Marking the Days and Sometimes, Rage

Raging Corona Virus Diary

April 14, 2020
Normally, my days are marked by church days. On Sundays, it is worship and Adult Christian Education (ACE) when possible. That way, I know if the next day is Monday. I know if it’s Tuesday by its location between church on Sunday and my prayer group on Wednesday. Now, NOW is all there is.        “What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe.” ~Ananda Baltrunas, “A Prison of Desire”

Window On Beech and a painting by JRobin Whitley

4/20/20
More days have passed and writing was set aside. Thoughts are more elusive these days. One moment, like above, I have something on my mind to write or draw or sing. The next, I am standing at the door staring out at the trees. Trying to calm myself, find a place to anchor my prayers that is not a place of fear, I bounce from moment to moment. Yes, that place is in our Creator. But also, isn’t it somewhere within the goodness of humanity? Aren’t we called to care for each other and the earth?

Going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. We are carved by life into instruments that will release our song, if we can hold each up to the carving.”  ~Mark Nepo

Something is being carved away from us with this virus. We have a choice right now whether to pick at the wound of it and end up with scars, or to allow healing to occur more naturally. Yet, as humans, not only are we fearful but we all want to be in control. Though experts on the virus, actual doctors and epidemiologists, tell us to remain in quarantine, there are those protesting the stay at home orders. I understand that they are afraid of their livelihoods. Many have been posting things on a FaceBook page that go along with The Proud Boy message. It’s frightening. The group is a designated hate group.

“Established in the midst of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are self-described “western chauvinists” who adamantly deny any connection to the racist “alt-right,” insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda.”  from Southern Poverty and Law Center[1]

I don’t know how to address this with love. When Obama was elected President, many believed all the nonsense about Obama taking guns away. Some of my family members are taking risks now with their lives that scare me. This morning, I am alternating between writing and catching up on the news that happened in the short time that I slept, a powerful article by John Pavlovitz speaks to me.

“I may be wrong, but I don’t believe whatever or whoever god is, that such devastation and death are part of the plan. The best guess I have right now, is that this season of suffering (like all moments), is the sacred space for we who claim faith to live what we believe: to persevere and to give and to heal—and above all, to love. That love, is the only plan.”[2]

Love as the only plan leads me back to speaking up when I can and it is timely, but otherwise to mind my own business. As the theologian Buechner says, to love is to work for another’s well-being even if it means sometimes leaving them alone.[3] That leaving them alone is really hard for us. I say us, because on one hand, I understand that we are all entitled to our beliefs and points of view. On the other hand, in this time of the unknown, the only thing we DO know for sure is that the only way to stop the pandemic is to STAY HOME. I understand what it means to fear for one’s income. Most of my life, I have struggled financially.

None of us in the U.S. have faced what all are facing with the downfall of our government since 2016. No one in the world has experienced COVID-19, so who knows what is best for anyone really? I was glad to see that Pavlovitz addressed the fact that some think that the pandemic is an act of a god. Only a little insecure god would do such a thing.

Taking a break to do the weekly chore of garbage duty, it is hard to return to writing because of the topic at hand. Karl Barth said that the pastor should read both the Bible and the newspaper. His actual quotes about the importance of keeping up to date on our society is so that we understand what it means to live as a person of faith in any era.

“The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

“Reading of all forms outspokenly secular literature – the newspaper above all – is urgently recommended for understanding the Epistle to the Romans”

Perhaps the most clear statement on the record from Barth concerning these matters comes from a Time Magazine piece on Barth published on Friday, May 31, 1963:

“[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”

The Time article goes on to give us more of Barth’s thoughts on journalists and their place in the world: “Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. He should make his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?’”[4]

These thoughts came out of his experience with the news of his day. Though Barth was a man living at the start of a technological society, the internet was not something the world shared. Now, in addition to newspapers and radio, we have cable news, social media spread across a wide variety of platforms. There is so much “news” that it is not only often hard to discern fact from fiction, but also, how could we read it all and still have time for prayer or scripture reading? The task often overwhelms me and I stick to only three or four reliable sources for understanding what I going on in our modern world.

Trying to check the news of today while also praying, it is hard to finish this essay. I check on the black bean soup I’m cooking. Write a paragraph, then research the news. The news is too overwhelming causing me to stop writing because the angst of the situation begins to choke me. For fifteen minutes, I work on the icon project of St. Julian of Norwich and her holding the words, “All shall be well.” Though it calms me for the time while working on the painting, the question now arises, “when?” When will all things be well again?

That’s the question no one can answer of course, when will life be closer to what we know as normal. At this point, it is clear that our world is being changed through this pandemic. Nothing will be the same whenever we can return to some semblance of life before Covid-19.

The most important implication of the breakneck changes currently underway, though, is that there’s no going back to normality. That train has left the station. The coronavirus isn’t going away. And even when there is a vaccine, the risk will endure, because climate change and the erosion of wildlife habitats will ensure a ready supply of zoonotic viruses. Companies will have learned to build supply chains with resilience built in. White collar workers will have discovered that they don’t have do as much commuting as before. Air travel will go back to being a luxury. And so on.[5]

Though we have no definitive answers on what the world will be like tomorrow, there is an ultimate goal in life for those of us who claim to have faith. That path is one of love. We are called as people of faith to work for each others’ well-being. We are all afraid and some are afraid for different reasons. The thing we must ask ourselves, however, is what does it mean to trust? What does it mean to trust another human working for our well-being? Yes, but more importantly for the person of faith, the question is, what does it mean to trust in G-d in these days of confusion?

 

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[1] Hate, General. “Proud Boys.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2020, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/proud-boys.

[2] Pavlovitz, John. “No, This Pandemic Isn’t God’s Plan.” John Pavlovitz, 19 Apr. 2020, johnpavlovitz.com/2020/04/19/no-this-pandemic-isnt-gods-plan/.

[3] On the contrary, he [Jesus]is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner

[4] University, Princeton. “FAQs about Karl Barth.” Frequently Asked Questions | Center for Barth Studies, Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, 2020, barth.ptsem.edu/about-cbs/faq.

[5] Naughton, John. “When Covid-19 Has Done with Us, What Will Be the New Normal?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/18/when-covid-19-has-done-with-us-what-will-be-the-new-normal.

 

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Morning Prayer

Peace descends upon my heart this morning which is not made of my making. The awakening to the day, however, was filled with worry over my dog, Birdie. Congestion bothers her breathing and I can hear it. I come to the computer to rearrange my budget. Yet, all I can do is wait for the vet to open and pray. While praying for this 17# of pure love and wonder, I remember my friend, Jane, suggested a podcast about poetry. Since I had no chance to listen to the podcast yesterday, I take the 8 minutes to listen today.

The poem is written by Faisal Mohyuddin’s  and it is his poem “Prayer”. The first part of the podcast is a bit of a preface of how the poem was birthed, and poems are always born. The podcast where you can hear Mohyuddin’s poem is called Poetry Unbound and the episode my friend wanted me to hear is called A Poem for Ritual and Reset. The poet’s voice calms my anxiousness. The story of the poem’s birth paints a picture of ritual I recognize from my own faith. The poem itself, holy. I listen again.

Then, I realize it is time for the gathering of rubbish. On Beech Mountain, we cannot put our trash out the day before pick up because of bears. Even if the bears are sleeping through the winter, the raccoons, coyotes, and cougars are active. The raccoon is bigger than my dog. I have heard but not seen the neighboring coyotes and only recently learned there is a big cat somewhere on the mountain. Reluctantly, I set aside my headphones of the poem to turn to the necessary task of recycling.

My grandparents were born shortly before the Great Depression. I watched them reuse/repurpose/recycle before we used those specific terms in our vernacular. To them, it was to avoid being wasteful. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents followed suit giving us a good understanding of care for the earth.

During Lent of 2019, my choice of “fasting” was to lessen my use of plastic. It required me to be more intentional in every purchase. It was both amazing and sad how hard it was to choose cardboard containers. Amazing because the practice pointed out how careless and thoughtless, I had become. Sad because of remembering a time when every piece of food wasn’t wrapped in plastic; when milk was available in glass and the milkman picked up the recycled glass bottles from our back porch.

The practice was enlightening, and it also lightened my burden on trips down the mountain to recycle. Then, after losing my car, it became clear that the next practice will need to be to lessen my use of cardboard. That, however, will be harder since I have to order everything I need. Whether it’s Walmart or Amazon, the ridiculousness is that though I order only once a month, the boxes come piecemeal. As I prepared for my morning task of recycling, I remembered someone mentioning a program where the boxes would be reused.

Quickly I researched and found that Givebackbox will give you a label to mail the box to a source nearest you that can use the boxes rather than clog a landfill. In the past, I had a garden and used boxes as weed barriers. The Givebackbox may be my new way of being intentional about cardboard. After taping the address label to Goodwill, I step onto the porch to leave the boxes for pick up and for the first time of the day see the sunrise.

The color is fabulous. I grab my camera in hopes to share the vibrant color with family and friends. Most photographers wish to capture sunsets, but I always want to capture sunrises. It is only recently I’ve

The color was better in person.

returned to using my Sony Alpha camera again and I know that with my balance issues, there may be a blur; no matter how still it seems that I stand movement shivers like a sound wave. Once I snap a few of a color I can only find described as “cobaltvioletdeep” or deep magenta, I take the time to set the camera on the tripod. By the time I’ve mounted the camera, the colors have faded but are still lovely.

Morning is the time of prayer for me. One of my life goals is to make each action/choice/chore a prayer of some sort. As I wash my dishes, I give thanks for the water and dishes. Today, each step down the snowy mountain was full of rejoicing over the beauty of another day. I thought of friends who tell me about poetry and prayer. A smile came to my face as I remembered and blessed the melting snow dwarves the young guests built yesterday.

Rejoicing in the day a bird sings.

A day that started in worry has been transformed into one of peace. My heart rejoices that I have all that I need and that as the hours pass, an answer will be given for Birdie. It is simply a matter of waiting and trusting. Those are two things that have never been easy for me. Prayer is practice and our practices are prayers.

 

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For more information on Faisal Mohyuddin, visit his website at Faisal Mohyuddin.

 

 

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Gratitude without a Car

It’s another rainy day in the mountains. The dog and I are enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Who wants to travel outside on such days? Even Birdie isn’t fond of car rides on rainy days. Other than playing Van Morrison’s new album out loud, the day is not much different than any other day. It’s the life of living alone in a quiet place and living without a car.

 

One of my goals in life has been to move from a gasoline engine vehicle to being able to travel by cycle. In truth, it was an environmental goal instead of a financial one. Health challenges began to pile up this year and that meant more and more medical bills since Medicare and Medicaid were cut. In August, the worst time of the year for my asthma, it finally came down to deciding if I wanted to pay a car payment or pay for the medicine that helped prevent and manage my asthma.

 

Before making such a decision (which seemed inevitable since the divorce), there was a lot of time spent on research about how to get to doctors, church, and get groceries. Because of Watauga County’s AppalCart, I am able to get to appointments with planning. Some friends who go to Holy Cross have graciously offered rides to church.

 

I’ve also been blessed with wonderful neighbors who have helped me if I needed to call Fred’s for a missing item in a recipe. You know how it is when you cook, you’re in the midst of stirring ingredients and checking to make sure you added each item. Then, there’s often one important item that is out or not quite enough.

 

One of the other things I considered before letting go of the car was looking at alternative and environmentally conservative means of alternative transportation. Once it became clear that this was doable, I even questioned if I needed any transportation at all. With today’s online shopping options, I can get most of what I need by mail. However, one of the joys of living here is a ride up to Fred’s General Mercantile or a trip down to Buckeye Recreation Center for yoga or a walk on its paths.

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

Growing up, biking was my favorite means of transportation. Even after getting my driver’s license at sixteen, I still loved cycling. Then, it was a dream of mine to cycle cross-country. This was before learning the limitations that my asthma put on me. Even though I was hit by a car when I was in college, cycling was always a goal. There was a freedom and peace is cycling through the countryside. Mountain bikes weren’t popular during this time or I would have had one of those too.

 

When I moved up to the mountains, I had given up my last bike. Not because I wanted to but because it was too heavy for travel on the landscape. By then, my hands had begun to have problems with grasping and lifting heavy hymnals. There was no way I was going to be able to manage such a heavy bike. The bike itself wasn’t much of a loss because it was an inexpensive model bought only to see if I liked how the mountain bike rode.

 

Though I looked for a bike while living in Sylva (they have a great bike shop there), another health problem prevented my return to riding. Like many women my age, vertigo has become the bane of my existence. Though the doctor helped me get it to the point where I could walk without the world swirling (faster than usual), it would not be safe for me to ride a bike. I watched the cyclists in the town with appreciation and a sense of resignation. Still, I missed riding and wanted to find a way to return.

 

One day I mentioned how much I missed cycling on Facebook and my writing teacher from undergrad, Heather Ross Miller, suggested a trike like hers. I started looking at them and then because they wouldn’t fit in the Fiat 500 Pop I was driving, I gave up on them. That is until it became clear I would have to give up my car. It wasn’t that I just couldn’t afford THAT car and pay my medical bills, it was clear I couldn’t afford any car. In December I will finally catch up all my medical bills so that I can start the new year free of old medical bills.

The Joy Trike

Giving up my car has also freed me to consider saving for a trike. I could see that possibility before giving it up. After a lot of research and talking to my cycling friends and Charlotte Cycle’s Brian Doolittle, it became clear that I would be able to find and eventually afford an electric trike. Brian has been great to answer all of my questions and also answer questions my friends bring to me when I told them of my decision. It made it easier to tell my family, friends, and church members of my decision.

 

Though I hadn’t gone into the details of my old environmentalist dreams of cycling, I had at least told those who I wished to visit that it might not be a possibility now. It’s amazing how beautiful people have been. People have talked to me about other options. A woman from church offered to give me an old car that needs work. A friend from Charlotte talked to her pastoral committee and ended up gifting me with some funds to pay off most of my medical bills. No one asked anything of me. They merely loved me and didn’t want me to be isolated from others.

 

To say I am humbled does not fully explain. A few years ago, when trying to encourage people to participate in global and local concern for others, I told a spiritual friend that I hadn’t lost faith in G-d. At the time, however, I was losing faith in people to make compassionate and justice-oriented choices. Selfishness seemed more rampant than ever. Then, about the time it seemed our world was turning to more openness to diversity and the need for conservation of natural resources, the current administration took over. Hatred became the norm instead of talk of justice and acceptance of all. This was all before my divorce.

 

Without going through that all, one would think the divorce made me want to give up on humanity totally. In truth, it did cross my mind except one thing continued to happen – people who loved me kept reaching out and reminding me of who they were and the good they bring to the world. By their lovingkindness, strength to go on came into my soul. Then I found Holy Cross Episcopal and joined their choir and a prayer group called Daughters of the King. These people too shared love, kindness, prayers, and often a listening ear. I could go on about the beautiful people restoring my faith in the goodness of humanity.

In short, because of the love my church, friends, and family, great healing comes to me. It’s been interesting too to find that things I thought were healed or forgiven from the past were healed on another level. My faith was already being restored in the goodness of these humans merely by them being themselves and sharing their own blessings and challenges in life. That made the presence of G-d even more powerful.

 

In addition, living here, close to the woods as I do has been a lifelong need. Though I lived near hiking paths and woods, most of the walking paths near my home were paved. Issues with arthritis and other challenges make it impossible to get out on paved or concrete paths. Here, there’s a dirt road that would take me to the top of the mountain if I could walk that far. The walking on a dirt road can still be challenging but it has helped my mental and physical health tremendously. My condo is like a treehouse and living in solitude the life of a semi-hermit is enlarging my heart.

Birdie, my dog, loves it here too.

As we approach Thanksgiving, gratitude is the word that stands out for me. Gratefulness for what IS (not what could be) has changed my life drastically. The last time I had a conversation with my ex-wife she even said that she missed my gratitude. A practice of gratitude was started for me in a new way when I was a Vicar in Tallahassee, Florida. I had been assigned to a small wonder-filled church called St. Stephen’s Lutheran for my internship.

 

Though naturally a thankful person, practicing gratitude then was part of a stewardship program we were required to do for a project. Because most of us argued that it was a flimsy attempt at fund-raising (we were the first class required to focus only on stewardship), the way I decided to outline my project was to focus on writing about the gifts we already had. What did it mean to use our time, talents, and treasure without coming across as one of the televangelists we love to hate? For me, that meant to focus on gratitude for what we DO have?

 

In other words, though I am a musician I’m not famous and rich. What does it mean to give thanks for how this gift of music has totally enriched my life rather than focus on the lack of remuneration prevalent for musicians? Once I began to be thankful for what I did have, it became clearer how wealthy I was. Forbes wasn’t going to come knocking on my door, but I had enough. Not only did I have enough, but when I recognized that I had enough, there always seemed to be a way to share.

 

Though I lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the time (and not the house I had bought), I had a roof over my head when it rained. There was air-conditioning when it was suffocatingly hot. There was clean water and I always had the food I needed as well as a warm bed to rest. When the person I was dating at the time broke up with me depression tried to get its hooks in me. Yet, because I had been practicing gratitude, each time I feared or hurt, I gave thanks for the things that I did have. The love I DID have from the wonderful people at St. Stephen’s saved me in many ways.

 

Through the years, I’ve tried to tell them in various ways. What vehicle is ever larger enough to contain love though? Especially when it is a love grown, shared, give in a community of faith – is there ever a way besides song and presence? When I lost my pastorate because I came out, St. Stephen’s was there. Throughout the years when I was faced with challenges that had to do with justice, there was always the thought about what Pastor Emory would do. What would the members of St. Stephen do to act in love and forgiving compassion to those who were caught up in the cycle of injustice? These people changed my life and made my life and my life’s path a more sacred experience.

Because the gift the continue to BE in my life, when my friend there asked about setting up a GoFundMe account in order to help raise money for my trike, I told them there was no need. After getting my medical bills caught up, any extra money would go to the purchase of a Joy Trike from Carolina Cycle. I was quite excited about the cycle and that it was now an option. It will even have a basket so that Birdie can ride with me. She has missed the car much more than I do, that’s for sure.

A few weeks later, while checking Facebook, I noticed that one of the members of my vicar committee had posted a GoFundMe request there. Of course, it was a request to go fund our old vicar. They still thought of me as their vicar. Gosh, that alone is priceless to me. Then, I saw that people I don’t even know have donated to the fund. Then, one of my professors from seminary posted it.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Gratitude. What does it mean? It means, of course, to be thankful. Thankfulness is also an act as well as a state of mind or feeling. To be thankful is to be willing in such situations to set aside pride and simply say thank you. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my later years is how prideful I’ve always been. Once, I let that pride hurt a man in a church I was serving. He kept giving me gifts. Sadly, instead of continuing to thank him for his generosity, I said something to the effect that he didn’t have to buy me gifts for me to love him. Immediately clear that it was hurtful to him though it wasn’t my intention. My pride and lack of gratitude became throwing his gifts back in his lap. I might as well have said, thanks but no thanks.

 

Who knows if this GoFundMe thing will be completed? In truth, I don’t care if it is or not the gratitude in my heart exhorts me to write of this congregation’s great love and generosity. This is not the only way they are generous. They have always given to each other, their vicars, priest, and community. They have from the day I met them been the best example of what it means to be a people of G-d in the modern world. They are willing to stand up for those who are poor, LGBTQIA, of a different race or nationality…and the list goes on and on. Love abounds.

When I am so loved, all that I can do is give thanks and then love in return. No matter the outcome, this great act of love encourages me to love more and to trust more. Their long-time support reminds me of all the things I know about my friends in faith who have supported others quietly. They don’t let their left hand know or others know of their generosity. I do, however. I see the good they do in the world and I want to be just like them.

When I first tried dealing with the loss of my pastorate, I remember asking my priest in Oklahoma about the power of love. I told her that I thought love was supposed to conquer all. She understood where I was coming from as I spoke of love, loss, and the grief of finding a new way. Her answer was that in her experience, love DID conquer all. Wise priest that she was, she offered me no platitudes. Today as Van Morrison sings of love conquering all, all I can think is that it does. Though we may not know how or when, love wins. I am thankful to be loved.

 

 

 

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The Beauty of Silence with The Reverend Tamara Franks (UCC)

Since I cannot get out and support the wider LGBT community as I wish, I’m finding ways that I can do that from my home. High Country United Church of Christ (UCC), Boone, is a wonderful and open congregation here in the High Country of North Carolina. I hope you will enjoy this podcast of their service.

 

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