Coronavirus, Circles, and Holy Week

People across our country are in the midst of a “Stay at Home” shutdown due to the coronavirus. This is a new phenomenon for me, as a fifty-something adult. For many, this shutdown means each day looks and feels pretty much the same. Those of us in this category are trying to find a new routine as we work and homeschool during the day, and clean closets, read, binge-watch Netflix or Hulu, and call or Zoom friends and family at night. While life is not normal, it is still ordinary in many ways. We do our part in flattening the curve by staying home, and perhaps making masks, funding charities, or volunteering, yet mostly we are bored, lonely, and crave “normal” as we knew it before COVID-19.

Some of us are going to work. Those of us in that category are “essential employees.” Essential employees range from carpenters to grocery store workers to doctors and nurses. I’m grateful for essential employees. Most essential employees are invisible, like the truck drivers transporting toilet paper and cleaning supplies or the community leaders coordinating food distribution and welfare. Some are visible, like grocery store clerks and gas station attendants. While I have often taken those jobs for granted, now their presence comforts and encourages me to get only what I need today and trust they will also be there tomorrow. Some of you are game-changers, like the doctors and nurses, receptionists and janitors who tirelessly show up every day to do their job at hospitals and clinics. But it doesn’t end there. There are also researchers and companies doing their part to find a vaccine and keep supplies flowing, EMTs and police officers who put themselves “out there” to keep us safe, and hospice workers and caregivers in senior care facilities. Thank you for the jobs you do and the roles you play in making this pandemic as humane as possible. I will never know your names but see how you are working for the common good. We are all benefitting from your work.

The coronavirus has lifted the veil on death. It has reminded us we are all mortals. We will die, of this virus or something else, and this makes us vulnerable. For many, facing our own mortality has awakened our capacity to be grateful and compassionate. We were created to care for one another; humans are designed to love deeply. Our capacity to care for others is not limited to our family and friends, but also extends to strangers and people we have never met. As Brene Brown so eloquently reminded us, awareness of our own vulnerability frees us for living abundantly no matter the circumstances. Vulnerability is not a flaw in our design, rather it is an opening to lean into and explore.

This pandemic has also illustrated that not everyone has access to the same resources. This makes some of us more vulnerable than others. Systems free and constrain us. When we believe resources are limited, creativity can diminish and selfishness increase. While that is a human response, we do have other alternatives. We can tap into the compassion and gratitude planted in our DNA and counter our fear and selfish nature. We can reach out to the most vulnerable and begin the restoration of society there. We can choose to see the disparity and give-up our personal comforts for the sake of our neighbor having the basics of life. Seeing beyond vulnerability to possibility can lead to action with an eye toward what is good for all.

I recently ran across this short video about circles. It offers a lesson geared for children that might serve us all as we move forward in the days ahead. What if we all had the power to expand our circle of relationships? What if our capacity for gratitude and compassion had no end? What if we could tap into how we were designed and could love others at an exponential rate? Could a pandemic of love counter COVID19?

Christians are in the midst of Holy Week. This is a sacred time in the life of the church. It is the end of the season of Lent, a season where we have named our mortality and need for a savior. This year that message was been in our face and urgent. Yesterday, at the White House briefing it was predicted that this week will see an exponential increase in deaths. Death is all around us – in the news, in our lives, and in our journey of faith. What will we hold onto? What will sustain us? What is your source of hope?

People of God, we cannot save ourselves. We, as a people, will disappoint. We will fall short. Our hope must come from outside ourselves.

As you journey through the next few days, I invite you to lean into gratitude and compassion. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and practice loving others. And in the midst of it all, ask what is your source of hope?

Dwelling in Good Friday

images-53Many of us have witnessed death. Maybe you were at a loved one’s side when they breathed their last breath. Maybe you saw the violence of the world steal a life too soon. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe it was a stranger. Maybe you witnessed it alone. Maybe you were in the midst of a caring community. Maybe death was relief after a long struggle. Maybe death was sudden and shocking. Maybe it was quiet. Maybe you cursed. Maybe you cried. Maybe you were numb. Whatever your situation witnessing death, seeing death changes you. As a human, there is no way to witness death without being touched in some way.

Today’s a day about witnessing death. We don’t say it that way, probably because it’s not politically correct, but Good Friday is a call for Christians to come and witness death – Christ’s death. Humans don’t want to witness death. We don’t want our loved ones to die, and we don’t want to see it. And we certainly don’t want God to die, or to honestly talk about the cruel death crucifixion is. But today, Good Friday, we beg people of faith to come and witness death. The moment Christ, beaten and mocked, was violently nailed to a cross. And then hours later, when the afternoon sun was covered and it became dark as night, his frail body stopped being alive. Jesus, God’s only son, died. Today we are invited into the space we do not want to go.

Today in sanctuaries around the world, crosses are front and center. Violence is named. We talk about blood being shed and a body broken. The picture is painted from many vantage points – from loved ones, those hanging on crosses, the guards in charge, and those passing by. And it’s a heart wrenching account no matter the perspective. The death we are called to witness is horrible. Bottomline. And then, if we let ourselves, those of us who have witnessed death first hand, it’s hard not to have this narrative play alongside our own experience. Today death is real, and personal.

Many of us know mourning. For some of us, mourning has been apart of our story for some time. For some of us, mourning has not deeply impacted our lives. For some of us, mourning is a current state of mind. Wired for community, mourning is a consequence of death. For people who love and care for others, mourning is a reality. And no matter your economic status, gender, or ethnic background, mourning sucks.

Within the past week, two college students in my area committed suicide. Today, I can’t hear death without thinking about the family and friends of these two young adults. Questions. Anger. Sadness. Wonder. Confusion.

Yet they are not the only ones mourning. I remember the many funerals I have attended this past year, and all the lives these people touched. Hundreds, thousands of people mourning, missing the ones they loved. Mourning is a strange human state. Personal and communal, mourning offers an array of emotions which logic cannot explain or chase away. Mourning plays with us, it’s like living in two states at once…physically going through the motions of everyday living and emotionally existing in another realm. Surprising and with patterns, mourning is a roller coaster ride.

Mourning causes us to revisit our own story. Today I think of so many people whose stories have had to be rewritten – because a child, a spouse, a parent, or sister died. No matter how much time passes, rewriting one’s life story requires courage, more courage then some of us think we have, courage human’s cannot muster alone.

Today’s a day about mourning. Good Friday worship witnessing to the death of Jesus, but it also brings Christians together and offers space for mourning. Like at a funeral, we hear the story of a person’s life and death, personally and in community. Mourning is different for each person, yes, but having companions along on the journey is important. I have attended Good Friday worship in my home congregation and in congregations far from my home. The two are not the same, but I am comforted in both places. Why? Because like at a funeral, we can be with people we know or don’t know and it doesn’t matter, what matters is this – there are other trying to understand the impact this person’s life had on theirs, just like me.

Brothers and sisters, today is a day of mourning. We come together to witness death, to be in community, but also to revisit our story in light of this reality. Because of Jesus’ death, my story is rewritten. It’s true. Jesus, God, faced death. Jesus knows the pain of the world, knows betrayal, knows sorrow. And Jesus knows death. I don’t know what to do with that most days. But many days I know Good Friday. I have witnessed death and I know mourning. But that’s not all.

Sunday is coming, and with it comes a promise. With it comes hope and new possibilities. And for that I am grateful. For those of us rewriting our stories, this can give us courage. And I, like many of you, will live into my new story as the days unfold. But for today, I pause and give thanks for a life – the life of Jesus. And remember his story by remembering his death. And I do not do it alone.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find a worshipping community to join this evening. If that is not an option for you, I encourage you to find a Bible (or go online) and read the story. (Read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, or John 19.) Dwell in this Good Friday.

February 27th

IMG_2862 It was 22 years ago. I had just finished watching the news and the contractions started. After a long night and morning, she was born. We named her Jordan Michelle Elton. And yes, our lives have not been the same since. Last weekend I moved said child into her first apartment. Now a college graduate, she is gainfully employed. (And not living in my house!) And more important than that, she’s becoming an amazing and capable adult. And all of this is happening right before my eyes. Last night on my walk with the dog I remembered back 22 years, to my life pre-Jordan. Newly married and feeling as big as a house, I remembered thinking that once she was born it would be spring. (Or at least I was declaring it spring.) Why not? Spring equals new life and sunshine. And that certainly would describe life inside our house, but it describe life outside as well. No more winter coats or snow boots. More hours of daylight. Waiting for snow to melt and for tulips to bloom. Is there any greater season? In many ways, this season, watching Jordan become an adult, parallel’s the anticipation of spring I felt when Jordan was born. And like waiting for spring, there is little I, as her mom, can do to help usher in this coming season in her life, in our life. No, I simply get to keep my eyes open for signs of this new season, small as they may be, and celebrate the moments when they arrive.  But Jordan was also born into another season – the season of Lent. Lent is that season which invites us, people of faith, to remember Jesus’ walk to the cross. Sure, the promise of the resurrection is along the edges, but this season meanders through the wilderness, names the brokenness, and encourages us, individually and as a community, to not move too quickly through the somber moments. I don’t know about you, but I need space and permission to attend to these times, as much as I need to mark the good. Truth be told, becoming an adult and navigating the dozens of transitions young adulthood requires is hard, it’s like the season of Lent in many ways. Applying for jobs (and receiving rejections) is exhausting. Finding, and living with, roommates requires emotional and physical energy. Learning about budgeting, living on limited income, and understanding the “real cost of life” is more challenging then college level calculus. (And the grading system is very different.) Use to living in a community of peers, now everywhere you turn there are old people living their own patterns with their own friends. Will they get me and my situation? Do I want to be friends with them? Yes, there are promises on the horizon, but they are so far off many days. And just like no one can do this journey for you, no one can speed up the journey either. Today, I wish my “baby” a happy 22nd birthday. Every year is different, but this year is her first year as an adult, not a student. It is truly a new adventure. Jordan, I believe in you, always have and always will. I am proud of you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, for they will happen. Use them for good, for learning. Find community, it makes the journey easier. Have fun, even when it’s impractical. And love life, and life is not the destination, it is the journey. Toasting to your day and your journey!

Learning from the past…the importance of the local congregation

I spent the first 15 years of ministry leading congregational change from the location of a congregation. I attended to our issues, opportunities and concerns…but I had the joy of being in the midst of a larger conversation. Alban Institute, and Loren Mead, were key leaders in that conversation. This interview sheds light on what was happening in those years, and it makes we wonder what this means for us today.

Check this out…
interview with Loren Mead

The Need for Funerals


Funerals are Easter moments; moments when God’s promises are proclaimed and Christians are reminded where their hope lies. Yet this is an ironic truth. Funerals are usually the last place we think of when seeking hope. Funerals are where people gather to recognize someone is no longer living, their death is marked and their life remembered. And people come to funerals come at various stages of accepting the loss, this passing of life. Good funerals recognize this reality, but the truth is a funeral doesn’t require the community to be ready. Christian funerals are more about pointing to another truth, one that lies outside of us. God, the creator of the universe and the creator of us, promises a way of life that extends beyond this world. And this is where our hope is grounded.

During Lent I was reminded how death has many forms and exists all around us. Sometimes we recognize it, and other times we push it aside. This past Holy Week I was drawn into the mystery of dying and the importance of honoring life by recognizing death. Society doesn’t know what to do with death, leaving many of wandering in the wilderness. Yet Christians need not fear death. And in fact, I’ll go as far as to say abundant living cannot happen unless we deal with death and dying. Said differently, I’m not sure I can live abundantly in the promises of Easter without participating in funerals.

Lately I have been trying to find ways of living abundantly in a season of dying. Some might say, great – you did the work of Lent and they’d be right. But entering Lent I was unaware how prevalent the dying was around me. The deaths I am experiencing are not physical. Rather they are a series of realities that have resulted in a season of endings and letting go. Meaningful work has ended, relationships are in transition, connections redirected, and communities forging new vision. The future looks very little like the past and a new path has not yet emerged. Many days I’m in a place, or accompanying others, trying to live between abundant living and the process of dying.

I was taken back by this recognition because the dying was not quick and definite. No, the dying has been a series of dying “moments”, ones which you think you can handle, but as they keep coming life turns into a rollercoaster, exhaustion sets in, and the future gets lost in the fog. During such a season, time is both a friend and an enemy.

Perhaps some of you know what this is like. Maybe you have accompanied someone through a long stint in the hospital or journeyed with a person that has a terminal disease; there are moments where the core of life is crystal clear and there are moments where death is so close you feel it. Sometimes you find the strength to push death off one more day and life wins for a moment. Sometimes you wish death would take over. Sometimes hope is secure, no matter the ending, and sometimes despair fills your spirit. God is present in many ways in such seasons; at times that is enough, at other times it’s a curse.

Sitting in Maundy Thursday worship, it became clear to me I needed a funeral – I needed to let go of my hope for life (at least how I imagined it) and be prepared for naming and confirming death. It was a moment where I confessed, I cannot longer live “in between,” where something, someone is neither alive nor dead. “In between” is a hard place to find life. The world is small and focused. And while grieving can begin, there is no way to move forward until death has been marked – the last breath taken, time of death recorded, and the words publicly stated. Sitting in worship on Thursday, I knew it was time, and I opened myself to such a reality.

Entering Good Friday worship, I came ready to hear the words, to acknowledge that brokenness and pain are real in the world, and loving deeply means risking a piece of ourselves. And, as I did, my eyes drifted to the cross. I can’t imagine what Jesus went through thousands of years ago, but I can feel, deep within me in a way words cannot express, the sin of the world – my sin, the sin of society, and the need we all have for grace and healing. And I heard Scripture and songs in a deeper way. Now what I needed was a funeral.

And two days later, Easter morning came. Our family worshiped with many others, and heard the news of the empty tomb. The loss and pain had not magically disappeared, but interestingly the fog had cleared enough to hear the message of hope again. “There is a new day ahead, one where there will be no more tears and no more pain. I promise!”

My season of dying is not over. I still have good-byes ahead and endings to come. Some are simply endings for which the future is open with possibilities; others are simply endings. But on this side of the funeral, I’ve been reminded of the promises of the empty tomb, and I’m once again seeking life.

My prayer for you is that you too may hear the promises of the empty tomb.

The Day After

Lent has come and gone.
Lenten disciplines expired.
Hallelujah’s returned.
Darkness turned to light.
But what’s changed?

Today marks the first day of April, and the first day after Easter.
We have proclaimed to be Easter people, now what?
Will the pain of mourning subside?
Will the heavy load of transition get lighter?
Will saying good-bye become manageable?

This lent, more so than others, was filled with living in the brokenness of life. And while I don’t like living in brokenness, I did find comfort in being in the season of brokenness with others. It allowed me to name it and not pretend. To hear lament. To dwell in the now, and not rush to the not yet. And now that we are on “the other side,” I’m not sure I’m ready to move on – to let go, to believe the promises, and to focus on the brightness of Easter. I’m not done being angry, grieving, shedding tears…and the future is still so unclear.

Perhaps this was what the disciples where feeling the morning they went fishing. You know the story in John 21. It was after Jesus’ death and resurrection…and what did Jesus’ followers do? They did what they knew – they went fishing. Now I don’t fish, but I do long for some form of normalcy, which I think was what they were trying to find.

In MN the snow is melting, the sun shining, and my running shoes are ready to hit the pavement…puddles and all. It’s still cold and winter lingers in the air, but there are hints of summer and I long for those warm days. Perhaps it’s simple things like this, ordinary things, that move us from focusing on the brokenness to being driven by hope. I want it to be different, to wake up one day and all things are new, just like Easter morning. But that’s not real, at least for me.

The irony here is hope, God’s promise of new life, is the exact thing that got me through lent. And now that it’s here, Im not ready to pack it up and say good bye. It’s not that I live without hope. It’s just I don’t feel the joy…sense the abundance of life which accompanies Easter. Chocolates and new clothes don’t make it real. But maybe this is what it means to be Easter people – we live fully aware of both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We can’t separate them

Abundant life is bittersweet. It’s melancholy, if you will, as Christians know joy because they know pain and brokenness. So today, I’m moving forward into life post-Easter taking Good Friday with me. Unlike my Christmas decorations, I’m not packing up the lenten disciplines and painful moments of these past days. Rather, I’m holding them in one hand as I also embrace life and hold hope in the other.

Growing into our Easter promises!