man of faith with a friendly demeanour. He shared his story of growing up as a black man in Canada. He first heard the “n” word at age six. As a college student, he was injured by beer bottles thrown at his head. He was pulled over by police for a minor infraction and had his entire car searched. These are just a few of the incidents that mark his life here. Even people who wouldn’t consider themselves racist have made stereotypical hurtful remarks.

His story leaves me to wonder if I have done the same to others. Actually I don’t need to wonder, I just need to apologise for things I’ve said and wrongly thought.

What is it that causes the virus of racism?

It is not the actions of police pulling people over based on race or beating black people until they die. It is not the signs of “Coloured only” that existed before Civil rights. It is not the drunken slurs of young white men hurling bottles or white officers asphyxiating a black man. Nor is it a political system or a legal system. These are only the symptoms of the virus of racism and not the root cause.

Racism, like all sins, comes from a dark place in the heart.

A place in the heart that separates “me” from “them.” A plague in the heart that makes judgements based on outward appearances and values my rights over the rights of others. Racism is nothing new.

The Apostle Paul addressed it in the first century like this:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
   ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  Romans 3:10-18

The thoughts, words and actions of racism are described here. Interestingly, this passage also describes the actions of looters and rioters. We all have this plague of sin and stand guilty of something.  I do. You do.

Paul goes on to say in verse 19, that through the law comes the knowledge of sin. As with all problems, we must acknowledge our part in it before we can change.

King David is an example. He had an affair with Bathsheba and got her pregnant. First he tried to cover it up. When that didn’t work he murdered her husband. Blood was on his hands, but he refused to admit his sin, until a prophet named Nathan told him a story.  (2 Samuel 12) The little parable Nathan told might have initially seemed innocuous to David. A poor man had a single pet lamb. Another man had lots of sheep, but when he needed to serve a meal to a visitor, he killed the first man’s pet instead of one of his own sheep. At hearing the story, David was incensed at the wealthy man who had killed the only lamb of the other man. It was at the moment that Nathan confronted David with his own sin and David was able to see himself in the story.

Stories have the power to change hearts.

So, dear black, brown and indigenous brothers and sisters, please tell us your stories. Like David, the rest of us need to look for ourselves in that story —whether we are the ones who have purposely hurt you or have acted thoughtlessly. We have been naïve way too long.

Perhaps, we will become just a little less ignorant of the ways you have suffered. Even better, maybe we will begin to repent of our offences and slow the spread of this insidious disease.

Tell us, I think we finally have time to listen.

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Reflections on a Pandemic 8: A new thing

IMG_20200426_161209253_HDRFor those who are wondering, our “Covication” was mostly a success, except for the time or two I got sucked into the internet. Yeah, that happens. But I also finished a book and a puzzle and brushed up on German in Duolingo. (FYI, my German grammar is still hopeless). I read Robert Munsch’s classic,  Love you Forever to my grandson on a video call.  Not cooking for most of the week was great as we enjoyed some delicious takeout food.

We took a bike ride along the Allouette River—a spot that we had never been to even though it is a short drive from home. Living where we do, it takes a lot to impress me, but I was truly in wonder at the way rugged mountains and brooding clouds contrasted with the placid river and fields along the dike. I felt awake and in the moment.

What new things have you tried that have brought you to a stunning vista? Have you had the time and energy to try drawing, painting, singing, learning to play an instrument or speak a new language? Have you reached out and made a new connection?

Zoom is another thing that is new to many of us. Meeting virtually reminds me of going through the wardrobe into Narnia. I can go from my den to someone else’s living room in a nano second and be in several other houses at the time. With breakout rooms you can be jolted from one realm to another just like that. Imagine explaining that to your great-grandmother! She would have thought you were off your rocker.

We are starting to see some light at the end of this long tunnel, but even if restrictions are lifted, life will not be going back to “normal” as we knew it before.  It will be a new and different world. So maybe it is time to see the light IN the tunnel. Even though people played a big part in making this pandemic what it is, I believe God is doing something new here.

Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

Are you looking for a new thing? If so, take a look at your spiritual life. As we speak, the Bible app is being downloaded every second–  At this writing over 424, 238, 900 downloads. If you have never read it, choose an easy to read version to start—The New Living Bible (NLT) or the New English Translation (NET).  Ask God to reveal himself to you. Ask him to do a “new thing” in your heart and life.

If you haven’t been to church in a long time, there is no time like the present to “visit” the assembly of your choice via Livestream. More good preaching is online than ever before in history. Just don’t expect a handshake at the door, because who knows when that will happen again!

We have seen huge changes for the church. Will this be the death of the “mega churches” many of us attend in the 21st century?” It might look like a wilderness, but God will make a new way. Perhaps we will go back to how first century believers met—in small groups throughout their cities, with virtual gatherings as our catacombs. In a way, I am excited to see what God will do through this. His church will continue until the end, whatever that looks like.

God will do a NEW thing and starting with me and you. Watch how he is working  in others and his church. Let his Spirit work in you. You will find something new.

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Reflections on a Pandemic 7: Covication for 3

#Covication. I thought I was inventing a new word, but apparently someone on Twitter beat me to it. Honestly, since social isolation became mandated, I really didn’t get how people seemed to have so much time on their hands to create music, make silly videos and even get bored. Maybe it is because, as I have mentioned that many of my commitments have remained similar: Bible Study Fellowship has  gone online, along with other things I am involved in. With the little extra time I’ve had, I organised a few things, planted stuff and wrote some, but haven’t really felt relaxed, much less bored. In fact, I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed.

As I wrote in my last blog, I don’t want to zone out until this is all over, but along with my husband, myself and our daughter, we decided it was time for a vacation.

covication Usually, of course, that would mean going somewhere, however our trailer is sitting idle in the yard and flying anywhere is also out of the question. One of our favourite vacations has always been family camp at Sunnybrae. If you have a family and you’ve never tried family camp, I ask what is not to like? Meals are made and cleaned up for you. For a portion of the day, kids are in the care of willing young adults. Worship and Bible teaching take place outside under towering trees. Fellowship with others is built in and I love to catch up with others who have also attended year after year as well as make new friends. Even though our family is grown now, last year we even attended a family camp without our kids, this time at Green Bay.

Well, none of this kind of R & R will be happening this year, so we decided to make our own version– “Scottybrae.” Mornings we start with a worship song or video then a  Bible teaching or sermon. We started off with Ravi Zacharias.

After lunch, we will just do whatever relaxing activity we feel like. While this might seem normal to others, I always seem to be striving to get something done, even when I don’t feel well, so in this, I am giving myself permission to just stop and Sabbath for a few days. I will work on a puzzle, read, play piano, whatever.

The only “whatever” I won’t do during this few days is watch the news as my husband has told me “No news.” Ouch. I am a bit of a news junkie, but after a while, too much adds actual stress, especially when it is things we can’t do anything about.

Each day will also include a walk or other physical activity, because I will not be cooking. Most of the surviving restaurants are doing take-out and I’ll be happy to support them for a few days. Last night was Greek food, Mmm, and there is enough left for tonight too.

So this vacation has the purpose, as all good vacations should, of restoration of mind and body. Even Jesus did this at times  and it should not be a difficult thing for me to imitate. When it is over, my hope is for renewed energy and focus, even in this stressful time.

See you when we get back!

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Reflections on a Pandemic: Wake me up when it’s over?

Lately, this catchy tune has captured my sentiment: “Wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser and I’m older” A month into this isolation business and I’m about ready to move on.

brown tabby cat on gray concrete surface

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Sometimes life is hard. I struggle with is chronic pain and migraines which affect my thinking ability. Great for a writer, eh? In addition to prayers, I have tried dozens of practitioners, exercises and supplements with limited success. About the only thing that seems to be helping is getting older. Yeah.

Enter Covid-19, a nasty virus requiring we cancel regular life. Hmm. Well that has given me a little time to catch up on things that needed doing. A bit of a blessing at first, but the novelty has worn off.  I want to see my friends, have a proper visit with family and go out for dinner. Dr. Bonnie’s advice is to stick with the program, but I’m almost ready to throw my lot in with the #endlockdownnow folk.

Or just zone out, stay in my PJ’s everyday, watch movies and scroll through Twitter. No judgement here please– some days will be like that, I’m sure for you as well. Mind-numbing stuff and R & R does have its place– see my post on Sabbath.

Can you just wake me when its over? In the song, Avicii wants to be woken when he’s wiser, when he’s older.

But old wine isn’t always fine wine.  And just because we get older doesn’t mean wisdom is automatically included. In order to get wise, one has to pay attention along life’s journey and embrace the opportunity of here and now. That requires being awake now and not waiting until later.

In spite of the fact that humanity is largely responsible for where we find ourselves, God has all of us exactly where he wants us— in a moment of peace, oddly coupled with desperation and fear. Will I use these moments to pray for and show kindness to others? Will I rely on God’s wisdom with what I need to and don’t need to do right now?

I appreciate Avicii’s sentiment. I really do. Sleeping through all this is tempting. Pandemics, pain, grief and isolation is not what any of us would choose to live through. I’d rather just close my eyes and numb my heart and mind for however long it takes for “normal” to return.

But pain has a way of changing us if we let it. Sadly, the writer of this song, Avicii took his own life. “Older and wiser” never became his reality. I wish I could tell him he didn’t need to carry all the weight of the world himself. Neither do we. God is doing that for us and he will grant us wisdom, meaning and peace if only we stay awake.

 

 

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Reflections on a Pandemic 5: Sabbath anyone?

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Our present circumstance has made me think about Sabbath rest. I grew up with a strong sense of Sabbath.* Sundays were about God and three things:

God and church, God and fellowship and God and rest. How this played out Sunday mornings, was we would all put on our “Sunday best,” shine our leather shoes with shoe polish (preferable if done the night before) and head out to Sunday school and church. Those who were involved with teaching Sunday school, counting the offering, providing the flowers, or singing in the choir, might have to go a bit ahead of the others to do their service.

Sunday dinner followed—usually with family or people from church at our house or theirs. My Mom would often put a large roast in the oven along with a pan of scalloped potatoes and three hours later, when we arrived home, it would be done. Or, overdone but still edible. Occasionally we would go to a restaurant.

On Sunday afternoons that we didn’t go out or have company, that was nap time. For Mom and Dad anyway. They had worked hard all week in the family automotive business and needed the rest. My brothers and I would just do whatever, read, play, hang out in our big backyard or round up some other kids for a pick-up game of softball or cherry (as long as it wasn’t an official team game). At 6:00 Sunday evening after a simple supper, we watched the Walt Disney show, but just before the episode wrapped up around 6:45, we were out the door to evening service. Leaving before the show finished was NOT my favourite part of Sunday!

If you are as old or older than myself you may also remember the “Lord’s day act.” In Canada that was essentially a ban on Sunday shopping and commercial activities. Exempted were drug stores, restaurants and gas stations. Over time, in the interest of competition for Almighty Dollar, (under the guise of freedom of conscience or whatever in the new constitution) “drugstores” got bigger and grocery stores got in the drugstore business. Eventually the Lord’s day act was struck down.

Life changed. Now almost everyone shops on Sundays and does whatever else they feel like— that is if they are not working, feeling like they have to work or running around to their child’s organised sports. Church is usually down to one service and less people attend regularly.

But are we really better for it? I would argue a resounding NO. When God instituted the law of Sabbath, he knew we needed rest. Our bodies and minds need it. Our families need to be together without all the distractions of busyness. And our souls need the stillness of Sabbath to celebrate the presence of God. Theologians may argue, “Jesus is our Sabbath,” because we no longer have to strive under the burden of the Law.  While that is true, I still think actual Sabbath is a good thing and a practice that we have missed out on.

When we were in Israel two years ago, we spent a Friday evening at the plaza outside the Western wall. Hundreds of Jews celebrated together, dancing and singing in circles or praying at the wall. To them, Sabbath is a celebration, a blessing instituted by God.

What if the world had honoured Sabbath on a regular basis? What if for one day we didn’t feel the need to go everywhere and do everything?

That day has unexpectedly arrived for many of us.  Unless you are one of a few essential professions, nothing much is happening. Sabbath is every day! My Bible study, our church life group, writer’s meeting, and the Easter choir I just joined, have either gone online or won’t be happening for the foreseeable future. Dinner plans with friends, a cousin’s wedding and a conference I was looking forward to are all casualties of Covid19. Funerals are cancelled. Birthday parties are online. Summer vacation might be even be cancelled.

Everyone is at HOME or maybe out for a “social distance” walk. What is this quiet, gentle world we have entered? The sky seems brighter with the break from pollutants.

It is difficult to appreciate all this new coronavirus has brought us. I am not a fan of social isolation and uncertainty. I miss seeing family and friends. I miss gathering for church. The thought of losing loved ones is terrible.

But in the challenges we all face, let’s embrace the blessing of Sabbath, as long as it lasts.

 

*In this post, I refer to Sabbath, as a rest day, whether Sunday, Saturday or another day. In this post, it is the principle of rest from the regular routine of work that is important.

 

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Reflections on a Pandemic 4: We have met the enemy…

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A few days ago, my young adult daughter rushed into the room to show me a verse she had read.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

Certainly, I had read this verse before, but she had observed a few things: no rain—that would be Australia this past year, locusts: in full force in Africa, the plague: even my preschool grandson can name the coronavirus. The other thing that stood out: “If MY PEOPLE”—that is God’s people, will humble themselves, PRAY and turn from OUR wicked ways, he will forgive our sin and heal our land.

While we can all identify with garden variety sins— you know, the ones that we all commit: greed, anger, sloth, envy, lust and sins of omission, you might wonder, what on earth does sin have to do with a biological pathogen, a virus? Quite a lot actually.

We can choose to acknowledge and serve the God who created the universe. Or not. Generally, humankind has taken the “or not” option, and repeatedly made choices with devastating consequences. A surprising amount of human suffering is caused directly or indirectly by—other humans.

I believe the current pandemic is no exception to this rule. The dominant theory is that Covid 19, like many other viruses transmitted from animal to human, began with poor hygienic practices in the care and butchering of animals. Millennia before people knew what a germ was and how disease spread, Levitical law spelled out protocols regarding certain animals and also dead bodies. Even today, there are very particular rules around slaughterhouses and how to avoid diseases from animals.

Whether by lack of integrity or a desire for expediency, people chose to disregard acceptable hygiene practices. And so, a deadly coronavirus was unleashed in China. But, before the disease ran rampant, opthamologist, Li Wenliang informed his colleagues that they should take precautions. Perhaps they could have contained it. Nope. The communist authorities detained him for rumour mongering and “disrupting the social order.” Ironically, the social order all over the world has now been disrupted almost beyond recognition.

From there, it goes on. A series of failures by other government leaders to pay heed about what was happening, further let loose what was to become a pandemic. Even as the death toll soared in China, other leaders led with arrogant optimism, rather than wisdom. When they finally adopted measures to curb the spread, it was too little, too late.  Because of lapses in human judgement thousands are dead.

It would be convenient to just scapegoat a few government leaders, but no. Around the world, even when social distance measures were brought in and rates of disease in Europe had skyrocketed, health edicts were ignored. We’ve seen the videos: Picnics on the beach, backyard weddings. And notably, a “pastor” who encouraged his congregation to meet in spite of social distancing directives. Guess he neglected to read Romans 13. And there was the selfish panic buying of hand sanitiser, masks and toilet paper, leaving vulnerable people and health care workers empty-handed and at risk.

But, lest we think it is just “those other silly people,” even behaviours as innocent as going to work with a “cold,”  or being a bit too busy to wash hands properly, or having a quick visit in someone’s home, have carried on well into the pandemic, by people we know or perhaps ourselves. It is easy for any of us to miss the mark, when the merest bit of thoughtlessness can mean contagion.

The good news? In spite of our gross failure to do the right thing every time, God still loves us. He hurts, even as we hurt when a child makes a poor choice. He asks this of us. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

As a human race, we have failed. But as God’s people we know what to do. Humble ourselves, repent and call on God. Will we do it? Will we also remember to show mercy to others to others at this time?  (Micah 6:8)

The enemy? He is us, but it is not too late to change sides.

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Reflections on a Pandemic 3: Thanksgiving in a time of Coronavirus

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Listening to the news and watching my social media feed, my first tendency is to react with fear, but it has occurred to me that instead, I need to give thanks for my many blessings.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Is that difficult? You bet.

Social isolation may seem like a wilderness. I am reminded of the Israel’s 40 year sojourn in the desert. God, in the form of a pillar of fire and cloud, led the way, feeding them manna and quail and miraculously providing water. What they didn’t have was the right attitude. “We want to go back to Egypt” they said. Egypt was where they had been enslaved. They wanted a new leader. They had little to no trust in God and whatever gratitude they showed for his miraculous provision, was short-lived. God was not impressed at their constant complaints.

Not that we are expected to give thanks for a nasty and disruptive virus. We are certainly invited to call on God in times of trouble,  but even when we are struggling, we can find something to be thankful for.

Personally, I was grateful to get a package of toilet paper before the shelves were completely emptied!  Next, I am thankful for the space our house and yard affords—enough that my husband, myself and our daughter don’t have to be in each other’s faces. To be honest, I have not always felt thankful for the constant maintenance required of our acre and 30+ year old house, but it is not only extra living space when the weather is

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The house shows pretty good from this camera angle

good, but a place to putter around in; an ongoing project that could keep us occupied indefinitely. 

My husband is retired with a pension we can live on for the time being. He, being less of an extrovert than I, is quite content to hang out with his bees in the backyard, clearing brush and preparing more hives. We can plant more vegetables if leaner times are ahead. Recently we have had mostly sunny weather and can easily get to three beautiful regional parks for a walk–several feet apart of course. Technology has moved our Sunday church service into our family room. I’m up for going to church in my pajamas! Also, it just so happens that a few weeks ago, not knowing what was ahead, we purchased a comfy “new to us” recliner couch to watch from. We can keep in touch with others through social media and telephone. I’m thankful to live in a country with free medical care, should I need it.

Most importantly,  I am thankful for knowing who holds the future.

Whatever speculations or ideas I may come up with as to what this all means, doesn’t matter, because God knows all. He sees all, is present at all times and places and has the ultimate power and authority over all. My job is to worship Him and be thankful, in all circumstances.

How about you? What can you be thankful for? I invite your participation in the comments.

 

 

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Reflections on a Pandemic 2: Peace anyone?

Peace Anyone?

blue sky clear sky cold fog

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Like many of you I have concerns about Covid19. My husband has had pneumonia twice in the past. Will he get it again? Like most mothers I worry about my children. One son is a pilot and may be out of work for sometime. Another is in construction which will likely head for a downturn. Our daughter’s  job and educational plans are uncertain. My aging parents, in-laws, relatives and friends with compromised health come to mind. Several extended family members are nurses who will be in harm’s way. The local health region has been in the news repeatedly for extreme overcrowding, long before this coronavirus hit the news. I can only imagine the chaos it will be in now, and hope we will be able to stay away from the single hospital that serves a city of over 500,000 people.

On a less serious note, I am kind of an extrovert. I may not always come across that way, but I love being with others and thrive on intelligent conversation. We are often the last ones to leave church on a Sunday, as I try and catch up with as many people as possible. I love having friends and family over for a meal or going out for one.

Will I go crazy before this is over? When can I hug my grandson again?

It has only been just over a week and I could keep writing. I’m sure you could insert a paragraph or two about your concerns. As they keep saying, we are all in this together. Well, together apart anyway.

But Jesus reminds me not to worry. My loved ones are in His hands and he cares about them even more than I do.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they …do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:26, 34  I don’t have to fret about toilet paper, hand sanitiser or even food.  When Jesus spoke these words, people somehow survived without the first two items and he takes care of the rest, so we should just chill.

In place of worry, he will grant us peace  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7 NIV

The beauty of peace is that everyone wants it.

Could it be that is what people are really after, when they buy up all the face masks in town and fill their shopping cart with enough food for six months? If they haven’t already, people will soon discover you cannot buy peace. They will be looking for it elsewhere. Will they recognise it in those who follow Jesus? Will they recognise it in me?

“…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” says Jesus . “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV

Peace.

 

 

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Reflections on a pandemic: Episode 1

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On March 11, 2020 The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 pandemic. For most of us alive today, this is historic. My generation has never experienced such a thing, which can only be compared to the world wars of the past century and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Even the world-changing events of 9/11, did not have such far reaching impact or death toll which at this writing is over 10,000 people worldwide and climbing.

Perhaps in the future my grandchild will ask, “What was it like during the pandemic?”   It seems appropriate to record my thoughts and for what it is worth, to share them. Especially as a Christian writer, I feel morally compelled to do so.

At a time like this, even entertaining people with a well written story and letting them find diversion in another world, is an act of kindness. I have enjoyed a good laugh with jokes about the run on toilet paper. (FYI: Hoarding toilet paper and not thinking of others is NOT kind.)

In the midst of confusion and disorder, words of reason and curated information can help others take appropriate actions.

But I want to do more with my words. I want to point to hope and faith in a God who is sovereign ruler above all. He was there in the beginning, he is present in the now and He will be there at the end. He has appointed our days, every one of them.  I invite others into His love from which we can never be separated—not by coronaviruses, social isolation or economic disaster.

Words matter and I pray that I would wield them with special care at this time of panic and fear.

 

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Shabbat Blessings

We had already been to the Western Wall  of the temple area, where devout  Jews pray, however we had another opportunity to go there, this time on  Shabbat, the holy seventh day of the week and an important  hallmark of Jewish observance.

It was a significant weekend in Israel—Jerusalem day, commemorating the re-unification of Jerusalem after the six day war (1967) was the very next day.  The day after that was to be a ceremony marking the historic move of the US embassy to Jerusalem  from Tel Aviv.

At the plaza overlooking the Western Wall, groups of young people dance and sung in circles. Many of the youth wore “Birthright Israel” name tags. The organisation provides Jewish youth from around the world the opportunity to visit the land of Israel.

One large circle, a mixed gender group of about 25, opened their ranks and a young woman turned to Susan and myself. She invited us to join them. This was something. Perhaps, since we are both brunettes with brown eyes, and wearing the requisite long skirts, they mistook us for one of them. Or, in the spirit of Sabbath, they might just be welcoming everyone. She handed us a slip of paper with some Hebrew words and an English translation. I wish I’d kept the paper, but the words had to do with welcoming the Sabbath as a bride. We joined hands with the group, trying our best to learn the tune and words in a foreign tongue.

The thought of welcoming the Sabbath as a bride is a novel idea to me. In our New Testament view, the church is the bride and although I grew up with the ideals of honouring the Sabbath (in our case Sunday), in present day North American Evangelicalism this tradition has fallen by the wayside.“His yoke is easy, his burden light” (Matthew 11:30) and “Jesus is our Sabbath,” (Hebrews 4:9-11) are quoted in defense of the omission. With a few swipes of Scripture, the ideals of marking a Sabbath day (whether Saturday or Sunday) have been swept away as if it had no relevance whatsoever to our modern lives.

Yet here, Sabbath is welcomed as a blessing and a delight. It is a biblical idea (Psalm 1:2) as we are reminded throughout Scripture that God’s law is a blessing. Not a means to salvation of course, but a blessing. After the creation of the world, God gave Sabbath to humanity as a gift. A day of rest from regular labours to contemplate, enjoy his presence and the fellowship of others. I think the weekly rhythms of Sabbath observance could still be a blessing, in our busy lives.

After leaving the circle, I walked down to the women’s section of the wall, where similar celebrations were in order. Since people had come from all over the world, it was evident they each had their own traditional Shabbat songs and dances. Another young woman taught a large group of women the moves to a hora-like dance.  Many joined in, while others continued their vigil at the wall with Hebrew prayer books in hand. I looked on the shelves for a prayer book in English, but to no avail.

Peeking through the lattice to the men’s side I saw men wearing phylacteries and tasselled prayer shawls and wearing a variety of hats which signify the particular branch or denomination of Judaism.  The lattice which screens the women from the men is a reminder that all is not equal here. We were told that the Ultra Orthodox have, on occasion, become so offended at woman carrying Torah scrolls and praying for example, that they threw plastic chairs and water  over to the women’s side. Ahh, the burden of trying to enforce a particular interpretation of the law, and passing its judgement on others.

That is exactly what Jesus was against.

So I will celebrate the ideals of Sabbath, choosing to take rest and fellowship on the first day of the week, but I will not throw chairs at others. Jesus is our Sabbath, the one who brings rest to our striving and peace to our hearts. I look forward to celebrating that together someday with all his people.

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