Danger Zone

The third Monday of the great “pause.” None of us know quite what to call this. The socially isolating? The pandemic? The virus? The quarantine? Yes and no to all of those words, but everyone here knows what I mean: this is the third Monday of this new, albeit temporary, reality.

Go back another Monday – four Mondays ago – and we really had no sense of what was about to befall us here in NYC. That was early March. March has still not ended yet, which is stunning to me. Tomorrow is the last day of March and I’m not totally sure I believe a new month will arrive. Isn’t this an endless March? Won’t spring and summer bring all of what we’ve come to expect from them – the picnics, the swimming, the crowded parks, the sidewalks filled with people?

”Pause” – the word NY Governor Andrew Cuomo picked to describe this current reality – is actually really quite perfect, for those of us stuck at home. For those on the frontlines of medicine and grocery stores, of course, not so much. As for clergy, we are finding out what it means to do everything virtually – and yesterday, I learned what it’s like to preach virtually.

I was honestly scared enough about the content of my sermon that I didn’t actually watch it as it was being broadcast. (We moved to pre-recording our worship service to minimize stress and possible tech glitches.) I turned off the sound and just hung out with people in the comment section – not something a preacher often (or ever) gets to do in real time. (I resisted the temptation to heckle myself.) I had recorded it two days earlier and then immediately deleted it from my ipad so I didn’t have to be around it anymore. The sermon felt right, it felt like the things I was supposed to say, but it also felt… dangerous.

What was it that felt dangerous?

Honestly, that I was going to be in a virtual “pulpit” saying things like, “None of us are going to get out of this untouched,” and “we are going to keep losing things – people, securities, jobs, and who knows what else.” We are taught in seminary that when you preach you are preaching the good news, full stop, and saying those things didn’t feel like very much good news.

In fact, it felt like the complete opposite. But it is also accurate and true, and if there is one thing I have learned about hope, it is that hope cannot grow from a place of denial. Hope needs truth in order to flourish, even when the truth is hard, even horrendous. Without truth there literally is no hope.

In the NT reading for morning prayer today, Paul is still writing to the church in Corinth. Here’s a small excerpt:

Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation.

I know that “prophecy” is a heavily laden word in our language and in American society. People hear it and think: telling the future? Calling out injustice? A complete sham – snake oil religion?

Well – when I hear the word ”prophecy,” what I hear is, “listen to and speak truth.” That is what prophetic leadership, prophetic speaking, and prophetic listening (topic for a whole other post) have in common – a fearless rooting in truth.

That means the truth of not knowing how this is all going to play out. The truth that we are all going to be grieving now and in the future. The truth that our leaders have failed in horrendous ways during this crisis. The truth that the most vulnerable among us are paying the highest price. The truth that so many of us are powerless in the face of a pandemic, left only to adhere to the instruction to “stay home.”

BUT. ALSO. There are other truths, too, and these must also be spoken. The truth that I am loving having my spouse and son around so much. The truth that our learning to be and work together has made our relationship stronger. The truth that babies are still being born and people are still (at a distance from their guests!) getting married. The truth that we can still all create beauty and spread goodness and even joy in the midst of so much loss. The truth that people are coming together in beautiful and powerful ways to address the holes left by our federal government.

The truth that the sun is still shining, even behind this terribly gloomy overcast sky that seems to have parked over Manhattan the past few days. This is true. It might feel dangerous to say it, but we have to say it anyway.

Thanks be to God.