Our college media department is doing a special feature during Black History Month by having a few students and staff members reflect on an influential black historical figure that has inspired them. My first thought of course was Martin Luther King Jr. There is no black person who has been more inspiring to me. But he would be the choice for many other Christians. I need to choose someone else. Plus, I’m Canadian and we need to recognize more black Canadians in our history. Viola Desmond came to mind as she has received some attention by being featured on our new ten dollar bill. She is known as Canada’s Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat in a movie theatre for white patrons. But I wanted someone that most people had never heard of. I’m an educator; I wanted this opportunity to be educational for our social media audience.

I teach Anabaptist History which is primarily European but I have a fascination with Canadian history, especially the unique stories of Christianity in Canada. I thought back to my seminary days in Toronto when I took a course on the history of Christianity in Canada. David George! Henry Alline got most of the attention for the revivals on the east coast but David George did get a mention in the course. I did a bit more research to fill in my failing memory and even found his memoirs available online. It is one of the most important early slave memoirs available. What a precious resource!

David George was born in 1742 in Virginia, the son of slaves brought from Africa. He was converted to the Baptist faith during the Great Awakenings and was involved in founding the first black church in the American colonies in 1775. During the Revolutionary War he was among a number of slaves who found refuge behind British lines and he subsequently accepted passage to Nova Scotia as a British loyalist along with thousands of other black slaves.

He settled near Shelburne with his wife and three children. Because he was a pastor he was given a small plot of land. His response makes it obvious that he was a Baptist! “It was a spot where there was plenty of water, and which I had secretly wished for, as I knew it would be convenient for baptizing at any time.” The church grew rapidly; they built a meetinghouse, and even attracted white congregants. But when he baptized white folks there was resistance and a race riot ensued.

How did David George respond to the persecution? “I continued to preaching till they came one night, and stood before the pulpit, and swore how they would treat me if I preached again. But I stayed and preached, and the next day they came and beat me with sticks and drove me into the swamp. I returned in the evening, and took my wife and children over the river to Birchtown, where some black people were settled, and there seemed a greater prospect of doing good then at Shelburne. I preached at Birchtown… and baptized about twenty three.” He went on to baptize hundreds and planted a number of churches in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

All the while, living conditions for black people in what was to become Canada were no better than they had been in the American colonies. David George and his family—they now had five children—accepted the invitation to resettle in the British colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone. There he continued his ministry of baptizing and pastoring. He wrote his memoirs while on a visit to London, England.

I had never heard of such a thing as Lent until well into adulthood. It was definitely not part of the evangelical or Mennonite traditions that dominated my formative years. During my thirties I attended an Anglican graduate school, received spiritual direction at a Roman Catholic Retreat Centre, and became part of a more liberal and liturgical Mennonite denomination. Voila! I was born again! Smells, bells, candles, stained glass, art, rituals, responsive readings, silence, meditation, shorter sermons: bring them all on! Lent came with the package and I embraced that as well.

Lent is a 40 day period of time counting backwards from Easter, not including Sundays. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday when it is tradition to mark the forehead with ashes to symbolize that we are dust and to dust we shall return. It also symbolizes mourning for our sins. Lent is a time of reflection on our frailty and sins so that we might be prepared to celebrate the depth of forgiveness and new life that comes with the events of Easter. Fasting, or giving up selected foods or normal activities are an aid to this reflection. As a family, we usually gave up dessert for Lent. Since every Sunday is resurrection day and Sundays are not included in the 40 days we often enjoyed a dessert together with special gratitude. Easter of course, included the best of all desserts: chocolate! Since our kids left home we have sometimes tried to be a bit more creative with our Lenten give-ups but dessert or chocolate was often the default.

I thought of a new one this year. I’m giving up liquor for Lent. I only really started appreciating alcoholic beverages in my forties; since then they have become part of my lifestyle of slowing down and savoring life. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine on the deck with my wife and now in the winter a shot of whiskey with my hot chocolate makes the warmth linger a little longer. Best of all are the craft beers: a refreshing pilsner or pale ale in the summer and variously flavoured nutty-brown and dark ales in the cooler seasons. Why give liquor up for Lent? It has a nice alliterative ring to it. The idea actually got into my head because of a TV advertisement for “Dry February”. I’m turning 60 shortly after Easter and I was thinking, “What can I do to celebrate turning 60? Maybe I should try 60 different craft beers during the year.” What better way to begin that project than to give it up for 40 days! I will appreciate this wonderful gift of creation all the more by doing without for a while. It will help with the sober, clear-minded reflection that is supposed to be the central activity of Lent.

“It was not a massacre; it was a battle.” I remember only one line from my grade 8 Canadian history class. I give credit for this line to my social studies teacher, Mr. McKay. I had him for only that one class but the line stuck with me and was the first installment in shaping my view of Canada. Mr. McKay was Metis and proud of it. His quote was referring to the event that happened at “Seven Oaks” (now part of Winnipeg) where the indigenous residents successfully resisted the European settlers. They “won the battle” by killing more white people than white people killed them. For this reason, the white European history writers who wrote my textbook called it “The Massacre at Seven Oaks.” When white European settlers, traders, armies, and police killed indigenous people it was because they aggressively refused to surrender and conform to our laws and ways. It was their own fault! But when they killed us it was a massacre, a brutal and unprovoked loss of human life. Mr. McKay was setting it right.

Perhaps we need an indigenous history month as well. When I took history in school I learned all about European explorers who “discovered” North America and called it a “new world” assuming it was empty and free for the taking. We did not realize that there were many nations living here for centuries, even millennia! White people declared Canada a country in 1867 according to laws and language that made sense to them and expected people who had lived here before to simply acquiesce because we knew what was best for them. The new nation of Canada set up residential schools to indoctrinate indigenous people into the ways of Christianity and European propriety. It was a subtle form of genocide. It is not enough to excuse ourselves from our ancestors and say, “That was the past; let’s move on.” We have a present work to do.

Our work begins by acknowledging our place of privilege. It is hard for us, the descendants of European [in my case Mennonite] settlers, to understand our present position of privilege. Our ancestors who “broke the land” to grow wheat and barley did not realize that they were taking away the feeding grounds that fed the bison that fed and clothed the people who used to live here but were chased away by European expansion. Sometime after the Battle of Seven Oaks when British colonialists pushed out the Metis and indigenous people in Manitoba in 1871, who settled the vacated land in the Red River Valley? (Louis Riel, finally acknowledged as the founder of Manitoba in 1992, now also has a day in his honour on Monday.) My Mennonite ancestors arrived at the Forks in 1873. This was a privilege. The Metis moved further afield and again tried to set up a homeland in the Saskatchewan River Valley to the northwest. In 1885 their resistance was again squelched (Louis Riel was executed by the Canadian government) and indigenous tribes were forced to flee. Who came to farm that land a few years later? Lutheran and Mennonite settlers. This was a privilege. Now we live in Abbotsford, BC which is on a ridge of hills that overlook what used to be a large, shallow lake filled with fish and plants that had sustained the local people for centuries. The lake was drained by European settlers and engineers in the 1920s. Guess who came to farm that land in 1927? You guessed it: Mennonite farmers, among others. This was a privilege. We are a privileged people.

Once we have acknowledged our privilege we might have a chance to be part of the work towards justice and reconciliation. This is what the Christian Gospel is all about.

I had a conversion experience in Orlando, Florida in 1996. It happened during a few days of “anti-racism” training led by Regina Shands Stoltzfus, a black woman and Tobin Miller Shearer, a white man. I was a new regional youth minister in my new denomination and this was my first Youth Ministry Council meeting where about thirty or forty representatives from across the continent met for networking, planning, and professional development. The training was part of our professional development. I knew about the history of slavery in the USA, the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. and how racism continued to be a problem. But I was Canadian. We are nice people. We were on the other end of the Underground Railroad and accepted black slaves looking for freedom. “I’m not a racist.” I’m a Christian. I believe all people are equal. I learned the song: “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight” when I was a child. I loved everybody. What more was there? When I heard we were going to have a few days of this training I wondered what we would do for this amount of time on this topic. Why did I need this?

The first ingredient of conversion is an awareness of one’s sin. Secondly, it involves repentance, a change of perspective and behavior. I was wrong. There is a lot more. I was not even aware of my racism. I needed this desperately. I am still on the journey of repentance that began during that workshop. As with many educational events, I don’t remember all the specific information I received but I do remember some key definitions and concepts. First of all, I learned that race is a biological myth developed by white European anthropologists in the 17th century. All of the terms they came up with (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid, Negroid) have connections to land and culture except for Negroid which is simply Spanish for the colour black. One of them believed that the people who lived near the Caucasus Mountains were the most beautiful people on earth. This was all news to me! Of course, today we realize there are much more meaningful ways to compare human difference than race. The Bible knows nothing of the concept of racial difference; it only speaks about tribes, languages, and nations.

But I also learned that racism is very real. Racism is race prejudice plus power. Prejudice is to evaluate or assess someone before we have full knowledge. All of us prejudge other people; this is normal. What makes it dangerous is when it is combined with power. I also learned the term “white privilege” for the first time. When some of us hear this term we don’t understand and cite examples accusing coloured people of “reverse racism”. There is no such thing as “reverse racism” because only white people have the power to enforce their prejudices. The typical reaction then is to feel shame for being white. This is not helpful. What is helpful is to own the privileges I have as a white person and then to share those privileges and to advocate for people who do not have them. What is “white privilege”? There are many white privileges, right from so-called “skin-tone” Band-Aids that only come in one skin-tone: ours. Much starker is the privilege of not being profiled by the police. The stories of police brutality made public in the past few years are proof enough. Perhaps the greatest white privilege is to not have to think about it. I don’t have to think about the colour of my skin when I am seen by security in a grocery store or when I am stopped by the police. Black people are forced to think about it all the time. This is a white privilege!

Another white privilege is having our stories featured in history books. Here is one example. When I learned about the Canadian story at the beginning of the twentieth century it was all about nation building. I recall learning about Canadian involvement in The Great War as our opportunity to assert ourselves as an independent nation making a contribution to our Mother, the British Empire. As a kind of side note, I did learn about the tragic explosion of ammunitions on a ship in the Halifax harbor in 1917 but I never learned about the Mi’kmaq settlement at Tufts Cove that was obliterated and I did not learn about Africville, where African Canadians lived and was never rebuilt like other neighbourhoods in Halifax. This is a white privilege. This is why we need black history month.

I did something the other day that I have never done before. It was a very small thing, especially compared to other events last week, like the inauguration of a new president of the world’s most powerful nation (although China has reason to dispute this). I would get a lot more views if I wrote about that! It was really a small thing compared to most accomplishments in an ordinary person’s life but it was big for me; so, I will tell you about it.

Remember those “aptitude” tests you did when you were in high school to determine your different skills which would help you decide on a career? I always ranked very low on mechanical abilities. When I got my first car I tried to be a “real man” and learned how to change my own oil but I always hated it. I thought the best thing about growing up on a farm was being able to go out to the bush with my journal rather than doing chores or driving machinery. I did pick up a few basic handyman skills growing up on the farm and doing farm labour for my uncle for a few summers and I did enjoy getting dirty and working up a sweat but I was meant for the world of the arts and books. I have even done some electrical, plumbing, construction, and finishing work in our house over the years but my wife really appreciates it when I call a professional.

But the other day presented me with a desperate need. I knew before Christmas that the disc brake pads on my bike were due for replacement and that the holidays were an opportunity to bring my bike to the repair shop but I decided that they would probably last a few months more till Reading Break. Why spend money before I have to? Unfortunately, they were good for only two more days of commuting before the tell-tale aggravating scraping noises indicated that I could not put this off any longer or there would be damage to the discs. Pedaling became progressively more difficult the last few kilometers home as the scraping turned to binding! The trouble was it was mid-week and the bike shop would need a few days to get at it and they had told me last time that pads for my brakes were hard to come by. With COVID lurking everywhere I was reluctant to ride the bus. It was raining that week so I could not take my summer bike without fenders—and besides I remembered that it needed some work as well. What was I to do?

I recalled that when it had been difficult to find brake pads a few years ago I had ordered some from Mountain Equipment that looked similar to mine—they were still in my flotsam drawer of odds and ends for my bike. When I saw them I decided right then and there that I would change my own brake pads. How hard could it be? I had actually heard how hard it was from friends who did these sorts of things! The brake pads are quite small; the parts are intricate and difficult to line up. I had no idea whether these would actually fit and brake pads that don’t fit could be worse than the old ones! What’s the worst that could happen? I would take the bus the rest of the week, bring it to the shop on the weekend and admit I had failed.

I got the old ones out and they were indeed badly worn; they did not owe me another trip. I had a careful look at how the contraption went together. I won’t attempt to describe the different steps involved in the job. I’ll just tell you that the first time I got them in, the wheel would not even turn. Obviously, I did something wrong. It occurred to me then that there were probably YouTube videos for this kind of thing but that would take too much time and since every bike was different it might not help me. The same thing happened the second time. The third time I did something a bit different with the small wire “springy-thingy” that held the pads together and I got a strange kind of noise when I turned the wheel. I was ready to give up. Three strikes and you’re out.

But I was stubborn. I looked at the pieces from every angle and fit them together even more carefully than before and ever so gently pushed them into place, and put the wheel back on. The moment of truth: not a sound when the wheel was turned. I applied the brakes and released. It all worked! It was so exhilarating that I yelled out a string of explicatives in jubilation, so loud that my wife came to see what I was losing my temper about in the garage. It was more exhilarating than delivering a great sermon; more exhilarating than finding the right words for a poem; more exhilarating than giving an A+ on a paper; more exhilarating than seeing Paul Henderson’s goal in 1982; more exhilarating than climbing to the peak of Mount Cheam! I’d better stop comparing exhilarations before it becomes inappropriate. I was happy and proud of myself even if it did take me an hour and a half just to change one small bike brake pad.

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Monday will be a national holiday in the USA honouring him and his work. On Wednesday of next week is the inauguration of a new president of the USA with unprecedented police and military presence due to fears of another riot by white supremacists who stormed the congress building last week incited by the outgoing president. Martin Luther King’s messages of peace and reconciliation are ever more needed today!

The following is my conclusion to a sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22 that reflects some themes prominent in Martin Luther King’s work and thought.

What are the differences and barriers that separate us today?

In the day of Paul it was the Jew Gentile division; then it was the barrier between Roman and barbarian. In the sixteenth century it was Protestants and Catholics.

If we jump ahead few centuries it was the barrier between black and white in the USA, between settlers and indigenous in Canada, or the German and English division in Mennonite churches. We have had many other human differences that have divided us.

In the church we have wrestled with the differences between men and women and the generation gap between the old and the young. Today many churches are struggling with the division between heteronormativity and accepting LGBTQ+.

But as Paul says in another text in Galatians, “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” What are the walls that separate us today? What are the barriers that keep us from relationships of respect and dignity? What are the barriers that create suspicion between us and those different from us? We are assured that even these Christ has removed and made into one.

One of the most poignant movements toward oneness in Christ was the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960’s. I would like to close with some excerpts from one of Martin Luther King Junior’s speeches. It speaks specifically of the division between blacks and whites but we could insert any division that we wrestle with today. Insert any barrier that keeps us from friendship in our neighborhoods. Insert any walls that create suspicion in our communities. Insert any differences that keep us from unity in our denomination. Insert anything that causes enmity in our world. We are assured that all these Christ has removed and made into one. Binaries no more!

I have a dream that one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is our faith. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

I could only sit open-mouthed as I watched the events of January 6 unfold in Washington, DC. Canada feels far away at such a time as this and yet the racism and rhetoric that fueled the actions are in Canada as well. So many issues coagulated that day.

I am at a loss for words but felt I needed to post something. Here is a link to Glen Guyton’s response that says it better than I could. He is the director of Mennonite Church USA, our sibling denomination.

 www.mennoniteusa.org/glens-blog/attack-on-capitol/

I have promoted anti-consumerist campaigns like “Buy Nothing Christmas” that discourage shopping for Christmas gifts. For evidence, check out some previous blogs on this site! You could have accused me of being a bit of a Scrooge or a Grinch. Yet my children have taught me how meaningful and relational the practice of giving gifts can be. The thoughtfulness in the choice and/or creation of gifts and the depth of emotion present at our family gift-exchanges have convinced me that the giving of Christmas presents is a good tradition.

As an example, let me tell you about a few gifts I received from my young adult kids this year. They honour me by giving gifts that display how deeply they know me and love me; and, we all want to be known and loved. They all know that I have three musical obsessions: the Beatles [British rock’n roll], Johnny Cash [American country], Bruce Cockburn [Canadian folk]. The Beatles and Bruce Cockburn have been featured in previous years’ gifts so it seemed this year was Johnny Cash’s turn. I got a home-made “Johnny Cash” signature in bronze on a black T-shirt. I received a copy of his novel, Man in White, weaving together the story of the Apostle Paul with his own life. I also got two albums: the ahead-of-its-time 1964 concept album about indigenous rights, “Bitter Tears” and the tribute album on the 50th anniversary of its release when finally people were paying more attention to the issue.

Tied to the subject of the albums, I also have a personal interest in Canadian history, in particular all things Louis Riel and the struggle for Metis and indigenous rights. I received a home-made artistic piece with a Louis Riel saying and the infinity symbol on it as well as a brand new collection of previously written essays by historian, Jean Barman: On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space, and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia.

And my summer hobby of attempting to live more simply by cultivating a suburban garden got a nod with a cute hand-made ceramic beets wall ornament and a beautiful book of pictures, recipes, prayers, and reflections: Taste & See: Seasonal Meals for Sabbath in Southwest British Columbia by a former co-student of my son’s at Regent College.

Our kids did the same for each other and for my wife. (We generally do not give each other gifts at Christmas and focus rather on the kids and our grandchild.) My wife enjoys shopping for gifts for the kids and this year I painted a personal watercolour for each of them recalling a memory and attempting to reflect their characters and passions. We also make a donation (We usually try to match or exceed what we spend on them.) in their honour to an organization that does work that they feel passionate about and write it up in a card to them. Our kids also insist that we open gifts one at a time with a personal acknowledgement of love and gratitude after each one (only virtual hugs this year). Even though half of us had to be present online this year, our hearts are full with love and gratitude.

Sometimes the most meaningful gifts are those that are completely unexpected. As a college professor I do not expect a lot of gifts from poor college students—like what my wife receives from her kindergarten students! Thus, it caught me by surprise when a few days before Christmas the doorbell rang and two students—married to each other—presented me with a beautiful hand-crafted charcuterie board made by one of them, along with a gift card from a local market where the other works. I felt deeply honoured.

THE CHRISTMAS STORY

When I began writing this post I was going to reflect on the meaning of the incarnation but it ended up being a paraphrase of Jesus’ birth narratives in Luke 2:1-21 and Matthew 2:1-23 with the meaning still left open for contemplation. Then I decided that this might be a good alternative to the traditional Scripture reading at our family gathering which happened earlier this evening.

The mystery and the profundity of the incarnation caused another layer of reflection for me this Christmas season. It is an almost unbelievable fantastical story if you really think about it: first of all, just the idea that a divine being would become a human being is crazy enough. And then, choose to be a person who was part of a small, struggling, nomadic nation during a time of foreign occupation and oppression? These people did have pipe dreams of freedom and prosperity when a great leader would release them from oppression. But they did not expect it like this.

Perhaps most ridiculous of all is how it all happened. A teenage virgin—this has to be pointed out—is visited by an angelic being who tells her she is pregnant with a divinely conceived child. Being a compliant young lady in a time when such visitations were more commonplace, she accepts this as her reality. When her fiancé—who knows he has not had sex with her—finds out, he decides, being an honourable man, that he will quietly divorce her. Until he has a dream in which he is told that everything will be okay, go ahead and get married, your girlfriend has not been sleeping around.

As often happens in a time of occupation, the empirical power has ordered a census and forces everyone to travel to their ancestral hometown to be counted. Perhaps it was a way to escape the wagging tongues, we don’t know, but the two embark on a journey to the man’s hometown in dutiful obedience. They have barely arrived when the young woman goes into labour and gives birth unexpectedly in rented, makeshift accommodations far from home. The first visitors are sheepherders out in the hills and on the margins of society who receive a visitation from angelic beings in the middle of the night shift—perhaps after too much strong drink around the campfire the evening before! A cosmic choir sings to them about a royal birth and peace on earth. This is all quite overwhelming and they don’t see babies every day so they go into town to check it out. When they see the proclaimed royal child in a setting they are very familiar with, they are over the moon with excitement; so much so that they spread the gossip all over town. The young mother is just bleary-eye tired and overwhelmed, and wonders what’s going on.

The young couple eventually marries and the little family seems to live in virtual anonymity until more visitors arrive a few years later: a foreign troupe of clairvoyants who found their way by reading patterns in the stars. Having seen visions that the star child they are seeking is of a royal variety, they check in with the local despot for directions. The despot is a puppet on the string of greater powers, a cruel and paranoid man; who, when he hears of a royal birth is bewitched with increasing fear that his replacement has been born. He does some math about when this supposed royal birth occurred and orders that all babies within a few years of that time shall be killed. These were dark days! Oh the weeping and the wailing! But in the nick of time the father of the child has a dream (Yes, another dream!)  that the child’s life is in danger. He takes mother and child; they flee in the night and become refugees to northern Africa where they find temporary shelter.

The child grows up in anonymity and around the age of thirty goes to visit his eccentric cousin in the Jordanian wilderness where he hears a voice from the heavens calling to him, “You are my beloved son and I am pleased with you.” And he has not yet done anything that anyone would find noteworthy or pleasing! With this foundational identity, he goes on to live a life of love and service to others. I invite you in 2021 to read one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to refresh your memory of this most amazing story.

This is the story of how God became a human being. I have heard this story for almost sixty years and it never ceases to amaze me. What does it all mean? This is the mystery I am again contemplating this year. It’s a story that is just too good not to be true. It is a story of love and hope. It is a story that I want to be part of and base my life on. There is nothing that makes me happier than that each of you has also become part of this story in your own unique way.

I was happy to be able to take the car to work earlier this week. As many of you might know, I usually cycle to work every day. You may also know that we live in a temperate rainforest where we have two seasons: rainy season and a less rainy season. Right now we are in the rainy season and this is why I was happy to take the car. As with many good fortunes, they come because of someone else’s misfortune. My wife, who usually takes the car to her work, was at home with a mild sore throat waiting for her negative COVID test—she did receive it. And, it was the end of the semester. I was getting a bit sick of biking in the rain. The forecast said it would be rainier than the usual rainy. It was my lucky day!

With privileges also come responsibilities; and so, the privilege of taking the car to work came with the responsibility of doing some errands for my dear partner. “Just pick up a book at the bookstore; I already phoned and they have it in stock.” I thought this sounded simple enough. I knew that the bookstore was only a short distance into the mall from a particular entrance. (If you do not know my deep aversion to malls you need to read my article “The Abomination of Desolation Identified” or my story about a Boxing Day experience entitled “Mall Confession” and then you will understand. Both are posted under the “published articles” tab.)

Unfortunately, when I entered the mall I realized that I must have the wrong entrance because there was no bookstore in sight. I had not been to this mall for more than a decade so this should not have been a surprise. I stopped. I was now faced with a terrible dilemma. Do I go back to the car and waste more fossil fuel, pollute the environment, and risk a bumper scrape in the tight parking lot? Or do I swallow my pride, break my commitment to never enter a mall, put an extra mask on the side of each eye like a horse blinder so as not to see anything evil, and hope that no one recognizes me inside the Abomination? After a terrifying moment of indecision between two greater evils, I chose the latter, put my head down, and set off at a determined pace. It was further away than I thought. Maybe I should have taken the car but it was too late now. The mall was bigger than I thought and there were corners!

I did eventually find the bookstore. It was a small bookstore that was following regulations by only allowing a certain number of shoppers into the store so I had to stand in line. Agony! At least the other shoppers were six feet away from me. I almost wished I was six feet in another direction. I know Advent is the season of waiting but my first impulse was to reach for my cell phone—another abomination. I don’t have apps or games so I text people when I’m waiting somewhere. My daughter lives near the mall so I texted her. “I’m in hell. Come rescue me.” I got an immediate response. “Ooohh…why?” Why am I in hell or why should you come rescue me? The two are related. Why are you beginning a theological discussion at this time? Let’s go with the fundamentalist answer. I’m in hell because I am unsaved. Yes, I’m definitely unsafe; standing here in a line-up in a mall during a pandemic.

Then I received another text from my wife. “Perhaps if you see such and such a store you can get such and such for so and so.” What?! More time in the Abomination?! But I got the book without even having to enter the store and saw the “such and such store” kitty corner across the hall from the bookstore. I was in luck! My wife would be so happy with me now. It was a very brightly lit store, one of those stores in which people like me could feel some discomfort. And I did feel it. I nervously asked the shiny happy employee for directions to my item, quickly made the purchase, and felt quite proud of myself.

I stepped out of the store, adjusted my eyes to the lesser light, and realized I had no idea where I was or how I could get out of jail (It would not be free as I had already paid my two hundred dollars). Which direction had I come from? I had no idea! Which direction was the closest exit? I stood bewildered. Beads of sweat began to form on my forehead. There was tightness in my chest. The hot breath behind my mask was fogging up my glasses. Then I saw it emerge out of the fog: the doors I had wanted in the first place! I decided to walk back to the car in the rain.

The next morning I was giddy with excitement as I put on my rain suit for my commute to work. Who needs a car when you can bike in the rain?