A morning TV show reminds Bishop David Bard of the importance of small moments for happiness. He expresses gratitude for such times he has experienced in the weeks just past …
Waking up and getting ready for work a couple of days following annual conference, and most days work is just down the hall. I was watching CBS This Morning while eating breakfast. There was a quick story about happiness and the importance of small moments for happiness. The story was not arguing that there are not wonderfully momentous moments that make us happy, but rather that we should not think of happiness only in such terms.
I thought of the psalm I had read days earlier in which readers are encouraged to give thanks to God for God’s wonderful works among humankind, including the good things of life. “Let them thank the Lord for God’s steadfast love and God’s wonderful works to humankind. The Lord satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry are filled with good things.” (Psalm 107:8-9) I thought about Diana Butler Bass’ book on gratitude, where she writes: “Gratitude calls us to sit together, to imagine the world as a table of hospitality. To feed one another. To feast, to dance in the streets. … Gratitude empowers us. It makes joy and love possible.” (Gratitude, 186)
We are living in a time when giving thanks is made difficult by circumstances. Our country continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Polarization in our society makes it much more difficult to encourage action for the common good. We continue to reckon with a history that has excluded persons from full participation in a common good based on race. We live in troubled times.
The weight of our world often weighs heavy on my heart and soul. Yet this strange and challenging time of pandemic has also offered many moments that evoke gratitude and bring joy. Coming away from annual conference, I am deeply grateful for all those who worked diligently, thoughtfully, and patiently to make this work. We were able to care for our necessary business without significant technical difficulties. There were many times over the three days, and in days preparing for annual conference, that my heart was offering virtual hugs and applause to conference staff and volunteers for all their work.
I continue to be heartened by the response of so many of you to the coronavirus as you make decisions for your churches. I know this is challenging. We long to be together in more familiar ways. After our virtual annual conference, any number of us could be heard to say, “We are really glad we know we can do this, and we hope we never have to have annual conference this way again.” We want to be together, but we must continue to do so as safely as we can, even when that may mean being together is being together virtually. Jesus is present even where the two or three who gather in his name do so virtually. Jesus is present even where the two or three who gather in his name do so while maintaining social distance. Jesus is present even where the two or three who gather in his name do so while wearing face coverings. The music that gives praise to God can sometimes be music that is sung only in the heart.
I am heartened by the deep sense I get that we are coming to a unique place in our country where the desire to dismantle systems of racism, that have been built over time, is reaching a tipping point. Yes, the work will be hard, and it is the work of Jesus Christ. Diana Butler Bass, in her book on gratitude also writes, “the deepest experiences of gratitude move us beyond islands of isolation into connection and community” (p. 100). There seems to be renewed energy for and commitment to the work of creating a more beloved community, where we are grateful for the diverse gifts that can come from all people. Using Diana Butler Bass’ words, the beloved community is a table of hospitality to which all are invited, a table at which we feed one another. It is a feast and a dance, and we recognize that it is a more joyous feast and a more delightful dance when all are welcome.
You heard me say during my annual conference sermon that I am in the process of working with conference leaders to form an anti-bias/anti-racism working group. I expect this team will be in place by the end of the month and will begin its work in September. We will be looking at our conference structures, policies, and procedures. We will be offering resources for local congregations. Expect to hear more about the work of this group in the coming weeks.
Speaking of resources for anti-bias/anti-racism work, there are a lot of good materials available. I would encourage you, as you are reading some of these works or watching some of these videos, not to let yourself get too sidetracked when you may disagree in some way with the writer. I’ve recently re-read Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility, and finished Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be an Anti-Racist. I don’t agree with everything I read in either book and, no surprise, there are points of disagreement between these authors. Yet I continue to learn a great deal from both.
I encourage us to do our best to stay focused on some crucial points: racialized thinking and racism are woven into our history (think about indigenous persons, think about race-based chattel slavery, think about the way eugenics played a role in debates about immigration and who was “white” in the early twentieth century); being “white” has been seen as a norm, and we who fit that category have benefitted (this is not to deny that the “benefits” of being white have been unequally distributed, for poverty is a reality among all people); we are not powerless to create a more encompassing community, and the church is called to do just that in the name and spirit of Jesus who “has broken down the dividing wall.” (Ephesians 2:14) Two theologically-rooted resources I would invite you to consider are these: Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise, a history of the church’s complicity with racism in America (both a book and a video series); and Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin.
Small moments have also been more personal. Listening to the funeral for John Lewis, the Rev. James Lawson quoted two poems that I later looked up to read again, and both were gifts (Czeslaw Milosz, “Meaning,” and Langston Hughes, “I Dream a World”). I continue to find poems that create small moments of joy and gratitude in this difficult time, poems about sadness, tenderness, music, disappointment, difficulty, and love.
Julie and I have been very faithful in our walking and have been adding bicycling to our routine. Over the years, music has brought joy and evoked gratitude, and during this time, I am rediscovering jazz pianist Bill Evans. I would nominate Waxahatchee, “Saint Cloud” as my favorite pandemic cd to date.
Small moments of joy and happiness for which I am grateful. I do indeed find that such gratitude empowers me for the challenging work in this difficult time. Gratitude encourages connection and community, inviting me to work with God and others in the creation of a better world – a feast where we feed each other, a dance in which all might participate. Gratitude reminds me of God whose work among humankind is wonderful beyond description and whose grace is intertwined with all life’s good gifts.
I am taking time for small moments on this joyful journey.