Document of Hope - By Pastors Jordan & Adam Miller-Stubbendick
Dear people of St. Paul and Trinity,
More than two months into this unusual reality that is life in the midst of a global pandemic, we are perhaps all feeling somewhat weary, restless, and uncertain. However we are feeling, we could all benefit from some encouragement. The following resources are things that we have found to be comforting, uplifting, and steadying in these days. We hope you find something here that soothes your spirit. Know that God holds us and the whole world in love, and that God’s promises of hope and new life will not fail.
Pastors Jordan and Adam Miller-Stubbendick
James Nieman, the president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, the seminary that Pastors Jordan and Adam attended, wrote the following excerpt in a recent letter. Rev. Dr. Nieman references a sermon he preached five years ago.
On the night of his betrayal, at table with his friends, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower. Abide in me as I abide in you.” For years, they had held to him tightly, like branches on a vine. But all that was about to change. What power would now guide them, how would he now prepare them, where would he now send them?
With the world about the change forever on that fateful night, Jesus’ assurance to his friends is the same one he offers us in these days both unsure and unsettling. Here’s how I summed it up five years ago…
With frenzy and drama all around,
with betrayal and denial over here
and violent harm over there,
amidst it all Jesus tells his friends, “Abide.”
Now more than ever, we are invited to abide—meno in Greek—a special word that means to remain, to dwell, to persist, to live. Not panic or posture, retreat or revolt, but abide. And abiding does not depend on us but on first being rooted in, grafted to, aligned with the vine of Christ…
Five years ago, in a time distinct from yet strikingly like our own, this was what I reminded [us]…
Christ’s life is poured out so that we may live,
That in our living we might be fruitful for others.
This is the gift in which we now meno—
Invited like dear friends by the abiding word
To remain, to dwell, to persist—and at last, to live.
I invite you to open your lives to abide in such holy living, to draw strength from our Lord who loves and nurtures the whole world. We at LSTC continue to pray for you and welcome your prayers on our behalf, that we all may be strengthened by the one true vine amidst the changes and chances of life.
Pandemic Easter Eggs
Written by Pastor Michael Coffey from First English Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas (where Pastor Jordan served her year-long internship in seminary in 2006-2007)
We began this experience of social distancing during Lent, which seemed like a more suitable season to talk about fasting and waiting and looking for new life to come at Easter. Now that we're in the Easter season (a fifty-day celebration in the church's calendar) and well beyond when many of us hoped we could resume gathering together, it's harder to find a connection between the Gospel of resurrection and the current tomb-like existence we are still living.
But consider the Easter Egg. Yes, the colorful prize hidden around us that takes careful searching to find. This fun, joyful, pagan-originating tradition might be something like what we are living this Easter of 2020. If you just stare out there, you don't see much of anything good or interesting. The days are long and the weeks blur together. If you look closer, there might be some hidden gems in this experience, colorful surprises waiting for you to discover them. Easter Egg is also a term that came into use in the video game world in the 1980's when game creators hid secrets within the game that players could only find if they looked in a certain way, or did something unique with the game objects they had acquired.
I'm wondering what hidden gems, what Easter Eggs you may be finding in your life this pandemic Easter of 2020. I'm not suggesting there isn't much to dislike or even hate about this experience. There is a great deal of illness, suffering, death, unemployment, and injustice being exposed. Many necessary and essential people are working hard to keep the bare minimum of our society functioning, especially health care and food distribution, and they are putting themselves at risk for the rest of us. It’s a trying time unlike any experience most of us have ever known. A majority of us are being forced to spend more time at home with limited opportunities for shopping, entertaining, socializing, and distracting ourselves from the rest of our own lives. But, none of this means there aren’t things about this experience that haven’t revealed themselves to you as a strange gift that had been hidden or dormant in your life, or newly discovered just now.
In a recent excellent blog post, renowned Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann interprets Psalm 31 to compare our current experience to that of sabbath time. I highly recommend it to you: https://churchanew.org/blog/2020/05/07/brueggemann3. In the post Brueggemann asks us to rethink our understanding of time and how the gift of sabbath rest fits within it. Sabbath is a practice that leads to deeper awareness of all the gifts of life, the Easter Eggs that are among us always, but not always seen or appreciated until we slow down and let time be something other than a means of production or something to constantly fill.
I invite you to ponder what you have found to be good, life-giving, surprisingly beneficial, or a hidden gift in your life right now that has been revealed during this difficult time.
The following reflection comes from the monthly newsletter of Pastor Christie Manisto and her husband, Steve Saari. Christie and Steve are friends from seminary who serve as ELCA missionaries at St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo, Egypt, where Pastor Adam served his year-long internship in seminary in 2006-2007, and where he visited and preached in February 2020.
Steve here. I think it’s true that one of the most powerful tools for progress we have as human beings is the practice of reflection. I mean, whether I choose it consciously or not, I catch myself constantly looking back and wondering, smiling, wishing, stewing, laughing, lamenting, or crying. Reflection is a wild one, no different than a spark that wipes away an entire forest; a single thought that claims the whole day. Maybe you pray within the heat of it, as I do, and simply ask the universe of expressions for a life fully lived. To thank it for every moment that continues to evolve and surprise, thank you for grace, for love in its power over death. These days, I’ve noticed that this pandemic of twenty-twenty is an unexpected pause, an unexpected comma in all the things I thought I knew. On the days I perceive as good, I have an opportunity of renewed faith and in the strength of the world. Those days when I feel I can stand with the threat, even-balanced with the far-off scent of a fiery breeze. Let us all pray for each other. For those of you that may not know, Christie and I were evacuated from Egypt in mid-March and we have been staying with our wonderful, kind, and generous friends in Pittsburgh for the past five weeks. It has been such a thoughtful time with them and we are eternally grateful for their open and loving spirits. In a week, Christie, Sunday, and I will say goodbye to our friends and travel to Minnesota to stay with family. We are excited to see them and we are also planning to drive straight through to avoid any hotels or excessive stops. After we arrive in Minneapolis, who knows? We are eagerly awaiting our window of travel to re-open so that we can resume our work and life in Cairo, as many others are eagerly hoping for the same type of return to a previous version of normalcy. And again, I reflect on the idea that things might not go my way and I will have to think on that recurring truth. A friend once shared with me that acceptance might be the key; the answer to all my troubles today. That, for me, when I am disturbed, it’s because I find some person, place, thing, or situation completely undesirable to me and I can find no serenity until I accept things exactly as they are. Something about “life on life’s terms”, he said. Well. Ok then, I guess. Here we are. Peace to you all. Steve and Christie
Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros: Poems to pray in a pandemic
When I cannot rely on theological or academic language to get me through uncertain times, I look to poetry.
We are living at the intersection of shifting realities -- a pre- and a post-COVID-19 life. We must learn how to navigate a world transformed by a disease that has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives. But for now, pain fills our days.
Poetry can provide the metaphors to help us put language to what it is we are feeling. Poetry can tell the truth when the noise of the world threatens to overwhelm us with too much information.
When the future of church looks uncertain, when “normal” is no longer a part of our vocabulary, when we find ourselves confined to home with compounded responsibilities and concerns, poetry can offer solace. When our chests start to tighten as uncertainty churns beneath our feet, poetry can give us courage and lead us toward a place of peace.
Poetry can open up a way to pray anew.
As a theopoet, spiritual activist and relentless seeker of hope, I’ve been turning to poetry for much-needed grounding in these difficult times. Th[is poem] remind[s] me of the song in my body, of the realness of my being both physical and spiritual, and of God’s continuing presence and work.
My hope is that you will give them a chance to sit with you. May they help you give voice to your courage and discover new ways to speak to God.
‘an alive so colorful!’ by Ayokunle Falomo
Recorded by Write About Now
Should you find yourself asking more questions about where God is in all of this, I urge you to listen to Ayokunle Falomo’s poetry. He breathes new life into our uncertainty by reminding us that God is not done yet.
This is an adapted blessing by Rev. Emily Peck-McClain
May God bless you with a heart trained to love in response to fear. May God bless you with the ability to hope for what is unseen when what you see is painful. May God bless you with faith put into action in this world on behalf of others. May God bless you with the courage to lead in difficult as well as easier times. May God bless you with tenacity that comes from knowing God cannot fail. In the name of The One who walks with you even now, Amen.