Ah, the snow! The eastern part of the country just experienced its largest winter storm in many years—the fourth largest in history in some areas of the northeast. Here in our area we had about 6 inches in Brentwood, while Clarksville/Hopkinsville had several more.
Here are some observations from the weekend:
Nashvillians, by and large, should not be allowed to drive in these conditions. We aren’t very good at it. Some of us because we aren’t confident enough in our skills and others because we are over-confident.
The trouble brought on by snow seems to bring people together—much like other kinds of “disasters” have the power to do. I have witnessed any number of helping acts of strangers toward strangers during this time. Reminds me that at our core, we really do want to help each other and take care of each other. I only wish it didn’t take a winter storm to bring that out in more of us.
Shoveling snow is a lot like work. I personally spent two or three hours for three days shoveling snow at various places. Hard, physical labor possesses a built-in reinforcement of its own. I feel good when I’ve exhausted myself doing something like that. And sleep is a heavenly gift after that kind of day—so is a hot bath!
The landscape was beautiful—breathtaking. Some parts of the area looked like East Tennessee or even Colorado. If you are like me, there is something holy about un-trampled snow. It always reminds me of a painting—so pristine and perfect. And then there’s also something that touches me as I make the first footprint in that snow—like I was an explorer seeing this land for the very first time. As if my footsteps had been the first-ever.
I don’t own a sled—and I haven’t owned one for a long, long time but I wish, on weekends like this one, that I had one. I will dream about it awhile and then the snow will melt and I will NOT get one to have for the next snowfall and then I will regret once more not having one. A vicious cycle. But watching kids in the neighborhood sledding is a joy. And it reminds me of younger days when friends and I would drag a canoe up to the top of the highest hill at Iroquois Steeplechase, put three or four us in and then let go. Or finding a refrigerator door or old car hood, attach a rope and then hook onto a four-wheeled drive truck to pull around in a field—stories for another day.
Cabin Fever. Most of us are so tied to our routines that an interruption can cause anxiety. A lot of us may not have been able to get out for a day or two. Did we have enough food in the house to get by? If so, what do we DO with ourselves? Binge-watching T.V.? Catching up on some reading? Or worrying about how much stuff was piling up at the office? Maybe part of our disease is that we aren’t terribly comfortable with just ourselves and the quiet.
63 of us made it to worship on Sunday—this on a day when dozens of churches in the area simply called off services. I would never argue with those decisions. Each church needs to decide for themselves what to do. But I was so grateful to you who braved the weather to come and worship. It speaks to your dedication and faithfulness. Maybe it also speaks to the cabin fever issue?? I don’t question motivation as to WHY you were here. Just grateful you WERE!
My first real encounter with who Martin Luther King was occurred when I attended seminary. I took a course called “Liberation Theology” that was taught by an African American professor who had been a part of King’s “inner circle.” Peter Parris was his name and he was a gentle, brilliant man. In that class we heard stories of the struggle for Civil Rights from the mouth of one who had been in the fight. One who had been attacked. One who had been arrested.
I remember most vividly the one thing Peter Parris said to us that I have never forgotten—his words that day struck me so convincingly. It was in 1980 that he said this: "I believe Martin would not have been pleased that there seems to have been an attempt to deify him, rather than continue the struggle for racial equality.” What Peter Parris was talking about was the decision to name a national holiday for King’s birthday. It wasn’t that he believed that was a bad idea—in fact he was very much in favor of it. His fear was that after the holiday had been set that people would then assume that the struggle had been won. And Peter knew better.
You may notice that you are receiving this AFTER the King holiday. We closed our office (as we always do) in honor of that holiday—as a witness to King’s legacy. But for most of us who work in a place where that holiday is recognized, it is no more than a day off from work. Unless you spent part of your day reading about that struggle—or the current one—or unless you participated in a memorial march, or unless you at least spent some time in thought about where we are as a country today, then Peter Parris’ statement is probably true—the worst outcome of the named holiday is that everyone has forgotten the struggle continues.
Which is why I decided to write this after the holiday—as a reminder that even if you DID find a way to recognize Dr. King’s legacy on Monday, the real question is what will we do for the next 364 days? Over the course of the last couple of years there has been a rise in racial unrest—mostly centered around certain police actions in various parts of the country. Actions that have given rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
It would be ridiculous to believe that anything more than a handful of undisciplined officers have been responsible for this rise. But it would be naïve for us to deny that justice in our land is meted out disproportionately to those of color. The statistics supporting that are overwhelming. And so the struggle continues.
I recall a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel who was on the bridge in Selma in 1965—a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday” when Alabama State Troopers were ordered to attack civil rights demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rabbi Herschel said about that day, “I felt like it was my legs that were praying.” The walk, itself, was a prayer. For some, it was the most authentic prayer they had ever prayed.
So the holiday is now over until the same time next year. I wonder what will happen between now and then? I wonder if there might be occasions for us to “pray with our legs”?
Flannery O’Connor is one of America’s great writers. From Savannah, Georgia, she was described as a “Southern Gothic” writer. Among her best known works were “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Her short stories were among the best ever written and frequently made into stage plays.
But she was also a deeply spiritual person and a genuine “seeker” of God. A prayer journal she kept has been made into a collection. Here is just one of those excerpts:
“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
“I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.
“O God, please make my mind clear. Please make it clean. Please help me to get down under things and find where you are.
“I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always fugitive. Praying this way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think and write this to you. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in you to preserve me as I should be.
“Please help all the ones I love to be free from their suffering. Please forgive me.”
New Year—2016—a chance to start over again. I might suggest that every new day affords us a chance to start over again, but I DO recognize the unique feature of having the calendar turn a page to something new. And if we need an excuse to stop doing something bad for us—like overeating—or for NOT doing the things that will make us healthier and happier—like increased exercise—then I say January 1st, 2016 is as good an excuse as any.
Are you one to make such resolutions? I am personally a victim of the first one I mentioned. My eating habits are awful. I may go two or even three meals without eating and then eat like a pig (apologies to pigs everywhere). This is NOT a healthy lifestyle. And the really bad news is that I probably exercise plenty—but it can never be enough to offset this dumb eating habit. So I am going to try and be more disciplined about that in 2016.
I have heard some of you speak of various resolutions you are hoping to fulfill: things like spending more time with family and friends, working more reasonable hours, giving up smoking or drinking to excess. Some of you I have heard are going more exotic. I heard one of my friends talk about finally doing that trip to Australia this year, the one he’d been wanting to do for many years, but just never worked it out. When I asked why 2016, he said, “Because I’m not sure I’ll be here in 2017.” My friend is nowhere near death under normal circumstances, but his message to me was valuable—there is never a time like the present.
John Lennon is quoted as saying “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” My friend’s resolution for 2016 seems to be NOT to let life pass him by and then wonder where it went. It may not be Australia for you. Maybe it’s somewhere much closer to home.
Way back when I was in college, my major was psychology. A lot of what I did was lab-related stuff like running mice through mazes and examining the brains of rhesus monkeys (ask me about split-brain research—better yet, maybe not). But I do recall what I thought was a fairly, universal trait of most all human beings: most of us spend most of our time doing those things that will help us to avoid pain more than actively pursuing those things we know will bring us joy. I know that sounds wrong—like it OUGHT to be the other way around. But it seems to be true for most of us.
So for 2016, I suggest we all share some resolutions together: First, that we all strive toward those things we know make us whole. Make out your own list, but write it down and post it somewhere as a reminder. Second, that we make a concerted effort to attend to the spiritual dimension of our lives. Some of you are already VERY good at this. For some, maybe it’s being in worship more often, for some maybe serving in the church in some new way (I’ll help you with that if you like), for others maybe being in a study group. Third, find a way to be more generous with your time this year. Volunteer in the church, at your school, in your neighborhood, in an organization that does good work. (By the way, I’m betting you’ll find that doing numbers two and three will help you to achieve number one.)
God Bless 2016. May it be our best year, ever!
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.