130 Pieces of My Heart

On March 13th, I left my classroom not knowing that I would not return until two months later. On March 12th, I wished my students a good weekend, thinking that I would see them on March 17th when I returned to school after a doctor’s appointment on the 16th. On March 11th, my students worked on a presentation project, anxiously talking about the coronavirus while I tried to encourage them that it wouldn’t affect us. On March 10th, my students took a test, wrapping up their studies of the English Renaissance. We didn’t know that these four days of busyness would be our last days together.

From March 16th until May 8th, I posted material for my students to stay busy. I answered their varied emails about upcoming school events. I encouraged them to stay positive, to try a new hobby, to practice a skill, to get outside, to enjoy time with family, to reach out to others. As the days went on, I heard less and less from my students, all seniors who had been looking forward to prom, their senior trip, and to their graduation.

From April 1st to May 8th, I was available every Monday through Friday, for office hours. No one showed up. Not once. Every Monday I recorded a weekly lecture, wondering if any of my students would even watch. Wondering how they were doing. Concerned that they were depressed, anxious, alone, hurt, sick.

Every Monday through Friday in April, I posted a special video of a poem because April is National Poetry Month. I didn’t want to lose this annual celebration that we observe in my classes. I chose poems from the time period we were “studying,” poems that would make my students laugh, poems that would make my students think, and poems that would encourage them. I don’t know what their reactions were. Not a word.

On Monday, May 4th, I recorded my final lecture for the senior class of 2020. I walked them through the weekly assignments, including their final exam. A handful completed some assignments, but no personal contact from anyone.

On Friday, May 8th, I recorded my final video for my seniors and said good-bye. Then, I wrote a good-bye letter to all of my seniors, wishing them well and hoping that they will have great success in their lives outside of high school. Two students responded; I was hurt there were not more.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I have seen several posts on social media that suggest that teachers have been given extra vacation time because of the shutdowns. That we are lucky because we don’t have to work. That’s not surprising because some people think that our jobs are a joke anyway. They say that being a teacher is just a glorified babysitter. They say that we only teach because we can’t do anything else. They say that we teach so that we get summers off.

I have never experienced a vacation when I was honestly worried about anyone. I have never experienced a vacation when I was expected to work, virtually, from my dining room table. I have never experienced a vacation when I had to stay at home because of a global pandemic. I have never experienced a vacation when I felt cut off from the people that I love.

Losing the last two months with the graduating class of 2020 will always haunt me. There are words that are left unsaid. There are hugs that never happened. There are pictures that will never be taken. There are good-byes that will never be spoken.

This has not been a vacation. This has not been fun.

This has been heartache, this has been worry, this has been depression, this has been disappointment, this has been disconnection and isolation and anxiety.

Teaching does not just pay my bills. Teaching does not give me any type of power. Teaching does not make me feel better about myself.

Teaching requires that every year I split up my heart into about 130 different pieces. And today, my heart is broken as there are faces that I may never see again.

Teaching refreshes my spirit. Teaching renews my creativity. Teaching challenges my biases. Teaching is my life.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

A Book Worm Having Trouble Reading

For almost all of my life, I have enjoyed reading. One of my favorite quotes comes from Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. When Scout is discouraged from reading with her father, Atticus, because her teacher says she is reading wrong, she laments, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing.” I didn’t start exploring books until I was in the third grade because I finally felt that my life was calm enough to fall into the pages of a good book. This is when reading became like breathing for me, a necessity to live in my sometimes chaotic world.

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I remember falling in love with words when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Hawk, rewarded my class daily with poems from Shel Silverstein’s The Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. This love for words continued in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Saremi, often read to us from the classic works of literature for my generation: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I loved the way that books allowed me to escape the world that I lived in. Sure my life was pretty good, but there were times when I just wanted to leave reality so that I could follow along in an adventure with someone like Lucy Pevensie or Caddie Woodlawn. I loved books because they gave me breath for each day.

This love for reading has always given me a safe place to fall into when things around me seem chaotic. Reading helped me to survive my depression in high school, it allowed me to make sense of the world after 9/11, and it helped me to heal from thyroid surgery. You would think that this love of reading would help me in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, but it hasn’t. If anything, my enjoyment of reading has been halted because of my inability to allow myself to escape. I am afraid that if I escape into another world then I won’t want to return to reality. I will want to stay there in Middle-earth or in Narnia.

I am entering week nine of the stay at home order in my state. I have read several books: a wonderful biography of Flannery O’Connor, an encouragement by Dr. Dan Boone, and I’ve almost caught up on my annual reading plan of the Bible. However, it has only been in the last week that I have been able to read a novel. I have been waiting to read The Toll by Neal Shusterman since it was released several months ago, but I had to wait until my library finally had a copy to download. The first few days after I downloaded the book, I only read a few pages at a time, trying to savor every word, but afraid that if I read too much I would get lost in the world of Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch. It took me almost a week to allow myself to get sucked into the story, to lose time in the interactions between characters, and to forget what was going on in the “real world.”

I have discovered that this unprecedented time is doing its work on our minds and on our spirits. I am a bookworm who is afraid to read because I don’t want to get lost. Books are a comfort that are a luxury, especially in the midst of chaos and turmoil. However, I am learning that I have to give myself permission again to escape this world temporarily so that I can relax my mind and forget all of the images and information that social media and the news is throwing at me. I think this is the only way that I may be able to breathe when the world returns to “normal.”

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Maslow Before Bloom

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us feel obligated to use our time wisely. In the United States, we have a history of the Puritan work ethic, focused on working hard and spending little. Some of us still diligently practice this work ethic, believing that in order to have a successful life, we must work hard all of the time. For some of us, we have become workaholics which can be just as damaging as any addiction. Those of us who find our purpose in our work are having a difficult time during this pandemic, especially if we have been forced to change our work habits.

I have found myself struggling recently to keep my mind focused on the variety of things that I try to do each day to give myself purpose. I have done all the things that I “should” such as creating a schedule for my day, doing something fun each day, and taking care of my physical self through eating healthy and getting some sort of daily exercise. I try to make sure to reach out to someone outside of my immediate family daily through social media, a phone call, or a text message. Unfortunately, my desire to be productive is oftentimes hijacked by a lack of concentration. I get easily sidetracked with things that typically do not interest me. Even now, I am having difficulty writing when usually my writing comes fairly naturally with very little writer’s block. Writing for me has always been the way that I process my thoughts, but it seems that my thoughts are scattered and unclear.

In my education courses, we studied two important theories that affect the way that students learn: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy. When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we see that there are different levels of needs that we all experience as human beings. These needs are categorized based on the following pyramid.

from Psychology Today: Source: Neel Burton

If we are deficient in any of the lower levels of the pyramid such as food, shelter, or the sense of belonging, then it is near impossible for us to move up in the pyramid. This means that we have difficulty being creative or developing a skill if we are hungry, scared, or lonely. Most courses in secondary education are focused on self actualization, as educators prepare students to move into the adult world. However, we all know that not all children and teens have enough food, shelter, or healthy relationships available in order for them to advance in their sense of being or their self development.

Typically, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is connected with Stephen Krashen’s hypothesis of the affective filter as it applies to second language learning. This hypothesis suggests that people will be unable to learn a new language if certain criteria are not met. Students often face difficulties learning a new language if they are experiencing “Low motivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, introversion and inhibition” (Shutz). However, I would assert that the affective filter also affects all students in learning new material if they do not have their basic needs met at the bottom half of Maslow’s pyramid. This suggests that students are unable to learn effectively if they are hungry, scared, or lonely. These basic needs determine whether or not someone is able to achieve a sense of self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.

Oftentimes in secondary education, teachers are encouraged to teach at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy consists of learning goals for students based on a hierarchy of critical thinking. These six learning goals are presented below:

from Vanderbilt University

When students are learning new material, they are often using lower level critical thinking skills such as remembering and understanding material. However, as students gain more information about new material, they are expected to move to higher levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with the hope that students will be able to create, evaluate, and analyze. As a high school English teacher, I am expected to create higher level learning goals for my students because these are the expectations of the state standards of education for my course. The problem with this expectation is that if students are hungry, scared, or lonely, they will have difficulty achieving these learning goals. Their affective filter is too high to allow new material to connect in their minds.

So what do Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Stephen Krashen’s hypothesis of the affective filter, and Bloom’s Taxonomy have to do with us as we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic? Well…everything. Many of us are trying to be productive. We want to create something new – maybe start a new blog, maybe write a novel, maybe learn how to play the guitar. We want to make our days count, especially since we have so much time available. However, like me, some of you are having trouble concentrating. It may have even taken you several times to be able to read this entire blog (sorry for the educational theory).

In education, effective teachers understand that Maslow’s must come before Bloom’s. We understand that if students are hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate. So, we provide breakfast for them when they have a high stakes test to take. If students are scared, we try to give them reassurance and comfort by making our classrooms a safe place to exist. If students are lonely, we try to provide them with meaningful connections through group activities.

Some of us have lost our jobs. Some of us don’t know how we are going to pay rent. For some of us the $1200 stimulus check was a joke because our rent alone is over $1500, depending on where we live in the country. Some of us are scared that we will contract COVID-19 or our loved ones will get sick. Or we will have to die alone in a hospital. Or we will have to watch our loved ones die through our tablets. Some of us are lonely. We miss the physical connection with our friends and family members. We just want to be with other people, and Facetime or Zoom is just not enough.

This is going to sound counterintuitive to our Puritan work ethic in the United States. Let’s stop trying to be productive. Stop trying so hard to do something that you think is worthwhile. Stop trying to put Bloom’s before Maslow’s. Take care of yourself and your loved ones before you try some new project or accomplishment.

Remember: You have to Maslow before you can Bloom.

Bibliography

Armstrong, Patricia. “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University, 2020, https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.

Burton, Neel. “Our Hierarchy of Needs.” Psychology Today, 4 May 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/our-hierarchy-needs.

Shutz, Ricardo E. “Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition.” October 2019, https://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash-english.html.

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings

Something I am beginning to notice in the midst of our social distancing is that people are beginning to get bored. Just go on any social media platform, and you will find videos of people doing some pretty creative things. However, some of these creative endeavors are driven by mind numbing boredom. In most circumstances, these creative projects are beneficial to help fuel our imaginations and to prevent us from becoming depressed, angry, or frustrated with our weird COVID-19 reality. However, boredom can also lead to pretty dangerous and damaging behavior.

I wonder how many of us in our world today are battling former addictions that we thought we had under control. We are looking for ways to numb our fear, our anger, our frustration, our depression. We are turning back to the bottle or the bong. We are searching for comfort, so we are scrolling on Etsy and Amazon. We have abandoned our healthy habits, and instead are sheet caking through our days or napping for hours or streaming Netflix and Hulu. All of these habits can become addictions, ways to rid our ever wandering minds of the scary thoughts that just won’t go away. But these are all a temporary fix for our out of control emotions.

Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

This is not a new reality for humanity. Throughout history, we have always found ways to relieve our boredom or depression. As I struggle this week with missing my students, with feeling pressured to take advantage of every second of my day, with trying to help my son who is transitioning into adulthood, with assisting my husband with building our church in a new electronic environment, and with just trying to hold it together emotionally, I am reminded that idleness is death. Idleness leads to bad habits which lead to addictions which lead to separation from others and from God.

The story of King David in 2 Samuel 11 is a harsh reminder of what happens when we become idle. When we are bored, we often fall into sin that we never thought imaginable. 2 Samuel 11:1 reads, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem” (NIV). David remained in Jerusalem while his men went off to the battle. David remained in Jerusalem when he should have been fighting alongside of his soldiers.

I think we know the rest of the story. While David is in Jerusalem, he sees a woman that he wants. Bathsheba. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen. David is not satisfied with the wives that he already has. He is not satisfied to be the king of Israel. He is not satisfied with the promise that God has given him. Instead, he seeks out someone to comfort him in his time, not of worry, not of fear, not of frustration, but his time of boredom. David has become idle. Idleness leads to addiction and addiction leads to separation from others and from God.

Sadly, this story does not end with David’s encounter with Bathsheba, but it continues with her pregnancy and with David’s indirect murder of her husband, Uriah. This story reminds us that our idleness can easily lead us on a road that we never intended. I do not believe that David, a man after God’s own heart, ever planned on killing one of his soldiers as a way to get him out of the picture. This was not the plan. However, this is what happened because David was bored.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Let’s be careful as we are staying home. Let’s cultivate healthy habits that are life giving to our own souls but also to our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Let’s be upfront about the way we are feeling. If you are sad, talk to someone. If you are angry, talk to someone. If you are afraid, talk to someone. Reach out to your friends and family members. And more than anything, reach out to the creator of the universe who loves you and knows every intimate detail.

Be encouraged to experience God’s grace for your life today.

Fear in a time of crisis

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about fear. Today, we are entering week three of a stay-at-home order from our state governor, and people in the U.S. are starting to get stir crazy. Protests have popped up all over the nation, apparently because people are concerned about the economy of the nation. This may be true, but I honestly believe that there is more behind these protests than the declining state of our economy.

One of the most persuasive emotions is fear. Fear causes us to hide or to fight.

Some of us hide by escaping into binge watching shows on Netflix. I can tell you honestly that my family and I have started watching about 5 or 6 new shows during the last five weeks, and we have watched almost all of the Star Trek movies, at least the ones with the original cast. Some of us escape by reading; I have noticed a lot of my friends daily updating their Goodreads lists over the last few weeks (I’m one of those people, too). Some of us escape into a virtual world of video games or Youtube videos. Some of us are escaping with art projects (how many of us have bought diamond paint kits?), writing projects (updating the blog weekly), or projects around our homes (paint, anyone?). None of these are bad things. We all need the opportunity to escape now and then, especially since we are bombarded with news reports and commercials about the response around the world to COVID-19.

Some of us hide by ignoring what is going on. We avoid the news. We have turned off our social media accounts. We have turned instead to working out incessantly, reorganizing our kitchen cabinets, finding new recipes on Pinterest, cleaning our closets, preparing for garage sales, playing games with our families. None of these things are bad, either. However, at some point, we have to face the reality. Our world is changing. We cannot hide from that.

Some of us fight instead. We can see this in the news over the last few days. Protests have been popping up around the United States, especially after President Trump tweeted “Liberate Michigan,” “Liberate Minnesota,” and “Liberate Virginia.” People have been convinced that COVID-19 is a hoax, concocted by the liberal left wing. People are convinced that the virus was created in a lab in China and released to bring down the economy of the United States. People believe that the push for a vaccine is all a ploy to track individuals in the United States with some apocalyptic Sign of the Beast. People believe that shutting down the economy allows liberal governors to pass laws that strip people of their rights as American citizens.

All of these theories are built around fear. They are rooted in an attempt to make sense out of something that does not make sense in our post-modern age. We have never faced anything like this in our lifetimes, and so some of us are grasping at straws, trying to find a way to explain this nightmare that does not seem to end. This cannot be real. It cannot be true. So, we deny and hide. Or we deny and fight.

Photo by Bram. on Unsplash

Friends, we are faced with something that we never imagined would happen. A virus is spreading throughout our world, and because of its capacity to cause pneumonia like symptoms in vulnerable people, we have been ordered to stay at home and to practice social distancing. This is not to strip us of our rights. This is not to manipulate the results of the 2020 presidential election. This is so that hospitals are not overrun by severe cases. This is so that people who are the most vulnerable (the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, people with autoimmune diseases) are not at risk of contracting this disease which may cause them to die prematurely.

Fear is what causes us to hide or to fight. However, scripture does not call us to hide or to fight. God calls us to love, regardless of how afraid we might be. In 1 John 4, the apostle John states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” We have to stop hiding and/or fighting. We need to speak truth out of LOVE. We need to follow the example of Jesus, who loved even when His enemies were mocking Him, beating Him, and stripping Him of His dignity as a human being.

Let’s think before we speak. Let’s think before we act. Let’s strip back the lies that we are believing. Let’s look back at the story of God so that we are reminded that God is a god of order, not chaos. That He is a God of love, not hate. He is a God of truth, not foolishness.

Be careful what you believe. Be encouraged to speak truth today, truth that has been sifted through the Word of God, not the political viewpoint of the liberal left or the conservative right.

New Book Release

This last week I finished putting together my second collection of devotions. It is a collection focused on recognizing the opportunities for grace that God provides us with each day. It is a 5-week, or 25 day, devotional collection with a focus on:

  • Experiencing peace in times of strife
  • Living in the great grace of God
  • Standing faithful to the end
  • Understanding holiness
  • Loving the Church and each other

For the next two weeks, you can purchase my first devotional collection, Be Encouraged: Living a Life of Sacrifice, for a discounted price. This discount is leading to the digital release of my latest devotional collection, Be Encouraged: Grace for Today, on April 19. The print format of my new devotional collection is already available for purchase.

Each of my books are available on Amazon in a digital format and a print format. You can also follow my author’s page on Amazon and on Goodreads to get updates about new projects or to ask me questions.

I would love to hear your reactions to any of the devotionals in my collections. Hope to hear from you soon!

New Devotional Book Coming…

I wasn’t planning on putting together my next devotional book until this summer. However, because of COVID-19, I am not working directly with my students until the beginning of the next school year. This makes me incredibly sad because I never got to say goodbye, at least not formally.

So, I have some significant time on my hands. I’ve finished the work for the first week of devotionals, and I am planning on continuing this project for the next few weeks. I will probably have something on Amazon in about two weeks because I work on one week of devotionals every two days.

The new book is the second in my series, Be Encouraged. Instead of focusing on living a life of sacrifice, this book is focused on the grace of God. We all need a reminder these days that God’s grace is new every day. There is grace for today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the next day.

Photo Credit – Garry McGlinchy, Jr.

In a couple of days, you will be able to pre-order a digital copy of Be Encouraged: Grace for Today for $2.99 on Amazon. It will automatically download to your Kindle on April 19, 2020. A paperback version will also be available at a later date for $5.99 on Amazon.

Hope you are all well!

Scripture as a Talisman?

This morning I was reminded that for the most part, I am fairly superstitious. When I was young in my faith, I believed that if I always did the right thing then I would be safe from any trouble. If I read enough scripture, if I went to enough Bible studies, if I had a servant’s heart, then no trouble would befall me. However, that is very far from the truth. In John 16:33, Christ tells His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble” (NIV). We will experience heart ache. We will experience personal loss. We will experience failure. We will experience tragedy.

I am not alone in coming to this understanding about the world we live in. Dan Boone in his book, A Very Good God in a Badly Broken World, discusses the fact that believers are not immune to pain and suffering. He writes, “there are too many among us who have gotten positive test results back, buried children, lost jobs, had our hearts broken” (Boone 55). We have faced trouble, as Jesus promises in John 16. Our world is a place of trouble.

There are those among us who believe that if we say the right prayers, if we claim the promises of scripture, then we will be protected from any suffering. Boone explains that “we’ve done our human best to protect ourselves from catastrophe: security alarms, insurance policies, neighborhood watch, health checkups, nest eggs, air bags, steel bars, passwords, identity protection, and armed forces” (55). However, it doesn’t matter how many hedges we try to put around our families and our personal possessions. Jesus says that in this world, we will have trouble.

Over the last few weeks of this global pandemic, I have seen many Christian brothers and sisters claiming the promises of scripture on social media. Some of these scriptures suggest that the righteous will be protected from suffering and tragedy in this world. I understand the importance of claiming the promises of scripture. There have been times in my life, especially very dark times, when I have claimed the promise of Romans 8:38-39. I have needed the reminder that nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ. However, I’m concerned that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are using the promises of God as talismans. I’m worried that their superstitions have made scripture into an idol that can protect them from harm.

Amulets and talismans are objects that are thought to hold some mystical or magical power. Most believers consider these objects to be satanic because we are warned against worshiping anything other than Yahweh. However, we need to understand that anything, even things that are sacred like scripture, can be worshiped above God. Dan Boone warns against looking to God only for what God can do for us. He explains that “There is actually something satanic about serving God for what we can get. To serve God for reward, insurance, blessing, or a protective hedge is to fall short of knowing God as God wishes to be known. This makes God into an idol to be appeased for the goodies” (54). When we seek out God or God’s promises only for personal gain, whatever that may be, then we are making God into something that He is not.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In the midst of this global crisis, we are called as believers to seek God simply to seek God. This is always our call. We need to seek God to understand His character, to understand His will for our world, to remember His grace and love. Yes, we need to seek His word for hope and encouragement. However, we should not wear scripture around our necks as if it will protect us from COVID-19. God’s word is not a talisman. It is not something with magical powers that will protect us from harm.

Let us all be encouraged today to seek God, not for what He can do for us. Let us seek Him so that we know the God who loves us, who hears our cries, and who has not abandoned us.

I need to hear this word as much as many others. Be encouraged today as you continue to fight the good fight. Blessings to each of you.

Bibliography

Boone, Dan. A Very Good God in a Badly Broken World. The Foundry, 2019.

Strange times…

We are living in very strange times. There are over 200,000 cases worldwide of a new virus that we do not completely understand. At least 9,000 people have died of this new disease, but that number will continue to climb as more areas of the world are affected by COVID-19. Some people look at these numbers, and they are not concerned because they are comparing the numbers to diseases that continue to kill today, such as tuberculosis, cholera, and ebola. They are also looking at other illnesses that are responsible for more deaths annually, such as heart disease and cancer. The problem, though, is that at this point in our history, we don’t know what this new disease will do. We don’t know the long-term effects on those who have been infected. We don’t know if the disease will mutate and stay around for centuries to come. We don’t know if we will have a COVID-19 season like flu and cold season. This new illness could be around for the rest of human history. We just don’t know.

Despite the fact that we don’t know what this new disease will do to our daily reality, God is not surprised. Throughout human history, famine, war, and disease have plagued our world. In one year of the Black Plague (1665-1666), over 750,000 people died in a very short amount of time, causing about 15% of London’s population to succumb to the illness. Over 40 million people died in World War I alone, including military personnel and civilians. The Russian Famine of 1920-1921 was responsible for the death of roughly 5 million people. These three events represent only a small percentage of people who have died because of famine, war, and disease. And God is not surprised that in 2020, we are struggling to figure out a new illness that has the capacity to kill and to cause permanent damage to those who have been infected.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

I am not a doomsayer. I do not believe that God is punishing us. Despite the fact that in modern day we have “filled a river in Rwanda with 800,000 dead bodies from a tribe we didn’t like. We’ve played retaliation in the land of Jesus’s birth […]. We’ve watched nations sanction ethnic cleansing. We’ve elected leaders who kill without remorse” (Boone 23), I still do not believe that God is punishing us with this new illness. I believe that this illness is a result of our own decisions as the human race. I believe that sin has caused destruction in human relationships, in our relationship with God, and in our balance with nature. These imbalances have caused famine, war, and disease. God has not caused these imbalances — we have.

So, what do we do? What can we do? In this time of Lent, I find it interesting that many people in the world are being forced to fast. We cannot go out to eat, we cannot go to the movies, we cannot go to concerts. Some of us cannot even go to the grocery store. And many of us cannot work. We are being forced to fast our busyness. We have to stop and spend time with those closest to us. Parents are having to provide home school instruction to their own children. Children and teens cannot go out with their friends. We are stuck in our houses with very little to do, for once in a very long time.

And I believe that in this time of Lent, we are not just called to fast. We are also called to repent. Throughout scripture we see multiple times when God was on the verge of destroying humanity and his chosen people. In Exodus 32, the people of God had rejected God once again. While waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the Lord’s instructions for their lives, they convinced Aaron to make a god for them to worship. God’s response seems contrary to what we want to believe about God’s character. He says to Moses, “‘I have seen these people […] they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them'” (Exodus 32:9-10 NIV). Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Moses presents the plea of the people before God. Moses repents on behalf of the people, even though he was not directly responsible for their sin.

Later in scripture, we see a similar plea from Daniel. Daniel was a righteous man before God. He had been greatly favored in the courts of the Babylonians and the Persians because he was faithful to God during the exile. Even though Daniel was in no way perfect, he did not need to repent in the way that we see in Daniel 9. Instead of pointing out what the people have done, Daniel includes himself in his prayer of repentance for the people of God. He prays, “‘We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land'” (Daniel 9:5-6 NIV). Daniel’s prayer of repentance acknowledges that sin is not always personal. Sin is also corporate. It is the responsibility of every one of us.

In this strange time of human history, I ask you to join me in a prayer of repentance. I ask you to seek God as you acknowledge your own sin and the sins of our people. I ask you to pray like David in Psalms 51: “Have mercy on [us] O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out [our] transgressions. Wash away all [our] iniquity and cleanse [us] from [our] sin […] Create in [us] a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within [us]. Do not cast [us] from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from [us]. Restore to [us] the joy of your salvation and grant [us] a willing spirit, to sustain [us]” (Psalm 51: 1-2, 10-12 NIV).

Be encouraged as your life of sacrifice includes a prayer of repentance not just for your own sins but also for the sins of our world.

Bibliography

Boone, Dan. A Very Good God in a Badly Broken World. The Foundry, 2019.

Flannery and Music

I’ve never thought about how Flannery O’Connor’s fiction may have influenced musicians, especially in the punk and industrial music genres. I have a pretty interesting music history, starting with mostly early rock and roll like The Beatles and arena rock like Journey. My music journey includes ska, new wave, heavy metal, classic rock, reggae, death rock, and industrial. However, one genre that I usually go back to is early punk, primarily British bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Post punk bands like Joy Division and early stuff by The Cure are also on my go to list for music that revs me up on a bad day.

Picture by Israel Palacio

But as I was taking a reprieve from writing this evening, I was interested to read an article from The Flannery O’Connor Review that focuses on the influence that Wise Blood has had in several bands like Ministry, Corrosion of Conformity, and Gang of Four. The primary argument is that Wise Blood highlights the early hot rod culture of the 1940s and 1950s that influenced early rock and roll and even later music like industrial and punk. The author posits that industrial reflects the nihilism that is central to Hazel Motes’ sense of theology and evangelism in Wise Blood. This nihilism is seen throughout rock and roll, especially Southern rock, punk, and industrial due to the fact that all three highlight the chaos that often ensues in life. Industrial and punk, however, include no apologies while Southern rock, like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” often does.

So what does this mean for me as I’m on this thesis journey? Not a whole lot. However, anytime I can see how music and literature intersect, I’m happy. And anytime Flannery is written about in relation to bands like Ministry and Gang of Four, I can’t help but smile with satisfaction. Music and literature can be wonderful partners in this messy world, and I’m so pleased to see the marriage of Flannery and punk rock, two of my favorite things.