In a special edition of Leader magazine about ministry in the age of COVID-19, Fred Longenecker reaches out to “spiritual-but-not-religious” (SBNR) skeptics of Christian faith. (Fred serves as a mental health recovery coach for Oaklawn Psychiatric Center in South Bend, IN.) He notes that today’s skeptics often distrust religion, church, and the Bible, but often do believe in their inner world and their experiences. So, in his article, “Seventeen spiritual truths from COVID-19,” Fred seeks to spark an acceptance and experience of faith that begins on the inside rather than on the outside. Beginning from the outside may depend on convincing skeptics to trust in the very things they already distrust—like religion, church, and the Bible. Beginning from the inside is a way of introducing skeptics to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit as a first experience of living faith.
One of the social institutions of the United States is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Technically, according to a Supreme Court ruling in 1943, no one may require public school students to recite the Pledge. But in schools and in other places where standing at attention, facing the US flag, with hands over hearts, and reciting the pledge is customary, it can be quite intimidating to not do what others around you are doing—especially in a world that values social conformity, and devalues what is different.
On Monday evening we had a very nice shower of rain at our place—the rain gauge measured an inch. Apparently it was one of those spotty showers that not everyone got; next time we may not be so fortunate. As I emptied the rain gauge the next morning, I breathed a prayer of thanks for the rain. Gift…sheer gift, all that rain. Not that the ground has been particularly dry (some farmers are having a hard time making hay), but I didn’t do a lick of work for that rain, did nothing to earn it, and nothing to deserve it. It just showed up, watered all the plants and shrubbery for us, and blessed us abundantly while we sat on the screen porch and enjoyed it. Simple, and simply blessed.
High School graduations this year have reminded me not only of significant life passages, but of how quickly life itself passes. While 17 and 18 year olds (and a few 16 year olds) celebrate the completion of high school, this marks my 50th year since high school graduation. This is the year I’ll go to my high school class reunion and wonder who all the old people are there, and think I must surely be in the wrong place! Good grief…how and when did my classmates get so old while I managed to stay young? Or have I grown older too, but just didn’t notice? And what about these remarkably young-looking persons graduating this year (they still look like kids, don’t they?)—will 50 more years of living age them like my classmates?
All of a sudden everyone is talking and writing about racism in this country. Mission agencies, churches, denominational leaders, some business leaders (including Walmart), local government leaders, etc., are coming out with statements deploring the disparities and inequities between races and ethnic groups in this country, and calling for racial healing and unity. The trigger, of course, for these many statements, blogs, podcasts, and other information platforms is the death of George Floyd, and the massive and sustained protests that followed. Is this a bandwagon, or a fad, that people are jumping on and which will soon pass, or could this be a transformative and grace-filled season in which our nation does fortify itself with compassion and understanding about race and the inequities that have long given certain advantages and privilege to some people while disadvantaging others? I hope and pray it’s the latter.