Musing 3.27.20

During this crisis I have read and heard much talk about our being at war.  There are references to persons on the front line, being in the middle of combat, calls for wartime legislation, exercise of wartime powers, unsung heroes, and the need to rally around this common fight against our common enemy.   All this war imagery has brought to mind William James’ essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” written in the early 1900’s.  I have not heard a reference to this essay by any commentator, and I don’t know why.  So I decided to refer to it.

James was a staunch pacifist who lived through the Civil War, the wars against Native Americans, the Spanish American War, and the lead up to World War I.  He saw war as horrible, violent, and bloody.  He had no illusions about its cruelty.  Like everyone he preferred peace.  At the same time, he acknowledged that war called forth virtues which were admirable and desirable in human beings.  Virtues such as fidelity, loyalty, self-sacrifice, generosity, tenacity, companionship, courage, cohesiveness, inventiveness, and conscience.  War could elevate people to a higher level than peace seemed capable of doing.  James’ wrestles with the proposition that, for all its awfulness, war calls forth more than does peace.  He opines that peace too often makes people “soft” and “lacking in vitality.”  

He wonders if there is a moral equivalent in peace which calls forth the virtues which war does.  One writer draws a direct line from James to the depression era projects, the Peace Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps. I believe that the good behavior people find in the COVID-19 crisis is the moral equivalent of war.  It is, indeed, calling forth the best in us.  All of us see sacrifice, heroism, generosity, courage, and cohesiveness.  We are growing in the empathy and compassion which make us fully human.  This is all good.  It’s great.  Part of me wonders if this is why commentators and political leaders are so attracted to this war language.

My thinking on this has led me to believe the Kingdom of God is the moral equivalent of war.  Paul uses martial imagery in Ephesians 6 when he speaks of the armor of God.  Jesus gives us the discipline in the Sermon on the Mount.  His call to ministry sets forth the task, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).  That mission will call forth virtue without the horror and destruction of war. Participation in the Kingdom of God gifts us with that which makes us human - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). 

From now on, when I hear the talk of our state of war on the news; I am going to think of the Kingdom of God and what it is calling me to do and who it is calling me to be.  I am also going to look for signs of the Kingdom of God in all that is happening.  It is near in the actions of so many people.
Thank you for the ways you are demonstrating that the Kingdom of God is near. 
John Keeny

Musing 3.20.20

This week has been as busy as any before the cancellation of events. My plans to observe and experience a sabbath rest have not been realized. I continue to read the psalms daily, but it is hard to focus. I find that I am easily distracted by the news of the virus and speculation of what is next. I feel like I have to keep tuned in so that I don’t miss anything. It is hard to concentrate on anything else, or do anything else. In addition to distraction, I am frustrated by what is not happening and by my lack of technological ability (but I am learning). Finally I am fearful of what might happen. In short, I continue to experience stress and fatigue from the distraction, fear, and frustration. I know I am not alone. Is there a balm in Gilead?

On Thursday I re-watched Mr. Rogers’ 2002 commencement address at Dartmouth College. That was the refreshment I needed. The entire speech is renewing, especially beginning at the ten minute mark. I find that taking his recommended one minute of silence to think about those who have helped me become who I am today was like a cup of cold water. I encourage you to watch the video, take the minute of silence each day, and find yourself in a better place. This is the balm for our spiritual and emotional health.

I pray for your health.

John Keeny, Senior Pastor


Musing 3.14.20

As you know by now, we have suspended on-site events at King Avenue until further notice. I don’t know of anyone not experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration at the uncertainly of this time. We worry about investments, savings, jobs, child care, schools, family and ourselves contracting the virus, and the poor who are most effected. We are accustomed to life being fairly predictable and manageable. We even tend to think the future is in our control. The uncertainty of the last few days vividly reminds us of the precariousness of life and the seeming futility of our plans. It is hard to turn on the TV without hearing a mental health professional address anxiety and stress.

I too worry. I am concerned about my pension, canceling church events, loss of attendance, reduced giving, staff welfare, members’ and loved ones’ health, and the effect on the marginalized and at-risk persons. Our daughter offered to run errands for Susan and me since we are in the high risk age group!

With all that said, I also find this to be a time of opportunities that excite me. This is a time for people to stand in solidarity with each other. I find that egos are put aside for the greater good. The uncertainty of the virus has placed all of us on the same level of humanity. We are more mindful of the welfare of our neighbor and the stranger. It is a time of patience. I am amazed how understanding people are of the failings of themselves and others. With things changing so rapidly we don’t expect ourselves or our neighbors to be perfect. We are more tolerant. I think we laugh more at ourselves and are less angry. We are encouraged to avoid people and keep a social distance. Ironically that distancing is bringing us closer together.

It is a time of opportunity for our church. Because of the crisis we are moving into the world of online worship and the need for online community. We should have done that years ago. This makes it possible for our services to go beyond our walls to snow birds, home bound members, persons considering visiting, and others. In order to stay in contact with our members at this uncertain time I am starting these jottings (maybe a blog). I should have done that years ago. You are concerned about people you won’t be seeing for a while. This is a great opportunity to contact people and ask for their well-being. Let them know you miss them. I am certain the suspension is activity will show us new ways to do and be. Maybe we’ll find we need fewer meetings and more small groups. Maybe we learn the conference and zoom calls are sometimes appropriate.

In the email that was sent Thursday night, we referred to this as a time of Sabbath. All the cancellations leave us with un-busy calendars. We often complain of our busyness. Our calendars are as blank now as they have been in a long time. Our time is pretty free. Most of us will have more control of our time than ever. No sports are on TV! This is a sabbath opportunity to slow down. We can use it to delight in creation, experience solidarity with humanity, develop a hobby, read, do nothing, sleep, spend time with family, visit a neighbor, offer to help a frazzled parent, reflect on our creatureliness, and/or acknowledge our dependence on God. Observance of sabbath rest is an opportunity to realize our humanity.

I hope you’ll make the most of this sabbath opportunity and move from stress to aliveness. This is our chance to become who we have wanted to be.

John Keeny