Psalm 22 – COVID and the Coming School Year

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
    strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)

The coming school year

Indulge me, if you will, in a moment of self pity. I got word from our school-board the other day that we as parents have two choices: Half-time instruction in-school, with children alternating weeks they are in-classroom and receiving at-home instruction, or opting for full-time at-home instruction. I am extremely concerned about the recent COVID spikes in states that attempted re-openings, and am scared to death of what schools across the nation opening in a few weeks is going to do to these numbers, so I opted for the latter.

Let me be clear, I think the school board made the best decision they could: no one is going to be happy with any decision they make, but this is probably the closest they’ll get to “getting it right” in an impossible situation. I also am deeply grateful to the teachers who are essentially going to have to come up with two lesson plans – one for in-school and one for remote teaching. But essentially, I just signed on to a full year of being little M’s teacher and therapist, in addition to her mother and advocate. I have never been someone who wanted to homeschool. It has never been remotely tempting. Yet here I am, doing it. I’ll be working with her teachers, but she’s a special-needs kindergartner, so let’s be honest here: self-directed study is not going to happen. I’m staring a new full-time job in the face come August 10.

Yes, I’m grateful I have the option to do this with and for my child. Yes, I will relish the time we get to spend together. Yes, I love being a part of her progress as she learns and grows. I am grateful. I really am. But I’m also so very tired. I’m tired of limiting her opportunities for social development because of a global pandemic. I’m tired of being afraid to go to the river with the girls too late in the day because there will be too many people there. I’m saddened that my youngest is now afraid of people walking by us when we walk the dogs, because I’ve tried to explain we need to be friends from afar for now. I hate having to explain to my girls for the millionth time that we can’t do a car-ride to their grandmas and grandpas, who they haven’t seen, outside of Facetime, in months. But more than anything I’m so, so worried about how many families might lose children come fall, reopening schools, and COVID spikes. So even though I’m tired, we will stay home: for our health and theirs.

The Psalm

Psalm 22 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are the words Jesus cries out on the cross. Other parts allude to Jesus as well: “a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (v. 16), “they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (v. 18). It is a lament, an anguished cry of a psalm, which is why I chose it for this week’s reading. “Why, Lord?” it asks. Also, “where are you, Lord?” Those two questions have been my heart’s cries for weeks now. I am sad, I am tired, my efforts feel futile.

Yet here I am, “declaring your name to my brothers,” as v. 22 puts it. Even as tired as I am, I cannot resist the gravity of God’s pull. I saw something on Instagram today that said “God is the God of your valleys as well as your mountains.” It’s comforting, in a small way, to know that God loves us even when we aren’t feeling our best selves, perhaps even when we are feeling a little sorry for ourselves, or shaky in our beliefs. And for that, I will continue to sing Xyr praises even while asking “why?” and “where?”

I find it comforting, too, that this psalm has already been fulfilled, not only through Jesus, but through the declaration at the very end: “Posterity will serve Xyr, future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim Xyr righteousness, to a people yet unborn — for Xe has done it.” It is estimated that the final compilation of the psalms was in the third century B.C., which means many of these psalms had been sung for a long time before. Millennia of generations have sung these psalms, and the goodness of God has carried us here, in that tide. It may not always seem good, but something about that longevity gives me hope, and gives me perspective. My tired is real, but it is temporary. Even if it lasts the rest of my life (and I hope it doesn’t, and I don’t believe God wants that for any of Xyr children), it is still temporary. I may wallow around in my valley of self pity for a bit, but God is there with me. And when I’m ready to climb back to the mountaintop, God will walk with me then, too.

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Ruth 02 – Lessons in Allyship from the Pride Community

19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Boaz in the Ruth Story

Oh hey Pride Month, I still see you over there, behind the global pandemic and long-overdue nationwide anger over racism. Today, we’re going to pay a little attention to you. Let’s draw analogies between the greater LGBTQ+ community and Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer who saved Ruth and Naomi from poverty and lives as outcasts, because both have lessons to teach the rest of us in how to be a good ally.

First to brush up on the story of Ruth: Ruth was not an Israelite, she was a Moabite who married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. Now, not only did Ruth’s husband die, but her brother-in-law and father-in-law died, leaving her, her sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, Naomi, destitute. Naomi decides to return to her ancestral lands to see if she can rely upon her community for kindness in her time of need, and Ruth follows her (we can discuss if Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was romantic or not another time, I promise, but that’s not for today’s post). They arrive in Bethlehem, and Ruth sets about gleaning (gathering what is left behind by the harvesters) so she and Naomi won’t go hungry. She catches the eye of Boaz, who provides her successively with: protection in the field, additional food, a promise of marriage, and the legacy of her deceased husband’s name.

You could make the case for Boaz’s interest in Ruth was a calculated one: there was land at stake in marrying her. Perhaps that early kindness is an effort to woo her, and throwing Ruth and Naomi in the land deal at the last minute may have been an effort to deter the heir apparent, but even so, nothing was guaranteed to Boaz. And I’m sure Boaz appreciated a young, possibly beautiful woman becoming his wife. But more than anything Boaz was doing what was right because it was right to help these two women, not what was right because it meant sleeping with Ruth. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth before she shows any interest in coming under his matrimonial protection, because kindness to these two women was important in and of itself. Uplifting these two women meant uplifting and strengthening the larger community, that he gains personally from it (in the form of land and heirs) is the just and Biblical happy-ending for our hero.

Double Shout Out to Pride

This brings me to my double Pride shout out: for their being awesome allies in the fight against COVID and in the most recent Black Lives Matter movement. Boaz did what was right with no expectation of fanfare but also while calling the community to witness (which he does when he convenes the elders in chapter four), and that is also what the Pride community has done in both its handling of COVID and Black Lives Matter.

There was no anger in the fact that Pride events had to be canceled due to COVID, instead the organizers took active steps in protection: The NYC Pride Parade and associated in-person events were canceled all the way back in April. This is a big deal, y’all: last year saw record attendance at nationwide Pride events, and this year is the 50th anniversary of the first pride march (the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which the 1970 march commemorated, was, of course, last year). Pride organizers and attendees would have every right to be upset that this year’s events have drastically changed. But has a peep of that disappointment made itself public? I haven’t seen any. The Pride community knows that by canceling these events, they are keeping their community, and indeed the larger community, safe and healthy.

Then, when the protests of last month started, the Pride community jumped behind them wholeheartedly: because repression of one group cannot be fully addressed until repression of all groups is recognized. Instead of getting mad that Pride month may be sharing the spotlight this year (no “gay lives matter, too,” though an appropriate #blacktranslivesmatter hashtag has been gaining visibility), LGBTQ+ leaders and individuals have shown an outpouring of sympathy and support. Contrast this with the Michigan COVID protesters angry that they can’t get a haircut, or the tone-deaf individuals insisting “all lives matter,” and it’s pretty clear who has the moral high-ground here.

Being a good ally

I actually hate the word ally, it sounds performative, and it should be redundant: Boaz stood with and for the repressed Naomi and Ruth. Jesus calls us to do the same for the repressed of today. The Pride community has answered that call better than most of us. If we see injustices happening (and no, not being able to get your nails done does not count as an injustice), we, as Christians, are duty-bound to help end those injustices. Boaz gave of both his wealth and his social influence, not to mention the protection of his house and name. So, to all the LGBTQ+ individuals out there holding space for Black Lives Matter, and abiding by safety protocols for COVID quarantines, whether you are Christian or not, I bless you as Naomi blessed Boaz. God sees your heart, and I know Xe is well pleased.

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Ecclesiastes 03 – Patience; Surrender; and Charity in Action.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

 

Patience and Surrender

Indeed, there is a time for everything.  A right time, a due time, for everything.  But that time is not for us to decide.  As v. 11 says: “we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Things may not make sense now, but there is a divine plan at work.

Believing in this divine plan requires two very difficult virtues, some I’ll readily admit I’m not great at: Patience and Surrender. While related, I see them as two distinct practices.  Patience means we wait.  Surrender means we trust.  Putting those two virtues into practice means we must wait for the right time, trusting that God will bring that right time about – even trusting it to happen beyond our lifetime, if need be.

Charity

But patience and surrender do not mean we sit idly by.  There are many beautiful passages in this short chapter, but the one that had the most impact on me was vv. 12-13: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil — this is the gift of God.” Emphasis my own, because I want to make sure you see the inclusive nature of this language, the action that it calls us to: we are to do good so that everyone may find satisfaction.

Qohelet does not shrink from acknowledging the evil and indifference in the world. “In the place of judgement — wickedness was there, in the place of justice — wickedness was there,” reads v. 16.  He also acknowledges our base natures in vv. 18-19: “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals, the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath, man has no advantage over the animal.”

But even with these allowances to the harsh natural world, Qohelet realizes this: “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” Even believing in universal reconciliation as I do, I’d rather be lumped in with the righteous.  In order to be so lumped, it is our God-given duty to not only find enjoyment for ourselves, but to make sure we help others find that enjoyment, too.  I read this passage as a ringing endorsement of global human rights.  Everyone deserves the right to eat, drink, and find fulfillment in their work (which implies a safe working and home environment – otherwise enjoyment would be hard to come by).

A time to act

“Nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”  This is a verse from chapter eight that I’ve already quoted once and will probably quote again, because I think it is the best summation of the vision Qohelet has for peaceful and prosperous living.  It is a goal that we should all be working towards, for ourselves and everyone living.  The time to act on that goal is now and always, until it is attained.  The time for different tactics may change, but the time for action does not.

So what does that action look like right now?  Now is an excellent time to call your representatives to say you want to see benefits like Medicaid and SNAP extended, small business loans un-fucked, and decarceration explored further.  It’s also an excellent time to buy giftcards from small businesses that may not be open right now but still have bills (or small businesses that are open, like my own Sylvanaqua Farms! Sorry, had to plug),  support creative entreprenuers (like my awesome cousin Abby who went from teaching Pilates classes in NYC to streaming Pilates classes from her childhood home in Connecticut), and make donations to food banks and other social safety net organizations.

But mainly, I think action means staying at home as much as you are able.  I do not begrudge (or envy) anyone who can’t abide by stay-at-home orders due to their jobs, or who may need to hire babysitters to come into their home, or send their kids to the daycares that are starting to re-open because they can’t miss any more work.  I don’t begrudge you patronizing restaurants with curbside pickup because you just can’t make one more meal, or going to Target for your groceries because then you can also pick out some clothes (I know I need to figure out getting my girls new shoes sometime soon) and maybe a little pick-me-up present for yourself.  Because sometimes what is classified as non-essential does, in some cases, actually become essential.  That rather long qualification aside, I’ll add my plea to the millions of others you’ve probably heard: if you can, please stay home.  Those with cancer, the elderly, the newborns, the chronically ill – not to mention the families and loved ones of all the aforementioned people – are relying upon all of us to abide by social distancing and vigilant hand washing so that they can live.  As Qohelet has made clear, we all have the right to eat, drink, and be glad; and we all have the responsibility to make sure everyone has that right, as well.

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