On Sunday, I gave a brief statement about the events of last week. One of the last things I said was this: We are the family of God, and we are going to need to hold onto one another. I invited anyone who would like to talk to reach out, and many of you have. Thank you for your thoughtful and gracious words of gratitude, challenge, concern, or confusion about what you heard on Sunday, or what you witnessed last Wednesday. This is how we hold onto one another. This is how we tend to our unity in Christ: we keep talking. We keep listening. We keep extending grace.
And above all, we keep being the church together.
We keep reading and studying the scriptures together on Sundays and in our small groups.
We keep praying together. Last Wednesday evening, many of you joined us as we prayed the reassuring words of compline. We pray together at Tuesday and Thursday midday prayer, on Sunday mornings, in our Friday men’s and women’s groups, and on our own throughout the week. We will continue praying as the next week of political uncertainty unfolds, and we will still be praying long after the current moment has passed. There is no news so urgent that we cannot pause, entrust ourselves to the God who holds all things together, and pray.
We keep breaking bread together. The pinnacle of our Sunday worship is not what we hear from the pulpit, but what we share at the table. We come just as we are and offer ourselves to God. We remember together the story of our redemption. And we are nourished by the body and blood of our crucified Savior.
Finally, we keep extending the table. Incarnation has always been a church that looks outward. In this pandemic, our neighbors are especially lonely and searching for community. So we invite people to our small groups or services or hikes. We try to preach the gospel in language those outside the church can understand, and to reflect on how that gospel touches the events in our world that most concern our neighbors. And we pray, give, and serve those in our communities and around the world whose needs are heightened by the pandemic.
I read an interview with writer George Saunders last week who said, “The trenches we’re in are so deep.” Saunders was referring, of course, to our political trenches. And those indeed feel as deep as they have ever been. Those trenches form us, they matter to us, and they divide us. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently wrote: “Every family I know is divided over this [our current politics]. Every church I know is too. Friendships are broken, for almost everyone I know.”
When the church engages in the trench warfare of the world, it is heartbreaking. I am so grateful that the staff, vestry, and congregation of our church are all made up of people from across the political spectrum (Liz has written about this too!). I am grateful that we are talking to one another. I hope we keep short accounts with one another and that we all grow in humility and patience.
We cannot hide from the trenches of our broken and toxic politics, but we can engage them differently. Not as partisans, not as trench warriors, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, people who live by the gospel that calls us to lay down our lives in love. We can help pull each other up out of those trenches onto solid ground, where the air is fresh and the light is shining, where God has spread a table in the midst of our enemies and invited us to eat together.
Finally, a word of caution. In deep trenches, the air is stale and perspective is limited. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle thrive in this environment, and I encourage you to limit your engagement with them. Pause and pray before you post, comment, or check the news. Consider waiting just ten minutes, or better yet, an hour; there is very little that is as urgent as online media would have us believe. Ask the Holy Spirit to honestly help you evaluate words you have written in the past; the same George Saunders interview observes how the process of revisiting our words over time develops empathy. Take regular digital sabbaths. Look for ways to live in the real world of living beings rather than the trenches of online echo chambers; take a walk, call a friend, bake bread, fill bird feeders, water houseplants, read old books, write down your thoughts with actual pen and paper.
This is very difficult, especially in the pandemic when our lives are lived online, and especially in a moment of national turmoil when we are tempted to calm our worries by constantly checking the news. I rarely offer advice (and I need this advice as much as anyone!), but I believe this sort of digital restraint is essential for our bodies, minds, and souls in this moment.
As I said on Sunday, I am praying for each of you. Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening. Let’s keep being the church.
p.s. Our wise and capable vestry wardens, Clayton Clark and Nancy Sung, are also available for a conversation if you would like to talk to them.