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lenten journal: doing what we can

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Pop Art style comic book panel girl calling and yelling out loud with speech bubble vector illustration

As Ginger and I walked down to the marina late this afternoon, I tried to figure out how many days we have been in our communal isolation. Best I can remember, the restaurants and bars in Connecticut closed down last weekend. Maybe it was last year. The way the days pass right now reminds me of the “crazy cat diary” that shows up from time to time.

DAY 752 – My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

It is getting more difficult to keep track of what day it is because one is not so different from another.

I am aware that, for me, I think of our new world order beginning last Sunday because that was when we had our “farewell service” at church. About seventy of us gathered (and spread out) in the sanctuary to say goodbye to our physical gathering and to commit to our ongoing solidarity. Tomorrow will be our first virtual worship. Jake and Ginger will go over to the building and ring the bell, but our church will be all over town, in living rooms and bedrooms, worshipping together.

This afternoon, I baked cookies–something I have not done in a long, long time. At Ginger’s request, I made my Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Sriracha Cookies, which were a favorite in the days of Milton’s Famous. Ginger has been craving them for a while and the chance to share with some folks as a way to reach across the distance made it a compassionate endeavor as well. Two of the people we wanted to take cookies to live down near the marina, which is why we walked down there.

After we dropped off the cookies, we ordered dinner from the Guilford Mooring. They make a Cape Cod Potato Chip-crusted fish and chips that Ginger loves. Their Bolognese is one of my favorites. I called and ordered both as we walked. We got home with our food only to find fried clam strips instead of fish. When I called the restaurant, I learned that they were not going to keep the kitchen open after tonight and they were out of fish. They were kind to refund the cost of our meal.

I felt for Ginger and I felt for the man on the other end of the phone. He said they had decided to close because they couldn’t figure out how to order food in a way that made sense. They are a fresh seafood restaurant. Instead, they are just going to wait it out. That means, of course, no one that works there will draw a salary.

Cookies won’t fix that.

I have seen three or four articles this week that pointed to the variety of ways in which we, the people, have found ways to connect and support one another in the middle of our unfortunate isolation. And it is worth noting. We have had a good week. We are going to need a lot of good weeks–maybe good months–to get through this together. The acts of kindness we have shown to one another are going to need to become weekly, or perhaps daily, rituals. The donations we have made will need to be more than one time things.

We can’t lose sight of the people in lives just because we don’t see them everyday. None of us can take care of everyone, but all of us can do something. And do it over and over. All of us are going to need help to get through this, which means we are going to have to learn to ask for it the way Ginger asked for the cookies.

Add it to the list: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, help somebody.

Peace,
Milton

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peanut butter chocolate chip sriracha cookies

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This is Ginger’s favorite cookie from my Milton’s Famous days. I made some this afternoon to take to some folks who are self-quarantined.

1 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c peanut butter
2 c brown sugar
1/4 c sriracha
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla
3 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
24 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and sriracha in a stand mixer and mix until smooth and creamy. Take your time. Let the mixer run for four minutes or so.

Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet mixture and mix until combine. Add the chocolate chips and mix until they are distributed throughout the dough.

Line baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat. I use a 2 oz scoop for my cookies. Scoop them on to the baking sheet and then flatten them just a bit with your palm. Cook for 8-10 minutes. If you use a smaller scoop, you may have to adjust cooking time.

Makes about five dozen 2 ounce cookies.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: shelter

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It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

That is the Irish proverb from which Pádraig Ó Tuama takes the title of his book. I’ve been thinking about it all day, particularly since our governor announced a new “stay home, stay safe” policy that requires all “non-essential” businesses to close. I assume that means Blazing Fresh Donuts, across the street from our house, will stay open. What could be more essential?

Some other places have issued “shelter in place” orders, which is another way of saying take care of yourself by staying right where you are rather than evacuating. As far as the ‘Rona goes, there’s nowhere to go to get out from under it. But staying put is no guarantee.

To stay home is no guarantee of staying safe. Or, I might add after almost a week of this new world order, staying sane.

In the chapter I re-read today, three statements that Pádraig Ó Tuama made stuck with me. He talking about a particular period in his life when he said

The way I believed in God fed a distrust of life and a comfort with doom. Better the doomy god you know than the roomy god you don’t, I suppose.

I carried the image of a “roomy God” around with me all day, as I went to several stores trying to find things in short supply, or get things we needed, as I listened to news of what feels like impending doom. As the house–and the world–feel like they are getting smaller, I need a roomy God. An expansive God. An unquarantined God.

The second sentence that followed me around was a question Pádraig asked himself one morning as a part of his spiritual practice:

What is happening that I need to welcome?

What do I need to make room for, even as life seems to feel more like an escape room with the walls closing in?

The question is deeper to me than saying we have to look on the bright side of life. Asking what we need to welcome is not simply looking for what will make us feel better. It calls me to come to terms with being where I am. Here. Right now–which takes me to the third thing Pádraig said.

To deny here is to harrow the heart.

I am grateful for all of the shows of connectedness I have seen this past week: the concerts, the messages, the acts of kindness, the donations to help businesses stay open. We have set a good standard for ourselves that we are going to need to keep up for longer than we think. These are harrowing days and we need to shelter one another.

I feel like I’ve been sending you along with music all week, so I will not break my pattern. One of my favorite 80s bands was the Housemartins, and they had a song called “Shelter.”

in times when you’re troubled
seems more than you can afford
and you feel, you feel you need a friend
someone to share the load
and when your skies grow cloudy
I want you to know got a friend that’s true
just like a shelter, in a time of storm
I’ll see you through, that’s what I’ll do

Take us out, boys.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: hello

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I went back to In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama this morning because I needed his words again. I have no doubt his is a book I will keep coming back to. In the opening pages, he writes about Jesus visiting the disciples in the upper room after the Resurrection. He recalls an experience at the monastery in Taizé, France.

The Taizé brother suggested we pause for a moment and consider the words ‘Peace Be With You’ that the resurrected Jesus says to his locked in followers. The Taizé brother said that, in a real sense, we can read that as ‘Hello’. After all, it’s the standard greeting in Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. He smiled and asked us all to say hello in our own language. There were many languages in the room. Then we approached the text again.

The disciples were there, in fear, in the upper room, locked away, and suddenly the one they had abandoned and perhaps the one they most feared to be with them was with them and he said hello.

Hello to you in this locked room.

It was raining this morning when my friend Peter met for coffee, as we do most every Thursday morning at the Marketplace. Since we we locked out because of the restaurant closures, we got to go coffees at Cilantro and went down to the pavilion at Jacobs Beach. As we were settling in, a large AA group showed up looking for a place a group could gather that was dry and covered. We let them have the pavilion and we ended up sitting on the platform at the train station, waiting to go nowhere. As we sat there, the train came and went with no one on board.

I think about the people in that upper room. In just a day or two their lives had been thrown into total upheaval. Jesus had been arrested and executed and resurrected. Most of them had seen him. They had tried to go back to their fishing boats, but it hadn’t worked. Even the news that Jesus was alive had not altered much. They had self-isolated and locked themselves in the room where they had last had dinner with him. They were quarantined by their fear.

The story goes that Jesus came through the door. Without opening it. The lock stayed locked, but, all of a sudden, he was in the middle of the room.

“Peace be unto you.”

The disciples didn’t know to answer, “And also with you.” They just sat there.

Thanks to Pádraig, I picture Jesus holding the silence for a moment and saying, “Hello?”

The oldest roots of the word hello mean “a shout to attract attention”–hey, it’s me. With the invention of the telephone we started using the word hello as a greeting, a way to start a conversation across a distance. We heard the phone ring, picked it up, and said, “Hello.”

It was the first word of connection.

Hello . . .
in front of this closed restaurant
from this empty train station
in this overcrowded hospital
as I sing from my balcony
as I work to keep my business open
from a deserted sanctuary
in front of empty shelves
from this drive through window
from a safe distance
from a lonely room

The roots of the word peace mean “freedom from disorder” and “reconciliation, silence, and permission.” The most ancient meaning is “to fasten; a binding together.”

Peter and I had been in the pavilion about ten minutes before the first person arrived. He was an older man with a sort of Crocodile Dundee hat on. He didn’t speak when he came in, but sat at the other end of the pavilion smoking a cigarette. When two or three others started showing up and Peter and realized he was not alone, the man said, “I thought perhaps you were here for the AA meeting.” He was happy to say hello. To make room in the circle.

To offer peace. A binding together.

The Resurrection didn’t bury the fears of the disciples. They didn’t all yell, “He’s alive!” and everything went back to normal. And even this moment was not the last time they locked themselves in the room to feel safe. They locked themselves to be together, but fear carries no connective tissue. We are not bound together by what we are afraid of. As we hunker down and wait for more information about Corvid 19, our fear is not what will unite us. We, too, must dare to say hello from our locked rooms.

Hello: hey, it’s me.

Peace: hey, it’s us.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: get here

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I went walking around the Green today three different times for no other reason than I needed to get out of the house. The first time, Ginger and I walked down to the Marketplace to buy some bread, but my second trip was going nowhere in particular other than out. I came home to find that Ginger and Lila had made a break for it, so I hooked up Ella and Lizzy! and we went out to find them. Tonight Ginger and I made one more loop around the Green after dinner. We were the only ones in town who were out.

One of the reasons I made a point of walking today is I can feel a storm front looming. When my depression takes hold, I feel like I have on one of those green eye shades that poker dealers wear and I can’t get out from under the shadow of it. I can’t get enough light. I began seeing some of those shadows today, and I know walking is one of the ways I can keep them at bay at least part of the time. So we walked.

On my solo trip, a song popped into my head as I thought about all of the people I wish I could see–all of the people, both near and far away, that I want to make sure know I care about them even as I am leaning into the love I trust from them. It’s Brenda Russell’s song “Get Here.” I know the Oleta Adams version better, but Brenda is the one who wrote the words and music.

get here

you can reach me by railway, you can reach me by trailway
you can reach me on an airplane, you can reach me with your mind
you can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man
I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can

you can reach me by sailboat, climb a tree and swing rope to rope
take a sled and slide down the slope, into these arms of mine
you can jump on a speedy colt, cross the border in a blaze of hope
I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can

there are hills and mountains between us
always something to get over
if I had my way, surely you would be closer
I need you closer

you can windsurf into my life, take me up on a carpet ride
you can make it in a big balloon, but you better make it soon
you can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man
I don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can

I started singing an updated version

you can’t reach me by railway you can’t reach me by railways
you can’t reach me on an airplane, you can reach me with your mind

Then I jumped to the bridge

there are hills and mountains between us
always something to get over
if I had my way, surely you would be closer
I need you closer

Tonight during dinner Ginger was telling me how the deacons have divided up the congregation among them and have a plan to call everyone personally over the next month. The staff is working on sending postcards to every member. I’ve read other stories today about how people are trying to get here for one another.

If, on Day Three of Our Unfortunate Isolation, I am already feeling the storm clouds rolling in, I have to figure out how to get here for those I love, and for my own survival. The call Russell sends out to the one she loves in the song is to figure it out:

I don’t care how you get here, just get here . . .

Whoever was on the receiving end of that message understood they had to do something on purpose to get here; it wasn’t just going to happen. So, along with my walks and reading and journaling, I am going to make time to get over the hills and mountains between us. For me, texting and e-mail will probably be my main vehicles, but who knows what I might find. My usual practice when I get to my window seat at the Marketplace is to sit and look out the window and let names bubble up in my mind and heart. It’s my way of praying. I’m going to expand my practice in hopes that it gets me closer to whomever needs me to get here, or who I need to get here for me. I imagine I will be the one calling for help as well.

I am not writing to say everyone needs to do what I am doing, but I am writing to say the centrifugal force of the virus and everything else is throwing us to the edges and flinging us far away from each other. We have to be determined and tenacious to find each other across the distance.

I don’t care how you get here, just get here . . .

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: stack up the stones

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Tonight Ginger and I watched the lastest episode of American Idol. The show is at the point where they do video profiles of those who have made it to Hollywood Week and pull at the heartstrings as hard as they can. For almost every one of them, music was a way through the pain of existence and all of them had a dream of getting to do it for a living. At this point in the show, we are watching performances that were taped weeks, even months, ago. The thought that kept crossing my mind was I wonder how many more weeks before the shows are supposed to be live and we are told we won’t have a new American Idol this year.

Tonight should have been the first play-in games for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Instead, it has been cancelled, along with most every other sporting event on the planet. But for some–and I’m talking more than athletes here–this year is a pivotal year and the rights of passage that help mark those significant transitions aren’t going to happen.

I saw a post today on Facebook of a couple whose wedding had to be postponed, so they went to the courthouse and got married, which made me smile and also made me sad they will not get to make the memory they had hoped. Our high school supposed to put up a production of “Into the Woods” over the next two weekends. We will never get to see it. We may not get to share in a public graduation ceremony.

One of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Bible is of Joshua telling the people to stack up the stones so that when the children ask about them they could tell the story of what happened. We need those stone-stacking events in our lives to remind us who we are, where we have been, and who has been with us. Those memories tie us to one another. They build community.

What do we do when we can’t stack up the stones?

Perhaps the question is better asked, what do we do since we can’t stack up the stones?

We are all upended right now. This is Day Two of my being mostly in the house all day and I am already a little stir crazy. I want to make a point of paying attention to who is not getting to stack up the stones in the middle of our shared grief and uncertainty. Social distancing (can’t we just shorten it to “sodis”?) doesn’t mean we can’t tell each other stories, or ask each other good questions, or find ways to help make memories.

We all know people we are missing the chance to stack up the stones in their lives. We may be those people ourselves. In the midst of the chaos and craziness, find a way to help someone make a memory. Look for ways to let people around you know you notice them. Whatever you do will not replace a graduation ceremony or an opening night, but it will let someone know you see their grief. You see them. Right now. And that will be a memory of its own.

I let myself lose too much time today reading all the articles and responses about what to do and what isn’t getting done. It took me out. I keep doing that. It leaves me feeling isolated and claustrophobic. I need to start stacking stones with and for those around me. We may not build the memories we were expecting, but we will have more to look back on than how long it was before we got to hug again.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: abandoning hope

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I have a confession: I have never read Dante’s Inferno.

I have read plenty of books and articles that use it as a reference or symbol, but I have never slogged through it. Yes, I know it’s great literature. Part of it is, I suppose, I never cared about hell that much. I mention it tonight because David Whyte carries on a book-long conversation with Dante in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America.

Whyte describes how the poet Virgil stands before Dante and “does not raise his finger and lecture Dante in any way. He shows him the gate to hell and the words written above, LAY DOWN ALL HOPE, YOU THAT GO IN BY ME.”

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” is the translation I remember from some class somewhere.

Whyte goes on:

The hope that Dante is asked to lay down is the hope for immunity. Immunity from his own shadows and from the greater life glinting and winking at him from every direction. Through this gate he will experience all the parts of himself he feels are inferior to his needs and all the newborn lives he has smothered before they could disturb his stable delusions. In short, the most fearful parts of ourselves that we as human beings hide but must eventually confront.

The roots of the word immunity literally mean “not paying a share.” At its root, immunity is another word for privilege. To be immune is to be unburdened, untaxed. It only came to mean exempt from disease when vaccinations began about 150 years ago. We are still learning we are not immune from everything.

HBO was free this weekend so last night Ginger and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Newsroom, which was written by Aaron Sorkin. In the opening scene, Jeff Daniel’s character, a national news anchor, goes on quite a rant about why “America is not the greatest country in the world, but it used to be.” The show aired in 2010. His examples sound as though it premiered last night.

Our stable delusion as a nation is that “We’re Number One!”

No one else is keeping score. No other country feels the need to chant that over and over or remind everyone else whenever they have the chance. Our sense of manifest destiny gave us the stable delusion that we were God’s new chosen people, a City on a Hill, and we took that to mean we had permission to run across the continent grabbing land and killing anyone who got in our way and some who didn’t. It gave us permission not only to drag people across the ocean and enslave them. Our stable delusion for much of our history has been not just that we are Number One, but that we are the Ones Who Matter Most.

As we deal with the reality that we are not immune to Corvid 19, we are going to watch another stable national delusion play out again, which is that rich people are what keep this country going. I won’t claim to be an economist, but I did understand that the Federal Reserve spent $1.5 TRILLION dollars buying bonds to try and keep the investment market from crashing further. I may not understand all the ins and outs of the stock market, but I do know that whatever value my 401 K lost this past month has not taken anything out of my bank account. I also know that those in service industries–restaurants, bars, hotels–whose jobs dried up because of the physical distancing that no longer allows people to gather in those places didn’t lose stock value, they lost their salaries. They lost real money.

Regardless of ranking, those who this country great are not those playing the stock market and leveraging debt. They live in a stable delusion of immunity. The people who do the daily work of cooking and cleaning, of sweeping and selling, of teaching and caring and building, of rescuing and healing are the ones who understand what it means to abandon hope. They know that no one on the Federal Reserve or in any conference room in the White House or on Capitol Hill stood up in a meeting and said, “Forget the bonds. Let’s take that $1.5 trillion and pay the salaries of all of those who cannot work.”

And yet, they keep showing up and doing the work.

Whyte’s words sent me back to Miguel De La Terra:

To be hopeless is a desperation refusing to give up, a recognition that even if carrying the cross leads to crucifixion, the struggle for justice is what defines the present and could plant seeds that might blossom in some future. Fruit might someday be borne but that is inconsequential for those suffering now. And while there is nothing redemptive in the present suffering, nevertheless, it makes a refusal of complicity with the inhumanity undergirding oppression.

I said last night that I don’t think things will be the same after we live through this. I would love to see it be profoundly different. As much as I love baseball and watching my Red Sox, it would be amazing if pro sports had to restructure so that players didn’t make $12 million a year chasing a ball or a puck and fans didn’t have to skip a mortgage payment to go to a game. I can imagine Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook and Oprah Winfrey saying they had decided they could live on $1 million a year and then sharing their money with their employees. I can imagine Congress passing legislation for guaranteed health care for all Americans.

I have no hope that any of that will happen.

Biblical scholar Wil Gafney says,

I am a Holy Saturday preacher. I wake in the aftermath–if I have slept–to the knowledge that the Beloved is still dead. And I take comfort in the God who is and has said I AM with you. And I rail and scream and curse at God knowing God hears and is there with me to hear. And I try to sleep one more night to see if it will be easier the next day.

And that is where the sermon ends. It is still too soon to talk about resurrection. But God-with-us sits in her chair grieving with us. Waiting with us, walking with us as we make our way through and make sense of our grief.

The way it looks now, none of us will be gathered together physically to mark Easter Sunday. Perhaps this is a good year to be Holy Saturday people–those who have abandoned the stable delusion that everything will work out and who are committed to the work of taking care of one another. Every last one another.

We don’t have to go to hell to abandon hope. We can forfeit the fantasy of our immunity–our privilege–in these days and create a contagion of justice.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: this is the sound of one voice

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I think I am beginning to see that music is one of the things that is going to get me through these days. I sang the song I posted last night–Traveling Mercies–in church today as our benediction. As I sat down to write, I kept thinking about songs that call us together, that remind us we are always US, and that call us to work fiercely to stay connected.

Tonight’s playlist starts with “One Voice” by the Wailin’ Jennys. Seeing them live–when we get to do that sort of thing again–is on my bucket list. For now, watch and listen.

this is the sound of all of us
singing with love and the will to trust
leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
this is the sound of all of us
this is the sound of all of us

this is the sound of one voice
one people, one voice
a song for every one of us
this is the sound of one voice
this is the sound of one voice

Since his first album, Pierce Pettis has included a Mark Heard cover on every recording. Pierce is an amazing songwriter in his own right, but he has included Mark’s song as a way to honor his friend who died too young and to help Mark’s family earn royalties. “Look Over Your Shoulder” sounds like it was written last week.

look into your sad eyes and tell me what you see
what is left of the child who is hiding behind them?
who longs to be laughing in places of light
who knows that the morning will follow the night?
look into your sad eyes and tell me what you see

if you must be afraid be afraid of yourself
for being afraid of the fear you have felt
you will weather well in a climate of love

Billy Bragg is a British folksinger who writes and sings with rawness and compassion. This video of “The Milkman of Human Kindness” is from early in his career. The song still rings true.

if you’re lonely, I will call
if you’re poorly, I will send poetry
I love you
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint

if you’re sleeping, I will wait
if your bed is wet, I will dry your tears
I love you
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint

John Hiatt’s call to action in “Through Your Hands” says,

so whatever your hands find to do
you must do with all your heart
there are thoughts enough
to blow men’s minds and tear great worlds apart
there’s a healing touch will find you
on that broad highway somewhere
to lift you high as music flying
through the angel’s hair

don’t ask what you are not doing
because your voice cannot command
in time we will move mountains
and it will come through your hands

We will determine who we are and who we become as a result of living through these days.

Though living through this pandemic has not carried the shock of September 11, it feels like it might have a similar culture-altering effect; we will not just go back to the way things were, which means learning to live beyond our fear is larger than worrying about getting the virus. Holly Near offers what I think might be a good candidate for a new national anthem>

I am open and I am willing
to be hopeless would seem so strange
it dishonors those who go before us
so lift me up to the light of change

there is hurting in my family
there is sorrow in my town
there is panic in the nation
there is wailing the whole world round

may the children see more clearly
may the elders be more wise
may the winds of change caress us
even though it burns our eyes

give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
give me a desert to hold my fears
give me a sunset to hold my wonder
give me an ocean to hold my tears

I am open and I am willing
to be hopeless would seem so strange
it dishonors those who go before us
so lift me up to the light of change

Over the course of this blog I am sure David Wilcox’s “Show the Way” has shown up ten or twelve times. I needed to hear it again tonight.

look–if someone wrote a play
to just to glorify what’s stronger than hate
would they not arrange the stage
to look as if the hero came too late?
he’s almost in defeat
it’s looking like the evil side will when
so on the edge of every seat
from the moment that the whole thing begins

it is love who mixed the mortar
and it’s love who stacked these stones
and it’s love who made the stage here
although it looks like we’re alone
in this scene, set in shadows,
like the night is here to stay
there is evil cast around us
but it’s love that wrote the play
for in this darkness love can show the way

Keep singing. And listening.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: something other than fear

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Tonight’s post was supposed to be from Durham, North Carolina.

I was going to drive down for the week to check on our house, see friends I dearly miss, and then watch basketball games all next weekend with my friend Jay. The NCAA decided that Jay should stay put in Boston. I wrestled with whether or not to drive down. Since I wasn’t going to be on any public transportation, I felt fine about driving, but last night Ginger and I talked about the possibility that something could happen while I was there that might make it impossible for me to get back to Guilford.

Though I could have gone and everything would might have been fine, it wasn’t worth the risk.

A big part of the shift in my understanding of and reaction to the coronavirus is understanding that to be cautious is not an act of fear, but one of responsibility. Of relationship. My initial response to all of this was to see it as panic. I tire quickly of people who seem driven by fear, and I saw some of the initial reactions to “the ‘Rona,” as we have come to call it, as people running scared.

Once I paid attention, I realized I was wrong.

The rush for toilet paper and chicken breasts is unwarranted, but the call for social distancing and coming to terms with the pandemic are for real. We are in uncharted territory, which is scary. Fear is an appropriate response, but not fear that incapacitates us. Whatever the situation, if fear is our primary motivator we will make poor decisions. On beyond fear lie the emotions and trust that will hold us together.

Tomorrow is the first Sunday since the virus really hit the fan. In our part of the country, most churches are not meeting in person. I am expecting Facebook Live to crash between ten and noon EDT–or you might see a lot of feeds with inadvertent feeds. Our church is open for worship, with stipulations about where to sit and how to spread out. Attendance is by no means mandatory (were Congregationalists–nothing is mandatory) nor expected, but, as Ginger says, it is for closure; we will not meet again until Palm Sunday. (We hope.)

We will not have a choir, nor will we have Sunday School. We have a big room that offers us the chance to make a ritual out of what is being forced upon us by circumstance. Ginger asked me to sing a song Billy Crockett and wrote together many years ago called “Traveling Mercies.” It will be our benediction.

with every daybreak out on the traveler’s way
take to the high road, look for me there

take bread for the journey and strength for the fight
comfort to sleep through the night
wisdom to choose at the fork in the road
and a heart that knows the way home

and for the weary, and for the hopeless,
and for the faithful, this is my prayer

go in peace, live in grace,
trust in the arms that will hold you
go in peace, live in grace, trust God’s love

love, O may God’s love, live in our hearts forever

go in peace, live in grace,
trust in the arms that will hold you
go in peace, live in grace, trust God’s love

I am missing being with my Durham friends tonight. Many will miss church tomorrow. Friends are expecting their first child in the next couple of weeks and will miss family and friends being able to gather at the hospital for the birth. Broadway is dark. High school musicals have been cancelled. Who knows if people will be able to walk across stages to get their diplomas. We are missing dinner with friends and the freedom to get together.

All of that does not mean we have to miss each other. Let’s find a way to touch each other. To connect. Like many of you, I have found great comfort in the stories about the people in Italy standing on their balconies and singing to each other in the midst of their nationwide lock down. We can go and do likewise.

Call. Text. Write a letter. Stand on your porch and sing. Buy gift certificates from your favorite restaurants. Find ways to meet outside. Share your hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Let’s find ways to bless one another, to send each other in to our living rooms and apartments knowing that love cannot be quarantined.

We are not going to survive this because we are the greatest country in the world and nothing can stop us. We, like the rest of the world, will survive because we stay connected. One day, we will get to hang out like we used to. And I will get to see my friends in Durham.

Until then, let us live imaginatively, not fearfully. We are in this together, even as we are hunkered down. We are not alone.

Peace,
Milton

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lenten journal: slide show

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Tonight Ginger and I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which I thought was going to be a biopic of Mister Rogers, but it turned out to be centered more on a journalist who was assigned to interview and profile him for an issue on heroes in Esquire magazine. (The script was “inspired” by this article.) It is a beautiful movie.

At one point in the movie, Mister Rogers says, “Think about all of the people who loved you into being” and all of a sudden I was watching a slide show of heroes in my mind.

Let me click through a few of them–by no means all the slides I have.

John Wendland, my first friend–and my best friend first through fourth grades. He was from Wisconsin and his parents were Lutheran missionaries. He introduced me to Allan Sherman records.

Ms. Reedy, my fourth grade teacher, who read A Wrinkle in Time to us. Her love for words and reading was contagious.

Lazarus and Rebecca Malunga in Lusaka, Zambia. Lazarus was the pastor at Matero Baptist Church, where we attended. Rebecca led the music–and by that I mean she would start singing acapella and the whole congregation would follow. I learned how to sing in that church.

The Folk Group at Nairobi International School, which was a bunch of students who brought their guitars to school and sang during lunch until the music teacher figured out how to make us official. They are the reason I know how to play guitar, can find a harmony part the second time through, and know all the words to “Helplessly Hoping.”

Steve Cloud, my youth minister in tenth grade at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth. He called me Flash and saw someone in me I could not see. One day he said, “Flash, one day Trish and I are going to have a kid and when we do, I hope they turn out exactly like you.” I think I got through the rest of high school on that comment.

Pat McKechnie, a woman at Westbury Baptist Church who treated me as something more than just the pastor’s son. When I would come back to Houston during college, she made a point to ask me questions and encourage me to ask more.

Burt Burleson, my best friend from college and my most enduring friendship. Because of all of my moving around, he was the first friend I knew for ten years and had been close enough to see them all ten years. Our friendship is coming up on forty-five years and he remains a grounding force in my life.

Pecan Grove Baptist Church, outside of Gatesville, Texas–my seminary pastorate. The church celebrated their centennial while I was there and everyone of their pastors had been a rookie. They knew how to help folks get started gracefully. J. T. and Alyene Davidson gave me a place to stay every weekend and fed me well.

Patty Clark, whom I first met when she was a nurse and I was doing a CPE internship at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas in 1981. We bonded first over the shared experience of being in the room with a Pentecostal family when the patriarch died. She moved to Boston about a year after Ginger and I moved there and we continued our friendship in a new location. Though she’s in Michigan now, the story continues.

Leon Grodski de Barrera is the first one who named Milton’s Famous Cookies when they started selling them at Cocoa Cinnamon, the coffee shop that he and Areli Barrera de Grodski started in Durham, North Carolina. He is a friend who helps me dream.

Terry Allebaugh, another Durham friend, who has spent his life working with those experiencing homelessness. He is also the best harmonica player I have ever heard–or played with. Together, we are Oysters on the Half Shell. He stretches my mind and my heart.

Ginger. Any slide show of those who have loved me into being will always end here. We are a little over a month from our thirtieth anniversary and the love I know because of her still surprises me. Amazing.

As I said above, this list is partial. I could spend weeks clicking through the carousels of my life showing pictures of those who have left their finger prints on my heart. But I want you to have time to create a slide show or your own.

Peace,
Milton

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