Imagine a rubber raft large enough to accommodate a dozen or more persons floating down a wide river…lazily at first, but then the current quickens and soon the sound of rapids fills the air. As the raft approaches the rushing rapids, everyone takes their seats, grips the hand-holds, and prepares to hang on for dear life. Hoops and hollers emanate from the raft…it’s hard to tell which are shouts of excitement and which are shrieks of fear. It doesn’t matter; everyone is having a jolly good time, and as the raft shoots out the bottom of the rapids into calmer waters, cheers and high-fives break out all around. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie among the rafters—they have navigated an adventure together that was both exciting and fearful. It’s a shared experience rather than a solitary experience. A day of rafting can quickly build a lot of community!
The story of Jonah (in the Old Testament) gets off to a rough start. The Lord’s call comes to Jonah to go to Nineveh, but instead of complying, Jonah flat-out refuses, books passage on a ship and heads off to Tarshish. Jonah is not only disobedient; he is conniving and irrational—attempting to flee from the very presence of God (1:3). One of many ironies in the story is that, when the great storm came up that threatened to break the ship apart and the sailors asked Jonah what he had done to bring this great trouble on them, Jonah replied, “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah is trying to flee from God’s presence on land and sea, yet he acknowledges that God made the sea and the land, implying that God is also present there. So how does Jonah expect to get away from God’s presence, really?! The attempt to flee from God is irrational, and surely Jonah knows it. But he does it anyway.
First, an explanation: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is the title of a book edited by Genevieve West. It’s a book of short stories written by Zora Neale Hurston, a black writer from the 1920’s and ’30’s. Zora died penniless and in obscurity, but her work was discovered later and she is described as an “outstanding novelist, skilled folklorist, journalist, and critic…who for thirty years was the most prolific black woman writer in America.” Her tales are both humorous and serious, taken mostly from the culture of the Deep South in the early 1900’s, but sprinkled with stories about northern cities as well.
A question church leaders in virtually every denomination have been asking for some time now is, “Where will the next generation of pastors come from?” A high percentage of pastors are approaching retirement age, and as our own Pastor Search Committee can attest, the number of available and qualified candidates for pastoral positions is small. Studies tell us that 50 percent of pastors leave the ministry within their first five years of service, and 90 percent of clergy do not stay in until retirement. Right or wrong, there is a perception that ministry is an increasingly difficult profession, one that is hard on those who are called. Many seminary students are not looking for pastorates; they’re taking classes for personal growth and enrichment.
The word “essential” has been used a lot over the past several months in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic—essential businesses, essential services, essential workers, etc. Essential businesses that provide essential services and should remain open include agriculture and food production, grocery stores, hospitals and other healthcare operations, pharmacies, garbage collection, water and wastewater treatment facilities, gas stations, banks, post offices, etc. Barbershops, beauty salons, theaters, gyms, museums, and bowling alleys, on the other hand, have mostly been on the nonessential list.