by guest author Will Piferrer | November 12, 2020One Sunday afternoon in March, we came together in that little church in a field in Buda, TX to pray and sing songs of praise together, before embracing one another in a sign of God’s peace and saying goodbye for the week, not knowing the long and difficult road that would unfurl before us in the months ahead. Who would’ve known how strange and distant those embraces would eventually seem, or how quickly our perceptions of “normal” would change?
To say that these last nine months have been difficult and unusual would be a wild understatement. Like many of you, our family has struggled with the limitations imposed by our need to observe social distancing protocols and to forego many of the rituals that make things, well, normal. We learned how to shop for groceries without going to a grocery store. We held drive through graduations and birthdays, and settled for a friendly smile or a wave where a hug should have been. We began honking our horns at one another to celebrate milestones and special occasions (Texans aren’t supposed to honk their car horns; I learned this when I moved here from Florida 14 years ago, it’s just not polite). We traded in our suits for sweats and fashioned masks out of bandanas and old scarves. We had to say goodbye to friends and family members at a cruel distance, making our peace with the need to protect the most vulnerable in our midst.
In our home, we lost a grandfather to the scourge of COVID, only three weeks after losing a grandfather to the scourge of cancer. We struggled to transition our work to the home front and keep our jobs afloat, while managing the demands of online learning for our little ones as school buildings were closed. We agonized over whether to send our kids back to school this fall, and whether we’d made the right choices for our family. We wondered aloud about the future, and whether we would ever see the physical, social, and spiritual healing that we all so desperately knew we needed. We sobbed in solitude for the friends and mentors we lost, and our inability to be with them and celebrate their lives with a firmly held hand or a hug.
In an oddly comforting way, we know that we are not alone, as so many of you are walking the same road with us (six feet apart, of course). I sat on my back porch one afternoon in August, just about fed up with the sum of it all when I got an email from Fr. Daniel about this year’s stewardship effort and what it might look like in these strange times. “Stewardship? Now, of all times?” I thought to myself. “How are we supposed to talk about stewardship in the middle of all… this?” I sat on the question for a while, thinking about how things had changed, and how we would adapt our spiritual practice of stewardship to these constantly shifting circumstances. The world was upside down, and I was sad, angry, deflated, and exhausted. I made up my mind to be grumpy, and not think about it for a few days. There just wasn’t any room for anything else.
Sometimes though, God has other plans. As the weeks drew on, the sadness, anger, and exhaustion were slowly replaced by a new emotion – defiance. I started to think about the months that had felt like years, and the things I really missed about life before the pandemic. It had taken me years to find a church community that truly felt like a home, and suddenly I felt like it was gone as we retreated to our homes to worship from our televisions and telephone screens. But I reminded myself that it wasn’t gone at all – just temporarily dispersed – and that our strength as a church community doesn’t depend upon where we are or how we worship. Rather, it depends first and foremost upon God’s fellowship with us in Christ, and secondarily upon our willingness to participate in that fellowship by supporting one another and our church, strengthening our common bonds in whatever configuration is necessary.
I returned to the question of stewardship and what it all means when our natural instinct is to look inward and pull back amid uncertain times. In pondering this question, I finally found something that I could control amid the chaos in my life; a place where I could make a firm and definitive statement as a Christian about where and how I wanted to grow in my faith, the pandemic be damned. I resolved to take the next step in my giving plan for 2021, and began my journey into a new and defiant spirituality.
Defiance is a pretty powerful word, isn’t it? It conjures up images of a toddler throwing a tantrum at a department store, or pretty much anything a teenager might say to their parents (you know who you are, and this too shall pass). But defiance isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s exercised responsibly in pursuit of a true and faithful purpose. As one writer put it, “I can be defiant because I have examined the matter through and through, and I know that it’s coming from a true place in my spirit. You have to be willing to be defiant if you’re going to follow God, and allow him to restore your heart.”
The Bible is full of people defying expectations, ignoring societal norms, and allowing God to restore their hearts. Peter and Paul were beaten and jailed, but they continued to defiantly sing songs of praise to their Lord. In the Gospel of John, a woman pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet before wiping it away with her hair, in defiance of societal norms. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus prescribes several acts of creative defiance in the Sermon on the Mount: “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Mary Magdalene, whose very name (Mariam in Romanized Greek) means “rebelliousness,” is a symbol of defiant hope, being the first to see the risen Christ because she stayed at the tomb when everyone else had left. Jesus himself gave us the most defiant act of all, dying on a cross for our sins so that we might have eternal life in him.
The language of defiance has been helpful for me in reclaiming some agency in a year when so much has been out of my control, and for whatever reason, God has led me to this renewed sense of defiant agency through stewardship. I am grateful for that.
But everyone’s stewardship journey will be different, and there is faithfulness in all expressions of giving, no matter how big or small. It’s important to note that while some of us may still be in a position to continue to give and step forward in our commitments, doing the right thing for you and your family during these odd times is the real expression of faith. Our individual journeys are different, but we walk them together.
If you are like me, you might be tempted to look inward until the storm passes. If that’s the case, then maybe God is calling you to try on a more defiant spirituality, as well, one which encourages growth in spite of daunting challenges, and in so doing affirms not only who we are now as God’s people, but who we will be when we are able to gather again more regularly. Despite the distance – even in defiance of it - the Holy Spirit unites us in our common goals: growing our church community, deepening our shared faith, becoming the community God is calling us to be.
Again, we walk together, even when we walk apart.