Through the season of Lent I posted over thirty pictures to social media with quotations over the spiritual themes of Lent. It all started by accident. I wrote out in a red marker a quote I was reading from St. Augustine, and then the next day I wrote out another one not he white board and posted, and then a trend set in.
By that first weekend I had an idea of what I wanted to do. I outlined a pattern of Fridays being Bible verses, Saturdays would be song references, Thursdays would be inspiring quotes of Christian content, Tuesdays would be pop culture and literature references and Monday’s would be primarily theological in nature.
My method was to create the quote in an analogy way. Yes, it would be delivered digitally in the photograph, but I wanted it to be real items like paper, chalk, ink, wood. For the most part I succeeded in this. The one exception was to get a typewriter font I used my Mac, but it is actually printed on paper.
There were some quotes I intended to use but never did. For example, I intended to use a Brene Brown quote where she says, ‘Sometimes the bravest and most most important thing you can do is just show up.” I love the quote and have taught my children for yeas that 90% of success is just showing up. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis when we are encouraging people to stay home I decided that might send the wrong message and people might misunderstand that I was one of those misinformed and misguided people who think social distancing is a bunch of bunk. By contrast, I am a historian. I know full well the danger of a pandemic.
I also wanted to use a Stephen King quote I like — “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” It is a good quote for Lent, but I just never got to it. Another one I wanted to use was “You can’t fight in the war room” from Dr. Strangelove but alas, it didn’t happen. I wanted to put up one day one of my favorite thoughts on Lent — “Why do they call it a fast when it goes so slow?”
Brene Brown, Anne Lamott, and James the Brother of Jesus got the most comments and likes.
I must admit I was surprised most of these didn’t get more attention. But who knows how the FB algorithms work, right? I’ll probably reuse them again next year, with perhaps a few more added in. Until then they are posted here for you to peruse, or if you want swipe them and post them to your page. I don’t care. These were my arts and crafts projects for the spring.
This famous quote from Tolkien has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of a week. It squeezed out of my mouth in Sunday’s sermon, perhaps the last sermon for a while as we all hunker down for COVID-19 contingencies. It is one of the better sentiments on crisis one can internalize.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2
First an observation completely applicable to my thoughts. In the novel, this line comes very early as Gandalf is letting Frodo in on the history and darkness of the ring. The line helps set us up as the reader for the peril that is to come, and for Gandalf’s philosophy in how to handle it. By contrast, in the movie version, this conversation is moved deeper into the film, in the Mines of Moria.
This matters a bit. The movie has these words when the trouble of the times is fully on them, after the Council of Elrond, after Weathertop, and after they are trapped inside the dark mine. We know the story will get darker yet, but from Frodo’s perspective, in the movie, he probably thinks it is already as horrible as it can get. Getting these words in the middle of it is one thing.
But Tolkien wrote them at the beginning. When Frodo is still in The Shire, around his fire, with clean clothes and a full belly. In the novel, Frodo’s words are about trying to avoid difficult times altogether, in which Gandalf basically says, ‘Hard times can’t be avoided’ In the movie, Frodo’s words are about ‘I wish I wasn’t in this horrible time.’ to which Gandalf essentially says, “we all do.”
Why am I thinking so much about this exchange? Because we are in the beginning of some very difficult times. Gandalf is telling us we can’t do a thing about the fact we live in these times, and pining away for the past–even if that past was only two months ago–doesn’t help. We have to choose, decide, how we’re going to react and behave right now. And to answer that, there are three options.
We can live in denial. “There is no threat,” or “It is all hyped up and overreaction,” or perhaps, “I’m young so it will not bother me.”
We can panic and live in fear. These are the emotions which are producing bare grocery store shelves and people talking about the end of the world.
We can choose to be true to our calling in Christ and fulfill the great commandment.
As you might imagine, I encourage you to reject denial, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and all sorts of bad ideas. I also think we need to not feed the panic and fear. So how do we fulfilling our caring in Christ? How do we rise above it and decide the noble, highest use of the time we’ve been given?
It starts with perspective. The Lord put you on the planet to love people, which means to be a helper. You can help the entire world by practicing social distancing, follow the recommendations of health officials, and staying home.
But that is not the only help. I encourage you all to be proactive. Reach out to your neighbors and friends and make certain they are okay. You probably have vulnerable people near you — older people, those with chronic immune illnesses, COPD, and other respiratory issues — and these people shouldn’t be anywhere near a grocery store or in the population right now. So you can help. Make sure they know you’re available to go to the store for them, deliver meds from the pharmacy, or just to call and say hi.
It also helps everyone when you stay calm. Calmness comes from remembering two things. One, this is not the first crisis we’ve had. We are being asked to stay home and watch Netflix, our grandparents were asked to leave home and fight the Nazis. See the difference? The second thing it helps to remember is none of this was a surprise to God. He knew it was coming, and he has prepared you–indeed if I may — he has chosen you for this time. This is your time to shine; so do it. And do it well.
It will also help if you smile. Say encouraging words. Be playful. Give thanks. Worship the Lord. Love.
It is when times are tough that our true character emerges and our actual core values take center stage. I believe we are a noble people, and I believe the Lord is working right now to show us how to live better and behave better by loving each other.
But these aren’t my only thoughts. Time is subject here from Tolkien’s novel. Literally, not figuratively, literally many of us have been given time. Time at home. Make the most of it. Play games with your family. Work on a project you’ve been putting off. Paint the deck. Increase your exercise routine. How about read a book — I happen to know some great books by this Greening guy . . .
Get creative. Paint a picture. Write a poem.
Clean the house. Mop the floors. Call your mom/dad/brother and talk.
Read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament. Study the words of Jesus. Pray more. Pray different.
You and I can’t get out of the time we live in nor can we change it. What we can do, is our time well. This, right now, is the time we’ve been given. What are you going to do with yours?