I’m not working with much these days. To be sure, I have plenty of food and toiletries. There is no end to creature comforts: chocolate, soda, chips, ice cream… I’ll stop but I could go on, go back to the store right now and pick up more. I am stocking up to stuff down my anxiety, to shut up my fear of running out, of not having enough. I am piling up extras, barricading myself in with extra water, soap, hand sanitizer, masks, cereal, canned and frozen foods. I am reviewing my list; it keeps me calm. And though I am staying at home due to COVID-19, I am not alone in this.
From the beginning of the call to close businesses and schools and stop traffic from our homes unless absolutely essential until now when all signs suggest that we are about to return to the beginning (See Phase 1), persons have been saying, “I’m not okay.” They have lost too much too fast. Overwhelmed, they just couldn’t keep up. They… we just don’t have the strength to keep our heads up. And making us feel guilty about it is not a lifesaver but dead weight.
To quote the poet Stevie Smith, “I was much farther out than you thought/ And not waving but drowning.” Not waving but drowning, it is the title of his 1957 collection of poetry. It might be a subtitle of a recent study released by Barna, which reports that one is three “practicing Christians” are not attending church during the pandemic. The number of attendees is going down, sinking. But churches aren’t really letting that sink in. They have faith!
Tragically, many churches will wave off this report and my reflection. Most worship leaders only quote the happy go lucky scriptures. If you are not happy and you know it, then don’t come around. Don’t bring us down. Because “this is the day that the Lord has made and (we) willrejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118.24, emphasis added).
But denial does not make the feeling go away. We’ve been meeting online for eighteen Sundays and still, there are those who do not feel compelled to name this present reality, to call it as many persons really see it. Clinical professionals say that only when you name it can you address it. Piling on the scriptures, I fear that the Church’s traditional response is hurting its chances of getting a hearing from younger generations.
Because we know the scriptures and what we are supposed to say. Because this hurts too much to pretend that it doesn’t. But right now, we don’t even know where to point to tell you where it hurts. There is hurt all over, all over our faces and the world. People are still getting sick and dying. Consequently, this is not a one Sunday, one service, one sermon fix.
Yes, Jesus healed the sick, interrupted a funeral and even raised the dead but this is not the case for more than 130,000 people in the U.S. alone. Stop. Don’t try to explain it. Save it for another time—because this is not the time.
Because this kind of heartache and heartbreak will not be cured or set right after one hour- long worship service, one visit, one prayer, one declaration of one thing or another. This might well be a lifelong recovery. We will not be able to tie all of this up in a theological bow. It is not all coming together; instead, it is unraveling more and more.
Faith is either held tightly or coming undone and I, for one, am not working with much. I am deeply grateful that Jesus only asks for mustard seed faith because that’s all I have. Churches that require more than that in times like these are not growing disciples but adding to the growing discontent with Christianity. Because it is not in touch with the present reality. Life is lived in black, white and shades of gray though we quote Jesus’s red words.
The Church and its leaders can keep asking for more faith but we just don’t have it to give.