My Benediction

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From the moment the CoVid-19 shutdown began I’ve been using what digital skills I have to keep people connected. I streamed a daily devotional through the end of Lent of ABCNJ, am hosting a weekly stream during on Sunday Mornings 1, and have done several video chats with pastors and civic leaders to keep folks up to date on CoVid-19 impact and coping strategies. This is the type of use I’ve envisioned for streaming for years and, while the circumstances are awful, I’m glad to offer some small connection for people during this season.

When this all began I felt the need to sign off with a benediction which captured the ethos our community would need to practice. I’m not much for lengthy statements, they tend to be used to draw focus to the speaker instead of the content. So I settled on a series of three simple exhortations, followed by encouragement. Together, they form a blessing.

Stay healthy. Be wise. Live with grace.
We will all get through this, together.

This is what I want for our communities, because if we follow these exhortations we will be blessed. We will support one another in our difficulties, make space for people who are struggling, and speed the day in which we will be able to step out with confidence we won’t harm our neighbors. We can disagree over timelines, and the extent to which mitigation needs to be in place as we emerge from our homes, but if we follow these exhortations we’ll see neighbors as fellow pilgrims through this season. If we don’t follow exhortations like these, on the other hand, we’ll tend to see anyone with whom we disagree as the enemy. We will tear our communities apart.

If there are “two sides” at present 2 then the lines aren’t drawn in the places we’re conditioned to see them. The one, amorphous, “side” holds everyone who is looking for an enemy. They want to have someone to hate, to rage against, and to feel superior over. These folks have enshrined being a jerk 3 toward those with whom they are not in full agreement as a virtue. In fact, such an attitude is the “currency” by which their trenches are dug. This attitude isn’t healthy, lacks wisdom, and excludes the charity by which we are able see grace in action.

On the other “side” are folks who are willing to see the conflicting needs which much be part of wholistic public health policy, are self-aware enough to expect disagreements, and are willing to work for a path forward which minimizes as much risk as possible. And, while we are trained to see the “sides” from the perspective of the trench-diggers, there are a lot more folks who are willing to wrestle together against this pandemic than there are trench-digging culture warriors. It’s time those who want to work with others, even folks with whom they disagree, to say, “Enough.” That is the way forward.

Having written this, allow me to clarify some things.

I am no exalted saint of patience and tolerance. If someone is being a spiteful idiot, I have no problem pointing this out 4. And, frankly, there are more than enough times where I find myself digging in the trenches before I even realize what’s happening 5.

I am also not “neutral,” nor do I think there is such a thing. I have beliefs and biases, because I’m a person and that’s what we do. When it comes to a pandemic I believe in learning lessons from history, and having humility before an ever-growing data set I am not trained to understand. I also find the Christian complaints about the first amendment begin trampled on because group gatherings aren’t permitted during stay at home orders to be hollow–more concerned about a sense of personal power than loving one’s neighbors.

I am willing to sit down with anyone who wants to work in good faith towards a shared future. In so doing I recognize my thoughts may not always become policy 6, just as those with whom I am in partnership won’t have their thoughts become community policy. I’ll never “win” in the way our zero-sum culture has defined it, but I will be heard. I will be part of a shared present and future, and that is enough.

Stay healthy. Be wise. Live with grace. We will all get through this.

Together.


  1. I have been deliberate to say this is not worship. It’s called “Central Mornings.” 
  2. This simplistic view of the world tends to do more harm than good, so I’m using it here with a small bit of trepidation. 
  3. I could use much stronger language there. 
  4. I am an equal opportunity invective thrower, though, and my harshest words are most often reserved for those with whom I have nominal agreement. 
  5. I hope I’m not alone in this. 
  6. I’m an American Baptist Pastor, I expect this.