Questions of priority and sanity are framed in stark relief by cataclysm. For instance, “Why is it easier to buy marijuana than a good book these days?”, Wendy Paris asks in an LA Times article. Closer to home, a friend of mine wrote: “I’m seriously confused, Dunkin’ Doughnuts is still open but parks and trails are closed!?”
I’m reminded of Bill Murray awakened each morning in his daymare turned fairy tale role in the movie Ground Hog Day. His bedside alarm clock played Sonny & Cher, “Then put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb…” Once he realized he was in a continuous loop repeating the same day, he would smash the alarm clock to smithereens. Our new normal…the days seem to meld into a singular repetitive day without landmarks and destinations and events. Even the sacred notion of holy assembly for worship has been shredded and replaced by forms of digital assembly. Today I worshipped with Adams Blvd Church of Christ and led the closing prayer. The church entered our house and prayed with us around our table.
March 30 I’ve become an expert on SBA loans and grants, wading through applications for our business and for a couple of churches. As I walk around my ghostly essential business office which is still operating with locked doors and no public access, I wipe down doorknobs and handles and common surfaces with a diluted bleach spray bottle. The bronze door hardware is beginning to patina into a coppery corroded multi-color under the barrage of bleach. My hands are dry and chapped. My wife reminds me I need to wear rubber gloves when handling bleach. I’m such a tactile person. I can’t stand wearing gloves, especially rubber ones. No feel. Just like I can’t stand this moment of social distance, as grandparents see grandkids for the first time through glass. We are not made to wear social rubber gloves. Humans can only keep this up for so long before our relational skin begins to chafe and bleed from the stress of so little tactile intimacy.
Robert Nicholson writes in the WSJ today, “A Corona Virus Great Awakening,” about how cataclysm is an ingredient for spiritual renewal.
He quotes, Cambridge University historian Herbert Butterfield, “Men may live to a great age in days of comparative quietness and peaceful progress, without ever having come to grips with the universe, without ever vividly realizing the problems and the paradoxes with which human history so often confronts us. We of the twentieth century have been particularly spoiled; for the men of the Old Testament, the ancient Greeks and all our ancestors down to the seventeenth century betray in their philosophy and their outlook a terrible awareness of the chanciness of human life, and the precarious nature of man’s existence in this risky universe.”
“The ancient Hebrews, by virtue of inner resources and unparalleled leadership, turned their tragedy, turned their very helplessness, into one of the half-dozen creative moments in world history,” Butterfield wrote. “It would seem that one of the clearest and most concrete of the facts of history is the fact that men of spiritual resources may not only redeem catastrophe, but turn it into a grand creative moment.”
Could a rogue virus lead to a grand creative moment in America’s history? Will Americans, shaken by the reality of a risky universe, rediscover the God who proclaimed himself sovereign over every catastrophe?
Some mornings I feel like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.
Tevye (to God) : I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?
Easing out of bed, I try to remember what day it is because these days run together like stray dogs in an alley. I decide what to wear from the waist up which is the only important wardrobe choice now since nobody will see pants and shoes on video conference. On the way to the coffee pot, two cats intercept my ankles thinking I’m the Catnip man, so I walk like a man wading through the rising surf. Hungry cats, bleach, chapped hands…I’m Fiddling on a Roof trying to scratch out a modest tune without falling from a height.
Last night I watched The Fidder on the Roof. Tevye thinks he knows the Torah just like I think I know the Bible:
Tevye : As Abraham said, “I am a stranger in a strange land… “
Mendel : Moses said that.
Tevye : Ah. Well, as King David said, “I am slow of speech, and slow of tongue.”
Mendel : That was also Moses.
Tevye : For a man who was slow of tongue, he talked a lot.
Ray Midge, the narrator of Charles Portis book, The Dog of the South, says, “A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can’t quite achieve escape velocity.”
My friend Stan Baughn and I never quite achieved escape velocity. Stan is a good friend from childhood. He came by my office a few months back and brought me a Hillerich & Bradsby wooden bat, Johnny Bench autograph. We talked about baseball and growing up in Bartlesville, the old days. Stan and I both came back home to Bartlesville after stints in college and pro baseball for Stan and college and pro golf for me.
Charles Portis never achieved escape velocity either. The author of True Grit is one of my favorite authors. Charles Portis was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, like one of my favorite baseball players, Lou Brock. Sweet Lou had another notion about Arkansas, where the state motto is, The Land of Opportunity. Lou said, “Arkansas is the land of opportunity and the first opportunity I had, I got the hell out.” Lou’s harsh assessment paralleled his falling away from faith in God. He later returned to his roots and his God.
“God has given us the ability to just reveal Him,” Lou’s wife Jackie says. “And that’s what people are meeting. They fall in love with Lou Brock, but it’s the Jesus in Lou Brock. It’s hard for me to perceive how people can just see him as a baseball player because his faith is the biggest part of him.”
“You can’t hide God in you,” says Lou. “God was not meant to become part of you, and you hide out in the closet. I don’t think He wanted that. I think He wanted people to see the Christ in you that reflects Him.”
On a lighter note, my Mom came across this picture. Terri and I enjoying a lollipop in Colorado one summer from the Sixties when lollipops were still good for you.
Until we meet again, stay safe, stay strong, love with all your might.