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Pastor's Corner: Bestowing and revealing gifts during pandemic

 


In the time of the coronavirus …

That sounds like the beginning phrase and or the working title of some epic novel being written about this unique point in human history.

Based on the roughly 114 million results that phrase in quotation marks generates in 0.76 seconds on Google, it may be a cliche that’s already too late for some aspiring bestseller to stake claim upon.

I, for one, won’t compete.

This has been touted as a time to journal, to record and document what you were doing, thinking and feeling during a time that is not quite like any that has come before it. Even if it’s as simple as remarking upon the price of gasoline, what state government orders were in place, whether kids were in school or not and what the latest event to be canceled may be, for the sake of Facebook’s “Memories” feature to remind us in the years to come.

I’m not writing a journal.

A dear relative and I have been around on FaceTime or a similar venue at least twice, baffled by the other’s stance on this pandemic.

She finds it absolutely fascinating and has been absorbing information about what everyone is doing and how everyone is responding.

For my part, I find it unique in its uninterestingness. If we thought the overload of infotainment of the 24/7/365 news cycle as propagated by cable news and the internet was bad before, it’s so much worse now. There is one central theme for it all to focus around and it never moves on.

Admittedly, for about a week in the middle of March, in the days just before and after mandated closures of “nonessential” businesses, I found myself trying to glean as much information as possible about coronavirus and what may lie in the days and weeks ahead.

I cannot pinpoint a date, but at some point, I largely lost interest, at least in the finer details. There is only so much information one can absorb and only so much contradiction one can swallow when one day’s recommendations and models are deemed wrong by the following day’s and so on and so on.

Whatever sparks of feel-good camaraderie we may have felt about being in the same boat and “all in it together” dissipated for me as polls have indicated our same old partisan divides as a country correlate strongly with how information, guidelines, expertise and policy are received. Anyone trying to think out loud and look for helpful feedback — in the wide middle between demonstrating at a state capitol about the elimination of freedom in the face of “just a flu” (it’s not) and shaming anyone who steps outside or may have unnecessarily drifted 5 feet and 11 3/4 inches of another human being as an attempted murderer (they’re not) — is shut down in many a public forum.

It’s exhausting.

I have experienced “corona life” as a roller coaster, with anxiety, disbelief, plain old not-knowing-what-to-do-now and frustration alternating with joy, relief, unexpected laughter and gratitude. I know others who have experienced it with greater and longer-sustained depths and have sensed guilt for my own “First World” complaints.

My relationship with God has become one of trying to navigate this roller coaster honestly, expressing all these feelings and concerns in prayer without judgment. At least as much as I possibly can without putting myself in the God role by judging and filtering before even giving voice to whatever is my reality, good, bad and ugly.

I reject the notion that God gave us this virus to allow for the better aspects of this time, like more family togetherness, restoration of the natural world and hours freed up to contemplate the divine. For one, not everyone and every place are even experiencing these things. For another, I believe God is good enough to not require 200,000 deaths worldwide and counting to accomplish such ends.

I do believe we are all children of God and we are all affected in some fashion by this pandemic. I believe there is a better outcome once the pandemic has ended than going back to the way everything was before, with all the injustices and inequality and inconsiderate behavior of people toward other people and the rest of God’s creation.

We did not live in a perfect world before COVID-19 and we will not find one after it has passed. Yet before, during it and in the time to come, the Kingdom of God breaks in and gifts us grace and peace beyond all understanding.

Whatever may come, I hope to remain forever thankful to Jesus Christ for bestowing and revealing these gifts, not always as they are wanted, but better yet, as they are needed.

——

The Rev. Sean Janssen is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Havre, and Christ Lutheran Church, Big Sandy

 

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