Holding onto good. That was the song in my mind as I tried to sleep last night; my sheets pulled from the corners of my bed this morning, a testimony to the state of my unrest.
Holding onto good. It’s a phrase from a song by the same name by the rising band, Delta Rae. Their music is beautiful and raw; their band includes siblings who are not strangers to trauma and heartache who, like so many artists, have channeled those losses into music for the greater good.
Holding onto good: It’s one of many refrains in my brain as I try to process the events in our country and hold onto the good center of who I am and what I am called to do:
Act for justice, Love tenderly, Serve one another, Walk humbly with God.
Those commands form the refrain from the hymn We Are Called, the song we are singing at the end of our 5 worship services each Saturday & Sunday for the next 3 weeks at Advent Lutheran Church here in Melbourne, Florida. When we get to this refrain, the gathered voices gain momentum and strength. It is as if they too need the reminder of who we are and what we are to do in this challenging time.
Hold onto good. Act for justice. Love tenderly.
It’s what I’m trying to do, despite the news coverage about the uprising in cities I love
across this country I love
for reasons I respect
about tragedies I lament.
Bob Dylan sang to me this morning as I sipped my coffee and considered the changing shoreline out my rain-speckled window; my Christmas lights reflected on the glass. The times they are a’changin, was his ironic refrain, as I considered the images of protests that fed my unrest. A friend, currently a juror in a disheartening murder trial said that it might as well be 1964 all over again. I poured another cup of coffee, noting on my grocery list that I needed:
In the background, Dylan cried, “Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen …”
And I thought, yes, I ought to write about … oh my. Where to begin. Hold onto good, pastor. It is why you were ordained. To enable others to…
Another refrain interrupted my thoughts: We are called to act for justice.
Come on, pastor. The people need a word of hope. A word of peace. A word of truth.
I felt inept.
Humor. I need humor. I rapidly typed in a favorite source and watched Jon Stewart, the master of humor in the face of pain. Jon Stewart, a Jewish man whose family immigrated from Poland, whose parents divorced, who was subjected to antisemitic bullying as a child, and whose ironic commentaries remind me not to take myself too seriously. Jon Stewart, who observes with his wry smile: “Religion. Giving People Hope in a world torn apart by religion.”
He calls me back, to hold onto good. Don’t let your passion kill your humor, I say to me. You are called to speak a word of peace. Of hope. Of truth that sets us free.
Now a song from the Broadway version of The Lion King marches into my mind: “… Into the water. Into the truth. In your reflection…He lives in you.”
Ah, yes. Remember who you are.
Last night, a small group of us gathered in a candelit sanctuary near the ocean in the church in which I serve as the Associate Pastor to a newly merged congregation. Advent Lutheran is one church with a large staff and two locations that is struggling to figure out how to do all there is to do with the resources we have. It is a church filled with both chaos and hope.
We gathered for the service known as Holden Evening Prayer; a service as filled with mystery and beauty as anything I’ve experienced in this world.
I knelt near the altar as Deb Gum, a gifted harpist, filled the space with the celestial sound of peace. I sat, mesmerized, as Henry and Charlotte, high school siblings from a nearby Roman Catholic church led us in song. I spoke, reading the words of Isaiah 40: Comfort, Comfort my people — the words pouring forth from a place within my soul that even I did not know I could access.
And I sang, together with the dozen or so witnesses who gathered, our voices an eerie combination of command and plea to the God in whom we trust:
…Love that fills the night with wonder,
love that warms the weary soul,
love that bursts all chains asunder,
set us free and make us whole.
Oh that all those who are weary and heavy-burdened had been there.
Holding onto good. This is what it means to be a pastor and to be called to serve God’s people, especially in troubled times. To hold onto good, the goodness of the Lord, that others might be encouraged to do so as well. To remember and remind that the Word of God beckons us to an elusive place of peace that we rarely experience in this world.
It is not easy. Sometimes I wonder if those we serve understand this: just because we are called to be faithful and to hold onto good does not mean it is always easy to do so. The crushing chaos of this world troubles our hearts and clouds our consciences too.
And yet, we are called. And so are you. We are called to act for justice, in times that are changing, and to hold onto good. For God does indeed live … in us.
Please join us: in sacred gatherings around this United States.
Please come. In the presence of the living God, let us Hold onto Good, together.