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March 2, 2020

Dear Trygve,

I hope this finds you well.   By the time you receive this letter, Despondent U, home of the mighty Sasquatch, will be on Spring break.  Well sort of. I’ll get to that in a moment. 

I love spring break.  It always seems to arrive about the time that I need it.  That time when I am tired and in need of a nap! I always experience the academic year as both full and fast.  A year in college is like a dog year. This pace of living in learning leaves me gasping, like a mile runner getting to the three quarter mark, I can feel my legs start to burn.  But Spring Break gives me a chance to pause, and catch my breath. I need that right now. I need to stop running so hard, slow down, and find normal breathing pace. 

Spring Break also means that we made it to March! I love March! It always feels charged with a sense of anticipation.  I anticipate the one shining moment of March Madness, I look forward to my annual Fantasy Baseball draft, but mostly I look forward to the change of seasons. 

I’m what you might call a “sense of place” sensitive person.  I have a need to connect to my place like a tree needs to sink roots into the soil.  I need to experience the weather like a bird needs to a sky. I need to be present to the contours of the land, like a tulip needs to bloom.  What I love about March is that I can go outside and I can begin to feel my place again. In March I can feel the world awaken in front of me in the opening season of long light.  

I could feel this hope today as I was walking to my study at Revelation Memorial Chapel.  Today Spring is giving winter a mocking wink. It’s supposed to reach 57 degrees. The air is light, and with a gentle wind, like a light kiss on my chin.  After a long cold winter, I can feel the earth thawing under my feet. What was only weeks ago, cold and frozen ground under my winter red Hunter boots, is now soft and spongy grass under my green Chacos. In the air, there is the first fruits of fragile life.  In a long winter, rare is it to smell anything but frozen ice, but in March I can breathe in a new sweetness, a soft fragrance, that carries with it the promise of fresh creation. Soon the buds on the trees will be visible, grass is going to sprout, flowers will start stretching their thin necks toward the light.  

In March, as the climate warms, students shed their parkas – and for the first time in months – see each other’s bodily shape and form.  It may be one of the reasons why in spring my students seem to catch a fever! In March, students have a crazed need to be together, to hang out, to be outside in the world, hanging in colorful hammocks between trees, allowing their dry skin the first opportunity in months to allow the light of a burning star to soak into their dry flesh like a hard sponge absorbing and softening under the water under the faucet.  

But this March is a little different.  Not because of a spring fever, but because of a spring virus.  The COVID-19. I’m not sure what it’s like in Michigan, or at Hope, but in Washington state, and at Despondent U, we are nearly on a full lock down and state of emergency.  Despondent U has made the decision to cancel classes – and have already told students not to come back after Spring Break. Our administration is leaning into the side of caution. It’s a prudent decision.  What I appreciate is the college made a decision. No decision is often a decision. Our faculty are, even now, preparing to deliver their remaining classes online, and finish grading the semester remotely. I hope that Hope will be able to avoid this scene.  Let me know if Hope makes a decision.  

Normally leading up to Spring Break I can look out my window of my study – onto Viking Square – and it’s teeming with restless life.  I am accustomed to seeing students walking to classes with backpacks full of books, laptops, and water bottles, looking like mountaineers about to summit Everest.  But today, our campus is eerily vacant, quiet, empty. It’s not a normal moment. For example, this morning I stopped by Life’s Hard Café, where the motto is “Life’s hard…have a cup of coffee!” on my way to work.  Normally it’s buzzing with caffeine injected conversation, with hipsters in skinny jeans, but today I went in and it looked like the day after the rapture.   And when I got on campus I noticed even the albino squirrels are avoiding each other, practicing social isolationism!

It’s an interesting cultural moment.  In the age of ubiquitous social media a possible global pandemic is tracked like a dog on the hunt.  The atmosphere is injected with a sense of unease and fear. Have you noticed? The fear is felt in the stock market.  It’s felt in the aisles of grocery stores. Sporting events are being canceled. Even Harvard is going to shut their doors next week.  It’s like everyone is stocking up for the apocalypse. I don’t mean to make light. It’s serious. And, again, it’s prudent. This is a moment when common sense needs to serve the common good.  We all need to love our neighbor and each other by taking everyday practical precautions. For example, all over campus we have signs reminding us too: 

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home, and avoid close contact with others.
  • Cover your mouth/nose with a tissue, and for the love of all that is holy, then throw out the tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What I find most interesting in this moment, right now, as a Christian, is the social mindset and imagination.  I wonder, just wonder, if the psychology of fear may be our biggest threat? Prudence is one thing, fear is quite another. From its first moments Christianity exists by one gracious command: Do not be afraid.  The first Christians were the Jews and Romans who drew near to the diseased and hopeless. They were the ones who undertook risk to comfort the dying, heal the sick, and rescue and care for the widows and orphans when most others kept their distance. 

It’s been inspiring me to meditate on a few verses from Philippians 4:5-7.  It’s a passage I know you know by heart, Trygve. Paul to the Christians in Philippi writes – “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

I love this.  Love it! It’s not just an encouragement – it’s a command.  Don’t be anxious. It’s easier said than done. I know. When someone is telling me not to be anxious – there is usually a good reason to be anxious!  But I think this is a moment – at least within myself – to model a deep trust in God. God never promises that life will be free of suffering, or struggle, or strife.  Yet, still we are encouraged – not to be anxious about anything. 

Anxiety is something that swells up from within.  Yes, there is anxiety about the virus. We also get anxious about what’s next in life.  We get anxious about graduation – about what’s next. Or we get anxious about money – will I have enough?  We get anxious about our body – how we look? Will anyone really like me – know me? We get anxious – will there be a job?  Life is filled with the opportunity to plant a garden of anxieties – grown in the soil of fear and nourished by a lack of trust in God.  

But I keep coming back to Paul’s encouragement.  Do not be anxious. Paul of course echoed Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying – “Do not worry about your life…do not worry about what you will eat or drink or what you will wear…do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” 

How do we stop feeling anxious?  Paul says to pray – to pray with thanksgiving and gratitude.  If I start to feel anxiety in my body – in the chest – in my breath – I am trying to pray.  I am praying with thanksgiving for this wild and wonderful gift of life. Praying with gratitude for the grace that never lets me go.  Praying with joy that no matter what my sins are, they are forgiven – once and for all – by the blood of Jesus Christ! This is assurance – no matter what happens outside of my control.  This grace is forever the context of our life. So do not worry! Do not be anxious. Instead pray! Pray with the sense of urgency that tomorrow is not a guarantee – but this day – we never get a chance to live again. 

When we pray – the promise – is that God will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus and promises to give us peace!  This means that no matter what life throws at us – God has not abandoned us. The Lord is near! So don’t be anxious. Pray. Receive his peace.  That is what I am praying for my campus right now and for you at Hope. I am praying that the deep peace of Christ will be felt in the body – in the emotions of the heart and in the thoughts of the mind.  

It will be interesting to see if the world will get back to normal soon, or if this sense of heightened caution and preventative measures will become the new normal.  Who can tell? But regardless, I want to live life in the living. I can’t do that if I live in fear. In this moment, let’s pursue wisdom. Yes. Prudence, of course. Common sense, absolutely.  But anxiety, let’s renounce. My prayer is that you will have faith in a God who is near that will melt away any anxiety like an ice-cube in the sun! 

That’s all the update from Despondent U!  Keep loving your people, loving your place, and preaching the Word.  Let’s talk soon.  

Your friend,


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