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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First Volume of Praying Together: An Ecumenical Prayer Journal

Now available!

Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.

Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.

Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.

This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.

These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.

Biographies of Writers

Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.

Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals,  numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.

Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.

Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.

Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV.  She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.

Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.

JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.

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New Books and Lots of Inspiration

Poetry North Carolina Poet
Cover by Michele Jack

It’s a cold day on Beech Mountain, yet, also warmer than the past days. We had a wonderful snow on Tuesday and the ski resorts are blowing snow to get ready for ski season. The dog and I love snow even though we don’t ski. Who knows why Birdie loves the snow? Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. She has finally decided a coat is nice in such weather though.

The year has flown by quickly. All in all, it’s been a very good year in that it’s been a creative one. The summer was filled with singing, teaching, and preaching. Throughout, whenever there was a moment, I was writing. Meeting some new poets in the area has been inspiring. If you’ve not read Lisa Creech Bledsoe’s poetry yet, I encourage you to check her poetry out. You can get a sense of her poetry on her website Appalachian Ground. She also posts wonderful things about nature and foraging.

The music from Holy Cross Episcopal has been phenomenal this year. Elaine Kallestad has an amazing ministry there and she utilizes local talent from Appalachian State University (ASU)  which takes it a step further. The musicians at ASU feed into many of our local congregations. High Country United Church of Christ has music that is also good for the soul if you prefer the less formal service and music. The other great thing about both of these churches is that in addition to great preachers, they are also both congregations that are welcoming to all people. As a lesbian in this rural setting, I especially love this part.

 

 

Being surrounded by all this talent and all the beauty of the High Country is bound to be an inspiration to any artist. This mix of people and location have also inspired a collection of prayers I’ve wanted to do for many years and couldn’t decide where to begin. It is my hope to be able to offer this book in December of this year, but at the latest, we will have it out by January 6, 2020.

Due out soon.

The book’s title will be, Praying Together, and it is set up as a prayer book but also a journal. Moving from the Lutheran tradition to the Episcopal tradition has been a blessing in many ways. There are things that I love about each group of believers too. There are things that are similar and a few things that are different. It is the hope of me and the contributors to the book that the prayers will touch your heart and also be easy to access.

Its format will be smaller than the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Lutheran church. As we age, many of us who value these prayer books begin to have challenges handling both the weight and the thickness of both books. Therefore, the size of the book will be thin and lightweight so that all who value prayer may be able to handle it with ease. This will also be a great book for travel because it also fits easily in a bag or folded inside of another larger book.

There is more inspiration abounding in these mountains than there are words or songs. Yet, those of us who create are willing to keep trying. Please support local artists, musicians, and small businesses as we enter into the gift-giving season.

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A Healing Summer

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

As I enjoy the cool summer morning, I smile at the healing that occurred for me this summer. I am also reminded that it is late summer. Though the heat may be upon us again, the worst is over. We are now in late summer. Fall is sending us love leaves to remind us of the colors we love in fall.

This was my second summer living full-time on Beech Mountain. One of the things that surprises me is that summer is my busy time. This summer I’ve been blessed to sing at various churches and preach at two different churches. The Rev. Tamara Franks has given me wonderful opportunities to be a part of High-Country United Church of Christ (UCC). Mary Silver gave me the chance to preach for Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M) in Linville. Being a part of R.A.M’s ministries reminds me of the joy I had as a college student being a singer for the ministry teams.

Resort Area Ministry’s ROVER Team. Melanie Stone and Robin Whitley 1981.

 

Resort Area Ministry has moved from the music teams to be teams of people from churches willing to pick up a hammer or paintbrush and make a difference to the elderly, poor, or disabled who live year-round in the areas surrounding the resorts. I will tell you more about them in a later blog.

 

This is more of a summarizing of the wonders of my summer. In the past, summer was my least favorite season. I liked school and though I may have been ready for a summer break, summer was too long and too hot. The summers here on Beech Mountain have been blissful and for the first time in my life, I’m going to be sad to see summer go. It’s mostly because I and the dogster won’t be able to sit on the porch and enjoy the outdoors. Whenever it’s not raining and I’m not at a gig, teaching, or preaching, I and Birdie are on the porch. This dog loves a sunbeam. She also likes to steal my chair. Oh well.

My dog, Birdie.

This summer was extra special to me because there have been miracles galore happening in my life. Some of it is simply because grief is losing its grip on me. Also, I’m more familiar with the area so that it feels more like home. On the way home from church the other day, my heart was so full also then, somehow I knew that I belong here. My home church is Holy Cross Episcopal in Valle Crucis. We have two wonderful priests, a fantastic choir director, and beautiful people who are welcoming and caring. These people have been an integral part of the healing of the grief I’ve dealt with the past two years from the loss of my marriage and my home in Sylva, NC.

 

The Rev. Tamara Franks has been part of the healing of my minister’s heart. From day one, she has treated me as a colleague in ministry. The work I’ve talked about with her and then been able to participate in with her has further healed the wound from when I lost my ministry because I came out to my bishop. My priests at Holy Cross have listened and aided in that healing as well. By Mary’s invitation to participate in the ministry of R.A.M., that healing has reached even further back into my life. Through these wonderful human angels of G-d, there is a thread of healing coursing through my life; my heart, mind, and soul. Words don’t do it justice, but I’m trying.

 

The tee shirt my team gave me.

R.A.M. also has summer projects. I applied for one because of how my asthma disables me. This winter I was so sick I became convinced it had to be the carpet putting me in danger. It was old, musty carpet and most likely had mold. As a disabled person, I applied for one of the projects asking for the carpet to be removed OR for my walls to be painted. Some folks from Media Presbyterian Church from Philadelphia area come down to do this kind of work every summer. I am still in awe of these angels with hammers. The thing is, because of the work they did, I feel like I have a set of new lungs. My lungs haven’t felt this good in more years than I can count.

 

Because of this gift, I was also able to sing at a private party on Beech Mountain in AUGUST! August has always been the worst month for me as an asthmatic. Instead, I got to use my music to sing and be happy. This was part of the healing process mentioned above, but it also introduced me to more neighbors. It healed me because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to sing ever again like that – for two hours. My asthma had gotten so bad, it was all that I could do to sing at church on Sunday. G-d is so good. I feel blessed. This has been the best summer of my life. Hope yours was filled with blessings too!

Used with Permission.

“The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.”  ~Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

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Coming Soon! 2 new book releases.

Due out 10/19/2019 is the second edition of my poetry book.

New Cover for 2019 release.

Due out 11/5/2019 is my first prayer collection.

Due out soon.
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Wonder

Wonder is a word with different meanings. I get caught up in word definitions. My mind gets caught up in words. My heart gets caught up in meaning, working together with my mind to parse out what this life is for me and how to live it best. Upon first recognition, wonder came to me in the form of questioning. Questions always swirl in my being as a divine koan whether or not it’s true.

I wonder what G-d has planned for me now? I had planned to preach over the weekend at the church where I had served as a pastor. Had worked to be careful and not over commit beforehand or afterward. My best-laid plans fell through of course. Life has a way of reminding us that we are not the ones in charge. Life itself is.

Rime Ice 2019

“Life has a way of reminding us…” That’s a phrase I remember writing in other reflections. Human beings are forgetful. We forget the important things of life all of the time. We forget to eat right or follow the instructions of the doctor. We forget this and that and before you know it, time slipped by. I was no longer young and invincible. Now it’s hard to believe that I thought I was ever invincible.

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.” ~Frederick Buechner on Vocation

Standing to look out the door of my mountain home I pray about the days to come and what it means for me as a called person. In the past, I know I can say I was called to ministry. Through music, retreat leadership, word and sacrament, I followed that call. Even as I write I follow that call but in a different form. The standing still and quietly led me to be present in the moment. At that moment, the sun came out over the distant mountains and I was struck with wonder at its beauty.

Eureka! Wonder! That is my task in life. No. Wonder, that is my largest gift. Wonder comes to me as easily

2018 Foxglove (digitalis)

now as it did when I was a child. As a child, youth, teenager, I often got in trouble for taking too many photos of flowers, fields, and trees. Film was expensive then and mama always wanted me to have people

in pictures. She said she didn’t mind me taking pictures but it was expensive to develop them. So, please get photos of people if you are taking an entire roll of film; at least get some people in some of them.

I chuckle at the memory now. I don’t have many actual photographs of my adult life because I couldn’t afford to have that many developed. My vocation choices have always been those that have meaning, but that didn’t assure a healthy bank account. In those times when it did include money, I was mired in college or seminary debt. I don’t regret that either. There were plenty of times then when I wondered how I would survive. Now I wonder at the beauty of the long life I have had thus far.

Yesterday, days after I started this writing, the dog and I walked out in the fluffy, new snow. She pranced as we walked to the mailbox. I may have danced had the snow not been so slick. I have yet to dread it like so many others do. Nature continues to inspire and heal me. It’s no wonder I am filled with awe and struck by joy.

My dog, Birdie loves snow as much as me. 2019

Wonder can even be found in death. That lesson was taught to me while a chaplain at the Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC. I was blessed with the opportunity to be present as many passed from this life to the next. Death caused me to wonder in a different way than life but I cannot say that it was a sad experience. Being at those deaths proved to me that there is more to us than this life.

Technical difficulties caused this post to take me longer to write than normal. In the days that passed between the beginning and the end, Mary Oliver died. She remains one of my favorite poets. She understood wonder in many ways. The first poem I ever heard of hers was quoted in a small mountain church. It makes for a perfect end to this reflection as the poet lives on in wonder.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

 

 

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