Today I finished my last day of teaching. The schedule calls this a “exam review” day, but since my students don’t have an exam in my class, we didn’t have anything to review. Instead, we watched Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. No prep. No discussion. Just hit play.
I didn’t really plan to end the year with this. I was just looking for an activity that wouldn’t completely waste 45 minutes of class time. Turns out, a documentary about words, art, life, rhetoric, and God summarized everything I’d been trying to say for nine months. Funny how things work out sometimes.
It has been, as they say, a year. Cheers to a long, hot summer.
If your life revolves around the academic calendar, like mine does, you’ll understand that the next month is going to be a whirlwind of planning, grading, meeting, cleaning, and wiping tears from students’ homework. I won’t have time for much else besides teaching – and I also have a writing deadline to meet. I’m taking a break from Time’s Corner until summer begins.
Yep. Me, too. School’s been canceled for T and Ph, so all three of us will be cozying up in our two-bedroom apartment. I do still have to teach remotely, which will be an adventure in itself, but if I can figure out a system for that, we’re in for a relaxing twenty-one days (and beyond!). Our shelves are stocked (with books). Our TP is plentiful. No one’s sick, as yet.
Still, seeing the same four walls every day gets old (gimme new four walls, please), so T and I have given ourselves a two-item daily checklist to keep us sane:
Day 2, and we’re going strong! Ask again in three weeks…
When I first became aware of the extent of the panic and despair surrounding the coronavirus situation and what steps might be taken in order to halt its spread, I immediately saw it as an opportunity. Not an opportunity for technological innovation, though, as many people have pointed out, this global quarantine (an oxymoron?) will be the first real stress-test of our much vaunted tools for remote working. Nor an opportunity for direct Christian witness, though Christians can and should be ministering to those around them during this dual-pandemic (a plague of flu combined with a plague of fear) in ways that are selfless and wise.*
The opportunity I’m talking about is captured in this short blog post by Kitty O’Meara (HT my brother Smith):
And the people stayed home. And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live, and they healed the earth fully, as they had been healed.
One Instagrammer suggested the earth may be punishing humanity for the sin of climate change. Another applauded the sentiment as though it represented all the justice in the world. If that doesn’t represent despair, I don’t know what does. O’Meara’s quote has a grain of that, but the substance of it is that when people are forced to stop hustling and be still, they are receptive to all kinds of things that they resisted before.
If you’re in the habit of creating stuff for other people, especially short bite-sized stuff (songs, poems, short stories), consider this an opportunity to share. People are cheered by beauty, as Malcolm Guite can attest, and in times of despair, they need it more than ever.
Consider this also an opportunity to create more than you normally do. The leaves of newspapers are sticky with panic over the various shortages we may or may not experience in the coming months. What the pundits fail to realize is that people, especially people who have the chance to sit still, produce wealth. And I mean wealth of all kinds.
*In an email to the congregation late last week, Pastor Lusk shared this quote from Martin Luther about Christian witness in the time of the Black Death:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve (slowly) gotten better at working with the grain of who I am. For example, I don’t like staying up late to work, and I’ve learned not to feel guilty about going to bed at a decent hour. Another thing I’ve noticed about myself is that Thursdays are consistently my least productive days. I’ve always hated Thursdays because I feel like I’m never working hard enough, and the worse I feel, the worse I work. All that to say, this Thursday, I’ve been puttering around and doing a bunch of little things, and my day’s been going super well. Work with the grain, folks.
My friend Ned posted a link to this blog post, where someone has written a short meditation on a piece of artwork from a book Ned edited and published. The book and the link are worth a perusal. (I can’t speak for the rest of the blog. It’s new to me.)
The blogger writes: “It was about 17 years ago that I sat down and tried to find a father/husband in the Bible who was worth emulating. After looking at all of the men I could find, I ultimately landed on Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, and the father in [the story of the prodigal son].” It is, as the Italians say, strano ma vero, strange but true that there are a heck of a lot of Bible dads who drop the ball, parentally speaking. Adam, first man, raised Cain, first murderer. Abraham, the father of nations and spiritual father for us all, begat Isaac, the only one of the patriarchs who ages into an old fool. And don’t get me started on the book of Samuel. The only man in that story who raises a good son is Saul. Samuel’s take bribes. David’s rebel.
Still, what’s hidden in that phrase “worth emulating?” Are there no husbands and fathers in the Bible who are righteous, courageous, and self-sacrificing? Noah obeyed the voice of God and preserved his family in the flood. Abraham protected his wife from the wolf Pharaoh and the lion Abimelech. Jacob blessed his sons with great blessings. Caleb found a noble husband for his daughter Achsah. Boaz spread his redeeming wings over Ruth. Job sacrificed for his sons and daughters on a daily basis. Solomon wrote an entire book of wisdom for his son (who seems to have not paid attention to it). And what about Christ himself, the bridegroom who gave His life for His bride?
It’s not that the men in this list didn’t have faults (other than the last one, of course). But are perfect role models the only ones worth emulating? The author of Hebrews ought to have included discretionary asides about the sins of Isaac, Barak, Samson, and David in the “catalogue of the saints” so that we wouldn’t get the wrong idea and – oh, mercy! – imitate them. The men and women we read about in the Bible were sinners, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the examples of righteousness they set for us.
New year, new journal. My last one isn’t actually full yet, but this one was a Christmas gift and deserves to be used. I’ll keep the old around as a commonplace book. (My most recent commonplace? This, from Gary Keller: “In every endeavor, one action counts for more.”)
When I get something new, I try to scuff it, bend it, or write in it as soon as possible. A fledgling habit for me, since I have a pen that I was given as a child that I never took out of its box because I didn’t want to “ruin it.” Use it up is my new motto. Pack dirt around it and let it grow. The haphazard drawings above are my attempt to plant this journal ASAP.
I’ve been dreading this year for I don’t know how long. 2019, the thirtieth since I was born. Somehow I got the idea that if I hadn’t directed a feature film and written a best-selling novel by the time I was thirty, I’d never do either. Rationally, I no longer believe that. But subconsciously, it’s pretty good motivation for getting to work. My new journal will be the atlas of my descent into the land of doubt and discovery that lies ahead. Even if it doesn’t result in a film or a novel, I’m sure this year will be be a year of change for the better. May my old ways die.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.