"A Damn Sight Better"
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown'. And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"
- Minnie Louise Haskins
It is dark outside. The kind of dark that comes as one day folds into the next. The rain falls softly after hours of torrential downpour, as if the world is literally getting a fresh start. Along with Happy New Year, I feel as though I should offer some profound reflection on 2020 that launches us into new with wisdom born of great insight on the year we have lived. The truth is that for most of 2020 the rhythms that support such grand understandings have been haphazard in my life, at best. Most every waking minute was spent taking care of the next most demanding task in support of church or child, with time for extended meditation a rare commodity. So I find myself unsettled about how to reflect on 2020. I could make a long list of all for which I am grateful, including how amazing the Martin family has been, and writing it out truly would take me well into 2021. I should admit that I've been a much less effective housekeeper since March than my grand aspirations at the beginning of this strange season would have predicted. While it felt like everyone else dusted every corner joint, repainted or remodeled, and manicured their yards, my big achievement was migrating my at-home work space from room to room while leaving trails of paper bread crumbs along the way. I should also share that while there were many moments that I felt deeply disappointed by choices we made, there were more moments that I was in utter awe of who we are. While I am at it, I would also confess that while some were toning, sculpting and losing their way through 2020, I was among those who were not; in fact, this dumpster fire of a year afforded me not only a fiftieth birthday but the gift of hot flashes and all the assorted joys that accompany it. And my plans to structure the ideal homeschool experience for Erin around the other demands of life? Well, let me just say that I hope it was enough and that preschoolers really are far more resilient than we think.
Finding the perfect scriptural verse or two to encompass the kind of profound pastoral reflection I envisioned offering proved impossible; the whole of the bible is this story of dark and light; hope and disappointment; aspiration and failure, all met with Divine Love that wraps it all in grace, supports us in unexpected changes and grants us new beginnings. Well, the new year as dawned, and it occurs to me that the words that represent our collective experience of 2020 have already been written by Mr. Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Our new beginning as congregation and pastor began in 2017 (I know, I can't believe it either!) Our first Sunday together in worship I shared with you three things about myself. Recap: I can't sing well, I don't have all the answers (and I don't trust anyone who purports to have it all figured out), and I am not perfect. We will look back on 2020 for years to come reflecting on choices made and opportunities missed. You have been so gracious with me, the leadership team and the staff, understanding that our decisions have been made with awareness that we do not have all the answers but that our choices must be grounded in doing no harm, doing good, and staying in relationship with God. Thank you for the many letters, emails, texts, and calls voicing affirmation and support over the year. They have made all the difference.
As we live into 2021, I think perhaps it is time to share with you something about myself that hasn't come up in the last four years: I've long been a huge M*A*S*H fan. I grew up with the gang of the 4077th and my copy of the Official Guide to M*A*S*H episodes is filled with little check marks, all episodes marked - some with as many as 7 or 8 checks.
In real life, among the bravest are the brave men and women who staffed those field hospitals in Korea (and every other conflict and war in which we have engaged). After all, not all heroes wear combat uniforms. Many of them wear scrubs, and we are indebted to those current-day heroes who are sacrificing so much every day to fight a war brought to us in 2020, one we failed to anticipate, didn't expect and have struggled to fight given its ever-changing boundaries. At the beginning of the new year, we are quickly approaching 350,000 American deaths from COVID-19 in less than 12 months - almost seven times as many Americans as were killed in Vietnam, a war that lasted 19 years. So, if you will indulge one slightly off-color word not typically found in the communications of a "perfect" pastor, I will point us to one of those heroes in scrubs, a grandfather of my childhood, and the stalwart of an iconic series for our toast to the new that is to come. I firmly believe that in the dumpster fire that was 2020 things were being made new. I know I am. Divine Love wraps us all in grace, supports us in unexpected changes and grants us new beginnings. Happy NEW Year, Friends!