It is October 2020 and watching the news is like watching Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, only not as funny. We are 8 months into a once-in-a-century global pandemic with no end in sight. Every day it’s the same news of Corona-virus spikes and deaths, climate change, the accompanying natural disasters, and political polls, polls, and more polls!
Did I mention 2020 is an election year? America is more divided than ever and the political ads on TV look like they were produced by 4th graders! Actually, that’s an insult to 4th graders; I apologize to 10-year-olds everywhere.
Last week the FBI foiled a plot by some crazy-train militia wingnuts to kidnap the governor of Michigan and set her adrift in the middle of Lake Michigan because their little club prefers not to wear masks. Yesterday, a self-aggrandizing angry white guy in Maryland was arrested on charges he threatened to kidnap and behead Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on national television, just to ensure his leadership preference might prevail on election day.
Black Lives Matter protests continue around the world since the May murder of George Floyd and the subsequent relentless spotlight on the continued racism toward people of color at home and abroad. Unemployment continues to soar. Businesses are closing their doors for good or are scrambling to figure out how to survive the new normal. Patients are dying alone in hospitals and nursing homes because family can not visit them on their death beds. Meanwhile, the ninnies in Washington squabble over COVID financial relief for our most vulnerable citizens.
People close to me are testing positive for COVID-19 as this third wave of infection blows through the Midwest. Last week my husband fell down the stairs head-first, face-down, arms back; he didn’t break anything, but he bled all over the steps and got really banged up. Some days he is as weak as a kitten (stupid Parkinson’s). Our grandson, Christian (8), came last Saturday to spend his Fall Break with us, only to find out on Thursday that Fall Break didn’t begin until Wednesday, not Monday. Oops.
It’s getting more and more difficult to see the glory of God or find a moment of Zen around here. But we’re trying. Our family movie night choice this week was the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. It only served to remind us that this world has always had it’s share of mean people in places of power. But alas, Christian really admired Joshua’s boots and we all marveled at Charlton Heston’s awesome hair and agreed he probably got the part because of how he could say, “It is the will of Gggawd”. But watching three and a half hours of cruelty, bondage, the exploitation of an oppressed race of people, pompous deranged kings and queens, unimaginable plagues, and God’s provision to a whining people, only seemed to replay the 2020 Groundhog Day newscast.
Searching for a twinkle of hope, goodness, and light, Christian and I turned to popcorn reading Walter Wangerin’s 850-page paraphrased version of the Bible, The Book of God. Two days into the first chapter on page 20, Christian’s popcorn paragraph featured Sarai giving Abram permission to make a baby with her maidservant if the baby is born on the knees of the wife.
Wait! What? This ought to be interesting.
Can you even imagine writing an 850-page book? How disciplined would you have to be? How gifted? I began to read Wangerin’s stuff many years ago as it really stuck a chord in my heart.
His descriptive language in Reliving the Passion makes Easter week spring off the page to old Lutherans like me who have become anesthetized with the Gospel resulting from a lifetime of hearing old familiar Bible stories.
The Story of the Hornbill describes a mother bird as she commits to a level of parenting sacrifice unmatched among all the species on earth. But Wangerin parallels her process of building her nest and laying her eggs in complete dependency with the Christmas story; the story of Christ shedding his very nature to willingly lay down his sweet head in that dirty manger. Why? For the survival of His children. For us. (Karl used to read this story as part of his Christmas presentation every year; you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium.)
The Ragman’s vivid imagery of Christ taking onto himself all manner of human brokenness, carrying it with him into the grave, and rising anew three days later brings tears to my eyes every time. “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!”
A common theme runs through the writings of Walter Wangerin, Jr. who has been a Lutheran pastor (in Evansville Indiana), university professor (at Valparaiso), book reviewer, radio announcer, and published author of over 30 books. His narratives weave Christ’s redemption throughout. He begins with the everyday struggles of the common man; something we can all relate to, then magically spins the imagery to show the reader how God might be seeing a larger frame of the very same circumstance.
The Book of God gives us a glimpse into the characters and the events in a historical time and place as the eternal God somehow reached out and touched ordinary men and women.
This week I am talking to God about just how this ordinary woman might manage to see the bigger story in the daily news and noise. It’s been said that leaves are their most beautiful just before they fall. Dazzling jewels come from great pressure over a long time. The unprecedented turbulence we are experiencing in 2020, I gotta believe, is bound to result in something beautiful, something greater, and something more refined in each of us. More connection with what is truly important. More love and empathy. More grain and less chaff.
Today I remind myself that peace is not the absence of troubles; peace is the presence of God. Peace is always just a whisper away, available to me regardless of my circumstance. I can, at any time, invite Jesus into my troubles, into my pain, my fears, my anxiety, my confusion. I resolve today to walk in peace and leave this Groundhog Day of insanity behind me.
Oh, and I am also talking to God about how I might explain to my 8-year-old grandson about the revenge of Dinah’s brothers in Genesis 34:25 when our popcorn reading adventure takes us to those verses. Say a little prayer for me, won’t you?