Category Archives: current events

Designed to Do More than Reflect: Holy Refraction

There’s just no beating around the bush about this. The events of these days have been hard to manage.

The news, more often than not, leaves me sad, sorry, or simply confounded. How have we found our way here? For surely we have all wandered into a movie no one would pay good money to see. Someone shut off the lights and forgot to illuminate the aisle.

And yet… there are glimmers that sparkle all around me. People who hold onto hope. People who keep doing the good. People who, against all odds, keep bearing the torch so others can see by its light. I see ’em and I wonder how they stand the barrage of the daily news and don’t wither under its fire.

Some just seem really good at keeping their focus. They’ve got their eye on that prize and nothing distracts.

Some are on fire with a passion — for kids, for family, for their art or their dream. A heart aflame compels them and nothing can quench that fire.

Some, it appears, are duty bound. Disciplined to the max, obedient to a fault, or perhaps afraid to veer left or right.

Some, however, seem unfazed by it all. (And here, I am not referring to the few that, by privileged means and with an apparently hollow soul, can turn a cold shoulder to the circumstances of others and go on about their business as if nothing is happening.) I am referring here to those who stand in the midst of the fray, absorb the blows and yet respond with patience and understanding, kindness and positive intention.

While I in these circumstances often feel inclined to reflect the world back to itself to show it just how awful it looks, these “unfazed” folks don’t stoop to this. Instead of knee-jerk reflection, they engage in Light of the World refraction.

“Refraction is the change in direction of a wave passing from one medium to another or from a gradual change in the medium. Refraction of light is the most commonly observed phenomenon, but other waves such as sound waves and water waves also experience refraction.”

Wikipedia

By God’s grace, these remarkable people receive the earthly things that demand our attention but reflect them at a different angle. A Kingdom angle. Instead of holding a mirror to the world, they offer a different and better way.

I pray that we who claim the Spirit of God in our hearts and souls might choose to refract earthly things this way. To pass them through this medium of a different density and reflect them at a new angle to offer a Kingdom reflection.

To the uninitiated, it may look like magic, but we know it’s not sleight of hand. It’s just the same kind of refraction designed by the Great Optometrist who gave us eyes not only to see but to focus clearly on what God sees. And to be witnesses to it all, to the ends of the earth …

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

What if we held Easter and everyone showed up except the Christians?

“They didn’t show up, so we’re pretty much making it up as we go along,” the young woman said.

She was sitting with a few others in a small circle centered on a glowing lantern dug into the sand. Its bright light was the focal point for the make-shift concentric swirls of a growing crowd who had gathered for the Easter Sunrise service at Siesta Key Beach. People were still making their way slowly, in twos and threes, along the walkway from the parking lot onto the soft, moonlit sand. They wore sweatshirts and caps, were wrapped in towels and blankets, carried beach chairs and spread out blankets and held the hands of children. All in the chilly pre-dawn darkness to the drumbeat of the waves, as we prepared for the sunrise of Easter Sunday.

There is just something about Easter that makes you feel like you need to come in person. Especially this year. Oh, how valiantly groups scurried to deliver remote Easter services, productions and greetings in 2020. But this year is different. This year, we know how to gather safely. Out of doors. In small family groups. Six feet apart. This year I could come in person. How I delighted in that thought after a year of absence from in-person worship.

Until I heard this young woman acknowledge there was no planned service. Now, what I had seen and heard was starting to make sense.

The cars leaving the lot when I pulled in at 6:20am. The small groups congregating with their associates in front of the pavilion and going no further. The three singers standing in the dark trying to begin a sing-along where no one else was singing. “Tell us what you’d like to sing,” they tried, cell phones illuminating their faces as they searched the lyrics and sang (honestly, not terribly on pitch) acapella. “Ok! Verse 4! Amaazziiing Graacee, how sweeeet the sounnnd.”

Normally, this Easter Sunrise service was organized as an outreach by a nearby Presbyterian church. Apparently this year, “out of an abundance of caution” (if I never hear those words again, it will be too soon!), it had been canceled. These brave souls were gonna make it Easter, anyway!

Not me. Not proud of this, but not me. Not like this. After the weak effort at hymn singing and then hearing the woman admit there was no plan for this service, I packed up my beach chair and headed nearer the oceanside. I could surely offer my thanks to God for Easter by the thrum of the waves, and get an even better view of the sunrise from there. Looking back at the congregated, I did marvel at the many — perhaps 100 or more — who stayed, determined to worship together anyway.

What a missed opportunity to proclaim the risen Christ, I thought, safely from a distance. How many of those who had come or who had come and then left in disappointment really needed to hear this message or might even have heard it for the first time? I mean, who gets up at 5:15am if they’re not serious about this whole Jesus thing?

Alas, if I was… Stevie or Patty or Steve or Don or Sarah or Tom or Rob or Marey … perhaps it would have been different. All of these people have, over the course of this last year, provided excellent Christian nourishment for my soul, by media in its various forms. And they have spoiled me. Here, when faced with the amateur version, I’m out. God bless those who stayed.

For my part, I did commune with the waves. I watched the gulls gather and sing from their choir lofts in the shallows. I marveled at the pinks reflected in the sky and the birds delighting in the sun’s first new rays. I greeted walkers-by, calling Happy Easter on occasion, when it seemed safe to say so. I silently thanked the many individuals with large trash bags who swept through picking up human discards from the beachfront, caring for the earth over which we have been given dominion.

But was this worship? Was this even Easter?

Silently, I departed, after marking the official sunrise at 7:17 am. The clouds overhead promised it would be a good one – lots of rays reflected early over the new day. As I drove into our neighborhood, I nearly screeched to a stop. I couldn’t help my intake of breath when I saw the poor lifeless bunny sprawled across the roadway. Oh, I thought, not on Easter. And then, What if some poor child returned from Easter services only to find the Easter Bunny lying dead on the ground?

As I pulled into my driveway I realized what I surely needed to do.

I gathered some supplies and walked back to the sad scene where the rabbit’s body still lay, its side pierced, its eyes sunken and lifeless. With some difficulty I managed to lift him, remarkably heavy and still warm. I carried his body to an out-of-the-way place and laid him gently under the hedge. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Easter Bunny. After shoveling a bit of mulch and a few leaves over him, I pronounced a brief word of thanks, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Saddened, I turned to return home along the paved walkway when a small, chocolate brown bunny caught my eye. He nibbled at the green grass in the shade of a nearby bush, apparently, unconcerned about my presence. Once satisfied, he hopped away out of sight.

And it was Easter.

Did I go back to the burial site to check under the hedge? Not yet.

Broken like a record: 400,000 lives need us to carry them into a new day

There I go again. No matter how I turn, turn, turn, I seem to keep ending up in the same place. Same grumbling. Same shaking my head. Same temptation to just keep dialing into the doom that feels nearly overwhelming in spite of my best efforts to haul myself up and onto the happy train.

Four years ago, while I was traversing the Capitol Mall on my way to attend the National Book Festival, I got a look at the 2016 Inauguration preparations. Pedestrians were only allowed to cross on designated pebbled pathways which were bounded on either side by tall chain link fence. Looking through the links I saw, in one distance, the Capitol building and in the other, the Washington Monument. Between them, what is normally a grassy expanse was instead covered in white plastic tarp, dotted at regular intervals by thousands of black sandbags. It looked to me like a huge cemetery.

How prophetic this feels today as tomorrow’s inauguration looms, now with 400,000 lives lost in the US alone to this deadly pandemic. I’m mired in gloom as I watch current preparations underway, standing as I am with metaphorical feet mired in today’s muddied grounds. I, free of Covid infection so far, am instead wracked by the virus of anger, unprotected by my antibodies of indifference, distracted continuously by division and rancor, all the while fretting in fear. Stone cold stuck in a furrow of my own making.

All of this angst fueled the very capable side-planking exercise I performed early this morning. 60 seconds to the right side: 60 seconds to the left. Stable and strong until I then tred to elevate one leg. Ha! it shouts, taunting and merciless. The mind says go, but the muscles say no way! Those hamstrings ain’t what they used to be, but at least they’re truthful. Better than my core which is now suspiciously silent.

Funny how a bit of daily sturdiness can trick ya into thinking you’re moving right along when actually you’re stuck in the rut of your regular routine. All that time you thought you were making beautiful music you were just a skip in the record, repeating the same refrain, over and over and over.

Time to pick up the arm of that old Victrola and set the needle on the next track to play a new song. Gently.

Today, this January 19th of 2021, the vast lawn of our National Mall is being draped, one might say planted, with 400,000 flags, each one representing a person who will not attend this inauguration because of Covid-19. Today, this hallowed ground will, in fact, be a cemetery. The image, though desperately sad, is incredibly moving. Ironically, from this brokenness, we can be inspired. Inspired not just to set up camp and mourn for the lost, though we have to and we will continue to, but rather to pick them up and carry them with us into a better day.

God will provide that day.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

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