lenten journal: something other than fear


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.


Also published on Medium.


  1. Thanks Milton. We are all in this together and it is so much easier and far more rewarding to choose kindness and recognize our connections to one another. I am sorry I will miss your song tomorrow.

  2. Go in peace, live in grace, trust God’s love………….

    Billy’s words often help me along…..

    Love both of you and appreciate your words and melodies/harmonies.

  3. Dear Milton, Thanks for rallying us as we face this. Yesterday was really the first day of “social distancing” for many. Our birthday party was canceled, like many other families’ ritual events. It was a beautiful day out of doors, so many worked in their yards. I walked 7 miles. But rain is in the forecast. I am wondering how we will all do. I checked on some Pilgrims. Think I will do more of that tonight. Church in our living room, via Zoom. May this Roma Zoom by us. We hold you and Ginger and Rachel in our hearts.

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