Day #40: Integrity

Everyone from Judah who is living in the land of Egypt will die by the sword and by famine, until all are gone. 28 Those who actually survive war and return from Egypt to the land of Judah will be very few.
-Jeremiah 44:27-28

Not everyone gets a happy ending. The resiliency gospel is not the prosperity gospel—there is no promise of wealth and happiness here. So the ending returns to the beginning. This series began with a passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet bought a field in a collapsing nation state, with a near-defunct currency, to create a deed that wouldn’t be honored. To prove that there is still hope in destruction. By the end of his life, Jeremiah has been dragged to Egypt on a fool’s errand with some refugees trying to avoid war. War comes to Egypt, and most of the people Jeremiah accompanied to Egypt don’t make it out. Jeremiah dies in Egypt, although we aren’t told how. Meanwhile, in Babylon, where the other half of the nation was deported, life gets marginally better but it still sucks. And then the story ends. It doesn’t get better.  Jeremiah remains resilient as he can through war, national crisis, and bad decisions. He has integrity. But it doesn’t get better. He just tries to bring his best self to a world getting worse.

Takeaway: Resilience is a sexy word in pop culture. It was so trendy I was reluctant to make it the center of my Lenten practice. But actual resilience is not very sexy, because it’s an admission that things might not get better. Life could get harder than it is now. Tomorrow, Jesus will resurrect, but he won’t stay, God won’t stay in flesh on earth. This embodied hope we came to count on—the friendship and mentorship of the kindness of the universe—it doesn’t stay as close as we wish. Resurrection is hope, but it’s not resolution. We still have to make a way in the world with hope standing at a distance. When I think about climate change, the American economy, the institutional church, I realize: it might not get better. But I want to bring my best self to the worst times, even if the worst of times go on and on and on. Several times during Lent, I’ve read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” and it summarizes best the resilience I want to embody. It’s the integrity of hope in all circumstances. Ada Limón writes of the Great Blue Heron as a symbol of hope, and says “I think even if I fail at everything,/I still want to point out the heron like I was taught.” Read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road.” What does it look like to point toward hope, even if you fail at everything?

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #14: Engagement

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
-Jeremiah 29:7

 Sometimes hopefulness fails. Sometimes persistence fails. In this verse, all the doom Jeremiah prophesied has come true: Jerusalem is crushed. The nation of Judah no longer exists. As he sits down to write a letter to his old neighbors, now deported to Babylon—neighbors like the teenaged Daniel, who is being trained into assimilation—Jeremiah pens these words. He assures the exiles it is okay to work for the good of the city where they find themselves, even if that city is a hellhole of heathens. It is worth it to make it a better place, even if you’re not convinced the place is redeemable. Stay engaged, Jeremiah writes. Just because hopelessness and displacement and corruption have won the day, we don’t get to tune out and go numb. But, Jeremiah warns, engagement is not the same as assimilation into the oppressor’s culture. Seek the peace of the city where you are: seeking the peace often means nonconforming, improvising, hospitality. “Build houses,” Jeremiah urges them, “plant gardens. Become resilient.” Carve out small, countercultural places for flourishing communities, even if it seems like the most grueling task in the world.

Takeaway: Do one thing to strengthen the community where you find yourself today, whether you are at home or traveling. Is there a city council meeting tonight? Go. Even if you don’t have an agenda. Build a Little Free Library. Visit the Little Free Library down the block. Go to the closest park. Walk there. Take a plastic bag and go picking up trash around the neighborhood. Do something that keeps you engaged in the welfare of those around you.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #5: Persistence

If you have raced with people
and are worn out,
how will you compete with horses?
If you are at ease only when in a peaceful land,
how will you survive in the forest
along the Jordan?
-Jeremiah 12:5

Imagine receiving an invitation to a party that says, “This is not your type of party. In fact, you’ll be miserable. But you will gain so much. You will learn so much about yourself, you will make close friends who ease the frustration, and you will stick to your principles.” Resilience is about knowing when to accept the invitation to adversity—not to go out seeking adversity for the sake of being noble, or self-righteous, or the perfect student of suffering. But to understand when adversity is part of the process of becoming. Jeremiah (the one who bought the field on Day #1) knew this. He committed his life to advocating for justice and the prosperity of his homeland and, when that failed, to teaching his city resilience. It’s exhausting work. Early on, Jeremiah complained of fatigue–the above verse is God’s response. It’s irritating advice. But it’s irritating because someone—in this case the Architect of the Universe—has more confidence in you than you do in yourself. Someone else believes, in the words of folk songwriter Carrie Newcomer, “You can do this hard thing.” Sometimes the only way through is through. Sometimes it’s worth it to compete against the horses, even if you lose, because you will gain something greater: Love. Integrity. Resilience.

Takeaway: What adversity are you avoiding? Maybe it’s a difficult conversation with a friend, a restructuring of your budget, a confrontation with a coworker. Whatever it is, today write yourself an invitation to adversity. Take 10 minutes and begin, “Dear [Self], You are invited to….” Remember, the ultimate invitation is to persistence—you are invited to this season of challenge because it will strengthen you and your community, because it is necessary work, because you are hopeful and worthy and present for the challenge ahead.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Lent Day #1: Hopefulness

So I bought the field in Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver…

-Jeremiah 32:9

What’s hopeful about buying a field, unless you’re a high-liquidity buyer in an urban market c. 2010?   The prophet Jeremiah purchases a field while he is (1) in prison (2) in a city under siege by the army of a foreign superpower. Even if seventeen shekels is a steal (the exchange rate is unclear) it’s not a good look. But it’s a symbol of hope. Jeremiah commitment to live in a state of hope, to live as though impossible goodness is coming. Hope offers a sense of vision to see beyond the present unendurable events. Jeremiah buys a field because “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Even though his nation-state is about to collapse, he insists upon the eventuality of restoration. He insists on resilience in the face of becoming a resident of a new and hostile country.

 Takeaway: Commit an act of hope today: invest in something you will not see to fruition. Plant (literal) seeds. Give lavishly to someone who may not be responsible with your gift. Do something that takes the long, long view. But whatever you do, trust in its eventual reality. Jeremiah committed to the hope while he was in a prison in an imprisoned city. What would it look like for you to hope that fiercely?

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of Lent reflections on resilience. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).