Trauma Church and the Pandemic Plot Proposals

I heard it again this week.

And not from a toothy televangelist or a wacky mega-church flag-hugging anti-vax preacher.

It was a mainline pastor who posited that, “perhaps, just perhaps this pandemic is God’s divine wake-up call for the church.”

Now, I don’t personally know this pastor, so I don’t know if this is a theory they’ve been running with for a while, or one that just popped into their head as they extemporaneously preached, but regardless, I gotta say that I basically shut down at that moment…and I’m betting I wasn’t the only one.

We have to, HAVE TO, get out of the trauma-causing business, folx. We just have to.

And look, I get his statement had some qualification. “Perhaps” is a qualifier that has a ton of wiggle-room. The problem, though, is that in a world of “with God all things are possible,” a lot of people lump terrible events into the “all things” portion of that commonly repeated refrain, and we’re worse off for it.

God did not cause this pandemic. And God is not using it to chasten humanity or have them “wake up.”

Now, if people do a bit of soul searching during it and have some clarifying moments, good for them. Humans are meaning-making machines. We make meaning out of good and bad situations, often with little evidence backing up our claims, because it helps us wake up the next morning.

We do this. It’s in our DNA.

But, I’ve had friends both further embrace and fully leave the faith in the past twenty two months…so if God is using this, it’s not working in many corners, which seems like a less than positive success rate for a Divine plan.

How about this: instead of positing that God is using this pandemic as a wake up call for people, why don’t we instead posit that people use this pandemic as a wake up call? Why don’t we instead state that the Divine’s promises are not negated by nature’s machinations or human stubbornness (and truly, the pandemic is in year two because a good portion of humanity, many of who claim to follow God, are choosing to be gods as they refuse to do what is best for everyone else).

Let’s encourage humanity to do the soul searching and take God out of the business of chastisement.

In this way, we take the church out of the trauma and encourage a kind of soul-searching that helps instead of harms.

The pandemic plot line cannot lead back to God, and if it does, we have to admit that God is no more than a vindictive parent or an ineffective manager who uses negative reinforcement to get attention.

And that’s not a God worth serving, Beloved.

If we believe God to be benevolent and self-sacrificing, then there are some things that aren’t possible, by God.

And one of those things is the idea that God would use death and trauma to correct humanity.

Instead, in the face of death and trauma, humanity has the opportunity to do a bit of soul searching.

That is, I trust, the truth.

Some Things You Can’t Compromise On…

Today the church remembers a contemporary Norwegian saint who deserves to be remembered more than he is: St. Eivind Josef Berggrav, Bishop of Oslo and Gadfly of the Nazis.

St. Berggrav was born at the end of the 19th Century, the son of the Bishop of Hamar. He planned to be an engineer, but fell in love with Theology and decided that would be his life’s pursuit.

He didn’t enter the ministry immediately upon graduation, spending some time studying the psychology of religion as the editor of a prominent publication dedicated to the topic. It was clear he was wrestling with his own vocation. At the same time, he took up teaching.

Finally in 1919, he was ordained by the Church of Norway and appointed to the rural parish of Hurdal. In 1925 his ministry took a jaunt directly northward, as he was elected the Bishop of Tromso on the arctic plains of Norway, close to the land of the Lapps. These fur trappers, fishermen, and sea people taught him how to be a Bishop of the church

In 1937 he was appointed Bishop of Oslo, and soon after the President of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the churches. The world was on the brink of war at the time.

In 1940, after the Nazi invasion of Norway, St. Berggrav was named one of the negotiators assigned to assess the intentions of the Nazi occupation.

He lasted two days in the post before resigning in protest, saying that he would never compromise with them. From this stance, he led a formal opposition to Nazi interference, focusing on the independence of the clergy and the sacred rights of the Jewish people.

This, obviously, upset the powers that be. They stripped him of his bishopric and his clerical credentials, and they put him on house arrest. In protest, 797 of the 861 priests of the Church of Norway resigned on Easter Sunday, showing what resurrection-in-action truly looks like.

Feeling Berggrav was the primary instigator of this rebellion, he was imprisoned in a solitary log cabin on the outskirts of Oslo under the edict of Hitler himself.

An underground church quickly formed in Norway, continuing the life of the faithful in exile. In something out of a spy novel, Berggrav donned a disguise and escaped from his log cabin, hiding out in Oslo until the liberation of Norway in 1945.

After the war, Berggrav lobbied for greater participation by the laity of the church in ecclesial affairs. He became a leader in the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, and served until he fell ill in 1950. He died on this day in 1959.

A prolific writer, Berggrav published half a dozen books in his distinguished career, the last entitled When the Fight Came about his disobedience to the Nazi regime.

St. Berggrav is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that there are some things you can’t compromise on.

-historical pieces inspired by Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations