Feeling Discombobulated?

Have you had to look a couple of times at your calendar in the last week or so? When we started the stay at home order in March and some people were saying that it might take us into the summer, I thought they were out of their minds. Now here we are, five months later with a few changes, but not enough. There still is no safe way for us to put the lives of our congregations back together the way they were before the virus struck. 
There is also no legitimate way to put our congregations back together in the way we thought about race, about violence and injustice against People of Color, about our own history as people, as congregations and as a denomination around the issue of race. We can’t sing together or eat a doughnut after church from a serving plate.
The singing and doughnut-eating made us feel happy in our cocoons. Did it invite others in our communities to experience the gospel in a life-changing way? For most of us, the answer is “no” since they have not chosen to be part of our gospel sharing endeavor.  We can’t forget that our denomination split over slavery in 1861 and did not come back together until 1983. That reunion did not address the evil of slavery but instead acted like it was really an issue of states’ rights. In Chicago, we have not addressed the way the city and our churches reacted to the Great Migration or the redlining that followed or the inability of African American families to build generational wealth because of unequal treatment by banks. . . . the list goes on and on.
We have been discombobulated by the events we have witnessed since March 15. The news about race relations in the United States, I imagine, has been startling to most of us. If you are white, did you know in such detail what happens in far too many encounters with the police? Did you know African American farmers cannot get the government loans that make farming in the 21st Century possible? Did you notice that the people who make such small wages and who are now deemed “essential workers,” risking their lives to sell us our groceries or that essential latte are often People of Color?
And if you are a Person of Color, perhaps you have been surprised by the numbers of people who have protested; by statues of those who sought to destroy the United States and to preserve chattel slavery being taken down by governments; by the names of sports teams being changed because powerful companies have finally insisted upon it. It may be too little, too late, and still be surprising.
We face these questions in ways we may never have faced them while we feel untethered from our faith communities. You might have once sat in a Sunday School class and talked about some of these issues. It is just not the same on Zoom. You might have sat in your beloved sanctuary and heard your pastor preach to you about these issues and then had a chance to immediately engage with her or him over a cup of tea. Just not the same on the phone.
I like the word “discombobulated.” I think it describes the way we often feel – not sure what to do next. Not happy about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I think of it as the reaction that is just short of total panic. We are not quite running in circles like a headless chicken, but if we cannot find a way to end our discombobulation we may react as if our brains have been separated from our bodies.
Here is one of the things I like about the word “discombobulated.” You rarely hear someone use the word “combobulate.” As in, “How are you today?” “Oh, I am feely fully combobulated today.” Here is a definition of combobulate: To bring something out of a state of confusion or disarray. To manufacture by some unusual or novel means.
Perhaps that is the role of the church in these times. Perhaps what we are called to do is help the world to combobulate itself. There is a path forward out of the disarray and confusion. Our faith teaches us that. It also teaches us that we do not need to be able to see every step of the path to know that it is there. There also is the truth that we need unusual and novel means to help forge that new path.
The Israelites left the horror of Egypt only to long for it when the new path was so weird and different. The early church went back to their old jobs after the Resurrection because they could not imagine the way the world had been turned upside down by the renewal of the covenant between God and humanity in such a stark and sudden act.
So, be brave. Use the gifts God has given you. Find a way to combobulate yourself and your congregation in such a way that we can start to combobulate the world around us. After all, our call, at its heart, is to bring hope in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago